Partnership Liability for Intentional Torts of Partner

Court rules Tennessee partnership may be held liable for partner’s assaults

In a March 11, 2019 Order Denying Summary Judgment, the Davidson County Circuit Court held that a local Nashville business may face liability for the tortious acts of its general partner.  This unique ruling highlighted an issue that has gone largely unaddressed in Tennessee tort law.

The case is Jane Doe v. Dance World of Nashville and Danny Baye, Case No. 16C3116.

Plaintiff, represented by Nashville injury lawyer Chris Smith of David Randolph Smith & Associates, alleges that a Danny Baye, a general partner of Dance World of Nashville, repeatedly sexually assaulted her on Dance World’s property and that Baye “misused company assets to perpetrate his crimes.”  The Complaint alleges that Dance World should be held liable for the tortious actions of Baye.  Baye was found guilty of sex crimes against the Plaintiff and is currently incarcerated.

In January of this year, Dance World moved for summary judgment on the theory that T.C.A. § 61-1-305 bars a general partnership from being held liable for intentional torts committed by one of its partners. In March, however, the Circuit Court declined to hold that the statute barred plaintiff’s claim against Dance World.  In its Order denying summary judgment, the Court held:

“Dance World argues T.C.A.§ 61-1-305 insulates a partnership such as Dance World from malicious torts committed by partners, including the sexual assaults of Danny Baye, a general partner, against the Plaintiff. Both Plaintiff and Dance World agree that case law in Tennessee has not specifically addressed the application of T.C.A. § 61-1- 305 in an intentional tort setting such as this one. In the absence of clear legislative intent or controlling case law, the Court declines to hold, as a matter of law, that T.C.A. § 61-1-305 bars Plaintiff’s claims.”

When is a partnership liable for the actions of one of its partners?

TCA § 61-1-305 holds that “a partnership is liable for loss or injury caused to a person . . . as a result of a wrongful act or omission . . . of a partner acting in the ordinary course of business of the partnership or with the authority of the partnership.”

Whether an act occurs in the “course of business” is a question determined under agency principles.

In its motion for summary judgment, Dance World argued it could not be held liable for Baye’s alleged assaults because his actions were not committed in the “ordinary course of business.”  The court found, however, that plaintiff’s claims stated sufficient facts that could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that Baye’s alleged assaults occurred in the “ordinary course of business.”

Plaintiff claimed that the assaults repeatedly occurred on Dance World’s property–the “time and space limits of the partnership”–and that Dance World knew or should have known of them. Additionally, the Plaintiff alleged that Dance World allowed Baye to instruct minor children, in spite of his prior conviction for possession of child pornography. Plaintiff also alleged that Baye exploited the “authority of his partnership” with Dance World in order to perpetrate the assaults.

Based on these allegations, the court denied Dance World’s motion for summary judgment and allowed the case to proceed under the theory that Dance World could face liability for Baye’s intentional torts, because a reasonable jury could conclude that Baye committed these torts in the “ordinary course” of the partnership’s business.

If I have a claim against a member of a partnership, what should I do?

Call the Tennessee personal injury attorneys at David Randolph Smith and Associates and let our experienced Nashville injury attorneys evaluate your claim and offer expert advice on the next step for your case.