History. The jurisprudence and procedure of the Chancery Court constituted a part of the law our ancestors brought with them from England, when they founded the Colony of North Carolina. When that Colony became a State, this jurisprudence was reorganized, and its administration provided for in its Constitution; and in 1782, its legislature conferred this jurisdiction upon the courts. Tennessee being a part of North Carolina, that jurisprudence became a part of our law; and when Tennessee became a State, both Deed of Cession and the Act of Admission by Congress made the laws of North Carolina our laws, until we saw fit to change them.

Organization. The state trial courts were divided into thirty-one judicial districts in 1984. T.C.A. 16-2-506. Chancery Courts exist within some but not all of the districts. Each judicial district selects a presiding judge who assigns cases to reduce delays, distributes the workload equitably and promotes the orderly and efficient administration of justice in the district. T.C.A. 16-2-509.

The 1984 redistricting bill abolished the “terms of court.” The minutes of the court remain open continuously. T.C.A. 16-2-510. Court is held at times set by the Chancellors as needed to dispose of the court’s business. T.C.A. 16-2-510.

Chancery Court judges (Chancellors) are elected for an eight-year term by the voters of the district or circuit to which they are assigned. TENN. CONST. Art. VI, 4. A Chancellor must be: (1) thirty years old; (2) a Tennessee resident for five years; (3) a resident of the district or circuit for one year, TENN. CONST. VI, 4; (4) licensed to practice law in Tennessee; and (5) eligible under the general standards to hold public office. T.C.A. 17-1-106, 8-18-101.

To facilitate the handling of cases, any Chancellor may exercise by interchange, appointment or designation the jurisdiction of any trial court other than to which he was elected or appointed. T.C.A. 16-2-502.

The Tennessee Plan. In 1994, the legislature enacted the “Tennessee Plan” which primarily affects the selection of appellate court judges. The plan applies to Chancery Court vacancies on the bench occurring after September 1, 1994. These vacancies are to be filled by the governor’s appointment of one of the three people nominated by the Judicial Selection Commission. The term of appointment expires on August 31 after the next regular August election occurring more than 30 days after the vacancy, at which time a candidate is elected to fill the remainder of the unexpired term or a complete term, as otherwise provided by law. T.C.A. 17-4-101 et seq.

Clerk & Master. Acts as the principal administrative aide to the Chancery Court, provides assistance in the areas of courtroom administration and records management, docket maintenance, revenue management, maintenance of court minutes, official communication and various other court-associated duties. T.C.A. 18-1-105, 18-2-101 et seq. and 18-5-102 et seq. The clerk is appointed by a majority of the Chancellors for a six-year term. T.C.A. 18-5-101.

Jurisdiction of the Chancery Court. The General Assembly determines the Chancery Court’s jurisdiction, and may increase, decrease or alter its jurisdiction. TENN. CONST. Art. VI, 8. Chancery courts “shall have all the powers, privileges and jurisdiction properly and rightfully incident to a court of equity.” T.C.A. 16-11-101. This inherent jurisdiction is original and exclusive in cases of an equitable nature.

Chancery Court exercises inherent jurisdiction in the following cases:

All actions

· resulting from accidents and mistakes;

· resulting from frauds, actual and constructive;

· resulting from trusts, express, constructive and resulting;

· for the specific performance of contracts;

· for the reformation, re-execution, recission and surrender of written instruments;

· for an accounting and for surcharging and falsifying accounts;

· between partners and to wind up an insolvent partnership;

· for the administration and marshaling of assets;

· actions for subrogation and substitution;

· for the enforcement of liens created by mortgages, deeds of trust, sales of land on credit or other equitable consideration;

· against minors in reference to their estates, not cognizable at law;

· by wards against guardians, executors, administrators and others, where an accounting or surcharging of falsifying an account, is necessary;

· for an apportionment and contribution;

· for the marshaling of securities;

· for relief against forfeitures and penalties;

· for redemption of land or other property;

· to have absolute deeds or bills of sale declared to be mortgages;

· for the construction and enforcement of wills and trusts;

· to obtain a set-off against a judgment in favor of a nonresident or insolvent;

· for the discovery and perpetuation of testimony;

· to compel claimants to interplead;

· for equitable attachments and receivers;

· where a ne exeat republica is sought;

· where an injunction is a substantial part of the relief sought;

· to remove clouds and quiet titles;

· for the establishment and execution of charities;

· for a new trial after a judgment at law;

· to have void judgments so declared and to avoid voidable judgments;

· to execute decrees and to impeach decrees and judgments;

· to prevent the doing of an illegal or inequitable act to the injury of plaintiff’s property rights or interests, quia timet;

· for the exoneration or protection of sureties;

· actions where the defendant has done or is doing or is threatening to do, some inequitable act to the injury of the plaintiff and there is no adequate remedy in any other court.

Gibson’s Suits in Chancery (7th ed. Inman 1988), Chapter 1, sec. 3

Jurisdiction has been increased to encompass specific actions, including:

· To aid judgment creditors to subject a debtor’s property which cannot be reached by execution to the satisfaction of the judgment. T.C.A. 16-11-104.

· To decide all disputes between the state and corporations, their stockholders or creditors. T.C.A. 16-11-105.

· To aid creditors of a corporation, without obtaining a judgment at law, to attach the property of a corporation, and subject the same, by sale or otherwise, to the satisfaction of their debts, when the corporate franchises are not used, or have been granted to others. T.C.A. 29-12-107.

· To decide all boundary line disputes. T.C.A. 16-11-106 (a).

· To enforce foreign judgments against the property of a nonresident debtor when the judgment creditor has exhausted his legal remedies. T.C.A. 26-6-103 et seq.

· To approve the sale of property of a minor or disabled person. T.C.A. 34-11-116.

· To compel the distribution of estates where there are difficulties, complexities or conflicting claims. T.C.A. 30-2-710.

· To remove the disability of a minor. T.C.A. 29-31-101.

Concurrent Jurisdiction of Chancery and Circuit Courts. Chancery Court has concurrent jurisdiction with Circuit Court to hear “all civil cases of action, triable in Circuit Court, except for unliquidated damages for injuries to person or character, and except for unliquidated damages for injuries to property not resulting from a breach of oral or written contract.” T.C.A. 16-11-102.