Tennessee Court Upholds Verdict Against Officers Who Recorded Members

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld a verdict in favor of five firefighters who claim their conversations were secretly recorded without their knowledge or consent, in violation of state law. Ronald Ledford, Stephanie Ledford, Kyle Motes, Ricky Motes, and Betty Motes, all members of the Hillsview Fire Department, claim that Fire Chief Ben Sneed and Lt. Dan Wilson Jr. recorded their private conversations inside the firehouse in violation of Tennessee Code Section 39-13-601, et seq.

Chief Snead and Lt. Wilson alleged that notice was given to all members that recording may occur in the firehouse in an effort to manage “gossip.” McMinn County Circuit Court granted a directed verdict in favor of the five members, and awarded them damages of $10,000 each, plus costs and attorneys’ fees. Chief Snead and Lt. Wilson appealed.

At issue was whether the judge should have granted the directed verdict, or allowed the matter to go to the jury. In a ruling handed down Friday, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, and reasoned as follows:

  • Tennessee law provides that it is lawful for a person to intercept an oral communication if (1) the person intercepting the communication is a party to the communication or (2) one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to the interception.
  • Otherwise, a person commits an offense who “[i]ntentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication[.]
  • Here, the evidence presented was uncontroverted that neither defendant was a party to the communication.
  • Defendants argued at trial and now on appeal that Plaintiffs consented to the recording of their communications.
  • We, like the trial court, believe that the record overwhelmingly established that Plaintiffs did not consent to the interception of their communications.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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