Be Careful What You Ask For; You Just Might Get It

This case is ugly.  And when I say ugly, I mean ugly.  This case is so ugly that if it tried to sit in the sand a cat would come up and bury it.

This case started in Davidson County General Sessions Court. On May 6, 2010, plaintiff filed a negligence action again Davidson Transit Organization stemming from an accident she suffered while a passenger in a wheelchair on a DTO bus.   The general sessions warrant sought damages under $25,000. Shortly after filing the warrant, the plaintiff moved to have her case transferred to circuit court and that motion was granted. Less than two weeks after being transferred to Judge Brothers court, plaintiff moved to amend her complaint to identify a John Doe defendant and to substitute an amended complaint for the original complaint. In addition to adding the new party, the amended complaint increased the amount of damages sought. DTO opposed the motion and plaintiff’s motion was ultimately denied because the statute of limitations had passed as to the new party and the plaintiff did not demonstrate the amendment would relate back. 

Thereafter, the court conducted numerous case management conferences and the special master recommended a conservator be appointed for the plaintiff because a psychological evaluation had revealed she was incompetent. Ultimately, a conservator was substituted on February 19, 2013.   On March 5, 2013, nearly three years after the case was originally filed in general sessions court, DTO confessed judgment in the amount of $24,999.99, which was the damages sought in the original general sessions warrant. DTO deposited the judgment amount with the court on the same day, and Judge Brothers dismissed the case with prejudice. Plaintiff filed a motion to set aside or to alter or amend the judgment which was denied and plaintiff appealed alleging: (1) the trial court erred in failing to allow her to amend her complaint; and (2) the trial court erred in permitting the defendant to confess judgment.

On appeal, plaintiff did not identify any error in Judge Brothers’ denial of the motion to amend to add a party.  Instead, she made a “continuing jurisdiction” argument to claim Judge Brothers’ could have still increased the ad damnum to give the “Plaintiff her day in court”.   The Court of Appeals disagreed. While the rules allow a plaintiff who appeals or transfers a case from general sessions to circuit court to amend the ad damnum to increase the damages sought, the plaintiff actually has to make the proper motion and have it granted. In this case, plaintiff’s motion was one to name a new party in place of a John Doe defendant. And while the proposed amended complaint did have a new ad damnum, the motion to amend was denied because of the statute of limitations. Plaintiff could have filed another motion to amend to simply increase the ad damnum, but she never did despite the passage of three years. 

This case is correctly decided. While we do not know the reason plaintiff initially filed her case in general sessions court, the rumor is that it is done to quickly get a case filed before the statute of limitations runs. But lawyers who proceed in this fashion need to be mindful that they just might get what they asked for in writing:  i.e. a judgment for $24,999.99 even though the case is truly worth much more.

The case is McKissack v. Davidson Transit Organization, M2013-01224-COA-R3-CV (Feb. 11, 2014).