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Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

Where a defendant in a Tennessee defamation case moved to dismiss based on both substantive grounds and the assertion that the court lacked personal jurisdiction, the trial court should have considered the personal jurisdiction argument before granting dismissal based on the substantive grounds.

In Checkan v. Southern Towing Company LLC, No. W2020-00636-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2021), the plaintiff filed a defamation case against the defendant drawbridge owner, alleging that a letter sent by the defendant to the plaintiff’s employer containing false information caused him to be fired from his job and made him unable to obtain new employment as a riverboat captain. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, raising substantive arguments and asserting that the trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The trial court granted dismissal, finding that the allegedly defamatory letter was a prelitigation letter and was accordingly entitled to privilege, but it specifically noted that it was not “ruling on the other procedural bases for dismissal.” On appeal, this ruling was vacated.

In a brief opinion, the Court of Appeals quoted from a federal opinion explaining why a personal jurisdiction argument should be addressed before a failure to state a claim argument:

Where a plaintiff originally named the wrong defendant in a car accident case and did not file an amended complaint naming the correct defendant until after the one-year statute of limitations had run, dismissal was affirmed. In Black v. Khel, No. W2020-00228-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 30, 2020), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident on May 11, 2018. In March 2019, plaintiff was involved in a separate car accident with a driver named Taylor Antonsen. On May 8, 2019, plaintiff filed a complaint for personal injury damages from the first accident, but she failed to name defendant as a party or refer to defendant in any way. Instead, plaintiff named “Taylor Antonsen” as the opposing party and referred to Antonsen throughout the complaint. One week after filing the complaint, On May 15, 2019, plaintiff realized the mistake and filed an amended complaint naming defendant as the other driver in the accident.

Defendant received a summons for the amended complaint then filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that plaintiff’s case was barred by the one-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff argued that her amended complaint related back to the filing of her original complaint under Rule 15.03, but the trial court rejected that argument and granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal.

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Where plaintiff failed to comply with an order to supplement his discovery in a car accident case, the Tennesse Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal.

In Gordon v. Chapman, No. W2019-01655-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2020), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident on the interstate. Plaintiff filed this negligence suit against the defendant, seeking damages for pain and suffering, and defendant counter-claimed alleging that plaintiff negligently caused the accident.

On April 26, 2019, the trial court held a status hearing wherein it “ordered [plaintiff] to supplement his incomplete discovery responses to [defendant].” The trial court specifically ordered the plaintiff to provide a written description of his claimed injuries and an itemization of his medical bills. On July 10th, the defendant moved for discovery sanctions against the plaintiff, alleging that plaintiff had produced some medical bills but had not complied with the trial court’s order. At a hearing on July 26th, the trial court entered an order stating that the plaintiff was to provide his supplemental responses by August 2nd, and that if he failed to do so the case would be dismissed with prejudice. On August 2nd, the trial court held a hearing where it heard from both parties, and it dismissed the plaintiff’s case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that he supplemented his responses on August 8th, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

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Where the defendant failed to file a post-trial motion, she “waived her right to contest the trial court’s denial of her motion for a directed verdict.”

In Carman v. Kellon, No. M2019-00857-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2020), the plaintiff was seriously injured when she was jogging on the side of a road and was hit by a truck driven by the defendant son. Plaintiff and her husband brought this action against the defendant son/driver for negligence, negligence per se, and recklessness, and against his mother for vicarious liability and negligent entrustment. Though the trial court granted the mother summary judgment on the vicarious liability claim, the negligent entrustment claim proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of plaintiffs’ proof, defendants moved for a directed verdict, which the trial court denied. At the end of the trial, the jury returned a very large verdict against both defendants, finding the son 60% at fault and the mother 40% at fault. Neither the mother nor the son filed any post-trial motions.

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Where plaintiff filed a declaration in response to defendants’ motion for summary judgment that sought to amend her prior deposition testimony based on her nervousness during the deposition and her refreshed recollection of the incident in question, the Court of Appeals ruled that the declaration should have been considered and that there were thus genuine issues of material fact. Summary judgment for defendants was reversed.

In Lundell v. Hubbs, No. E2019-02168-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 23, 2020), plaintiff worked at an elementary school and regularly volunteered as a bus aide. On the day of her injury, plaintiff was “traversing the aisle of the bus” when she alleged that the bus driver “carelessly and recklessly drove over a speed bump at an unsafe rate of speed, causing her to fall and sustain injuries.”

Plaintiff filed this negligence suit against the driver and the owner/bus line, and defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff responded to the motion and attached to her memorandum a “Declaration of Barbara Lundell,” wherein she explained that she was nervous during her initial deposition and had incorrectly identified where the incident took place. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, ruling that plaintiff’s declaration should not be considered, that plaintiff had not shown a breach of duty, and that plaintiff was at least 50% at fault because she “was in the best position to protect herself from the common-sense danger of walking in the aisle of a moving school bus.” On appeal, summary judgment was reversed.

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Where plaintiff and defendant gave differing versions of a car accident, the photographs of the vehicles could be interpreted to support defendant’s version of events, and the jury appeared to credit defendant by finding plaintiff 60% at fault, the Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s refusal to grant a new trial.

In Justice v. Gaiter, No. M2019-01299-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2020), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident on December 23rd in heavy traffic near a mall. Defendant was attempting to pull onto a road separating two parking areas when the cars collided. At a jury trial, plaintiff asserted that he was sitting in traffic when he was essentially t-boned by defendant in the driver’s door, and that defendant’s car then slid down the remainder of the driver’s side of plaintiff’s car. Defendant, on the other hand, testified that a car had stopped to let him cross into traffic, that he stuck his fender slightly into the lane he was attempting to merge into, and that he was sitting still when plaintiff’s vehicle failed to stop and hit the corner of defendant’s car. The photographs offered into evidence showed “the scraping on Plaintiff’s car from the driver’s side door to the rear fender” and damage to the front of defendant’s car.

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Where defendant pharmacists alleged comparative fault against a doctor and filed a certificate of good faith that complied with all the necessary requirements of the statute, the trial court’s decision to deny sanctions based on the allegation that the “certificate of good faith was supported by the written statement of an incompetent expert witness” was affirmed, even though the doctor’s motion for summary judgment had been successful. The Court of Appeals explained that “nothing in the express language of section 29-26-122 requires that a party asserting fault against another guarantee that his or her expert is competent or that the claim will ultimately prevail.”

In Smith v. Outen, No. W2019-01226-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2020), plaintiff filed an HCLA suit against defendant pharmacists for dispensing the wrong medicine to plaintiff. In her complaint, plaintiff stated that when her doctor realized she had been given the wrong medicine by the pharmacists, he ordered her to stop the medicine immediately. Defendant pharmacists filed an answer alleging comparative fault against the doctor, asserting that he should have had plaintiff taper off the medication rather than stop it immediately. The pharmacists’ attorney filed a certificate of good faith supporting their comparative fault allegation, as required by the HCLA, and plaintiff amended her complaint to add the doctor as a defendant.

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Although a fee-splitting provision in an arbitration agreement was unconscionable based on the plaintiff’s financial situation, the Court of Appeals ruled that the fee-splitting provision was severable and that defendant’s motion to compel arbitration should have been granted.

In Stokes v. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center LLC, No. W2019-01983-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2020), plaintiff filed an HCLA complaint against defendant nursing home alleging that he had contracted sepsis due to the negligence of one of defendant’s nurses, and that he had suffered severe permanent injuries. Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration, attaching a three-page arbitration agreement that plaintiff had signed on two occasions. The agreement contained a provision stating that the parties would split the arbitration expenses equally. Plaintiff opposed the motion on a “cost-based unconscionability defense,” arguing that plaintiff would never be able to afford paying half of the arbitration costs. Defendant responded that this argument was moot, as it had offered to cover the entire cost of the arbitration. After a hearing, the trial court refused to compel arbitration, finding that the agreement was unconscionable. This appeal followed.

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Where a plaintiff named the wrong defendant in a premises liability suit, but claimed that the proper defendant had notice of the lawsuit due to a correspondence she had sent on its website stating that she had been in contact with her legal team, the proper defendant did not have notice of the lawsuit and the amended complaint naming the proper defendant did not relate back to the filing of the original suit.

In Hensley v. Stokely Hospitality Properties, Inc., No. E2019-02146-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 9, 2020), plaintiff slipped and fell in the Edgewater Hotel parking lot. She filed suit on June 18, 2019, naming Noble House Hotels as the defendant. When she later learned that Nobel House Hotels did not own the hotel at which she fell, she filed an amended complaint on August 5, 2019 naming defendant, who was the owner of the hotel at issue.

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