Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

In Sakaan v. FedEx Corporation, Inc., No. W2016-00648-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 21, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a misrepresentation claim based on the statute of limitations.

Plaintiff had previously been employed by defendant FedEx, and had been presented with a severance package as part of a cost-cutting initiative by the company. Before signing the severance agreement, plaintiff asked about how it would affect his ability to work on FedEx projects that were staffed by third-party vendors, and he “allege[d] he was assured that his acceptance of the severance agreement would not prohibit him from working on FedEx projects sourced through a third-party vendor.” Plaintiff signed the agreement in March 2013, officially left his employment in November 2013, and was hired by a company that contracted with FedEx. In his role with this new company, he attended a meeting at FedEx on December 19, 2013. When members of the FedEx legal team recognized him, they had him removed from the premises, and “he has not worked on a FedEx project since that time.”

Plaintiff filed suit on April 21, 2015, making claims for intentional and negligent misrepresentation. After filing their answers, defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings based on the statute of limitations, which the trial court granted. The trial court determined that the one-year statute of limitations found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1) applied to this matter, and that the claims were thus time-barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

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In Holmes v. Christ Community Health Services, Inc., No. W2016-00207-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned the exclusion of expert testimony in an HCLA case.

In 2004, plaintiff fell and hurt her right shoulder, and she did not seek treatment until five days after her fall. When she visited defendant doctor, he examined her shoulder and diagnosed her with bursitis, never ordering an x-ray or other scan. Defendant doctor recommended an exercise program to plaintiff. Plaintiff’s pain continued to worsen, and she saw a different doctor a month later. This doctor took an x-ray of her shoulder and referred her to an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered a CT scan. The scan showed that plaintiff had a fracture dislocation. She was then sent to Dr. Weiss, a surgeon specializing in shoulder injuries, who performed open reduction surgery on plaintiff. During surgery, Dr. Weiss determined that plaintiff’s shoulder socket was “so badly damaged that it had to be repaired utilizing a cadaver bone piece and surgical screws.” Plaintiff suffered many complications, including a severe infection, an additional surgery, and a PICC line for antibiotics. After her shoulder healed, plaintiff was left with a “partial physical impairment.”

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Citing the Rule of Sevens, the Court of Appeals recently affirmed a finding that a 13-year-old was solely responsible for his injury when he fell on the bleachers at his school.

In Crockett v. Sumner County Board of Educ., No. M2015-02227-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2016), injured plaintiff and his parents sued his school after he fell on bleachers in the gym. Plaintiff was attending summer school, and the day before his injury someone had intentionally caused flooding in a boys’ bathroom. Because no one would confess, two coaches had all of the eighth grade boys help clean the bathroom and pick up trash from the bleachers. According to plaintiff, he mopped the bathroom and then was told to begin helping in the bleachers, though the coach supervising the work testified that plaintiff was not told to work in the bleachers after mopping.

At the time of his injury, plaintiff was using the bleacher seats as stairs, rather than using the designated stairway on the bleachers. Plaintiff stated that the coach had left the gym when he fell, but the coach testified that he had left for a couple of minutes to retrieve a dry mop and had returned to the gym by the time of plaintiff’s accident.

During a bench trial, plaintiff testified that “he knew from the time he was a little kid that he was not supposed to use the bleacher seats as steps,” and that such usage could cause injury. He further testified that he “just wasn’t thinking about it” at the time of the accident. Two coaches from his school testified that they had told the students on many occasions not to use the seats as steps but to instead use the designated steps, which had non-slip material on them.

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In J.A.C. v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, No. W2016-00024-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2016), a plaintiff lost her chance to pursue her Tennessee medical malpractice claim due to an insufficient HIPAA release form.

Plaintiff was forty weeks pregnant when she went to the defendant hospital with lower back and abdominal pain on January 23, 2012, and she was found to have elevated blood pressure. Plaintiff was nonetheless discharged. She had her baby the next day, January 24, 2012, and a placental abruption was noted. The baby, a girl, allegedly “sustained severe brain damage that would not have occurred but for the Providers’ actions in failing to properly treat [plaintiff].”

Plaintiff filed this action on May 1, 2015, purportedly on behalf of both herself and her daughter. Plaintiff alleged that she followed the pre-suit notice requirements of the HCLA, but defendants moved to dismiss the case based on an insufficient HIPAA form. Defendants argued that, because the HIPAA form was insufficient to fulfill the statutory requirements, plaintiff was not entitled to the 120-day extension provided by the HCLA, and that her suit was thus filed outside the three-year statute of repose.

In Robinson v. Robbins, No. W2016-00381-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 19, 2016), the Court of Appeals addressed an issue regarding whether the savings statute applied when the defendant argued that the party in the second suit was different from the party named in the first suit.

This was an HCLA case, and plaintiffs first filed suit pro se. Their first complaint named the defendant as “Edward Todd Robins, MD, PC.” Within the body of the complaint, however, defendant was described in his individual capacity. When filing his answer, defendant included the language: “Comes now, Dr. E. Todd Robbins, P.C. as proper party for the above named Edward Todd Robbins, M.D., P.C…” Later in the suit, plaintiffs retained an attorney, who at some point in the first suit filed a motion “to clarify their intent to seek recovery from Defendant as an individual.” The trial court orally denied this motion, but “advised Plaintiffs that it would reconsider its ruling if they provided authority in support of their argument.” Before the order denying the motion was entered, plaintiffs took a voluntary dismissal of the first suit.

After giving proper pre-suit notice, plaintiffs filed their second suit, wherein they named “Edward Todd Robbins, M.D.” as defendant. Defendant moved to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, arguing that the first suit was filed against him in his corporate capacity and that the savings statute thus did not apply to a suit filed against him in his individual capacity, as the parties were not identical. The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit, but this dismissal was reversed on appeal.

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Tennessee Courts continue to make it clear that each time you re-file a previously dismissed Tennessee medical malpractice (now health care liability) claim, you must abide by the statutory requirements. In Cright v. Overly, No. E2015-01215-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2016), the Court of Appeals addressed the need for a plaintiff who was re-filing a previously nonsuited complaint to attach a new HIPAA-compliant release to the second pre-suit notice letter, determining that her failure to do so meant the complaint should be dismissed.

Plaintiff sued multiple defendants related to the treatment and death of her husband. In August 2009, before filing the first suit, plaintiff sent pre-suit notices with a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization to each of the defendants. This action proceeded through discovery and eventually made it to trial, but three days into trial plaintiff moved for a voluntary dismissal.

After the dismissal, plaintiff sent pre-suit notices to the defendants again, but this time she did not include a HIPAA release. Instead, the letter stated: “Medical records of the entire UT Hospital admission at issue have been previously provided to you, as well as any other records you wished to obtain pursuant to an Agreed RAS Order entered in the [original suit].” When plaintiff filed her second complaint, defendants all filed motions to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to include a HIPAA-compliant release with her pre-suit notice pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121. Plaintiff’s attorney asserted that a HIPAA release “was not attached, because the parties had previously entered an agreed order that the RAS service and record ordering procedure was to be the exclusive means for obtaining the deceased’s medical records, to the exclusion of any medical authorizations previously provided.” The trial court, however, granted the motions to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Judge Thomas Brothers of Nashville has declared Tenn. Code Ann. Section 29-26 -121(f)(1) and (2) unconstitutional.    Memorandum Order – Judge Brothers

The code section allows defense lawyers in Tennessee health care liability actions virtually unfettered  ex parte communications with the plaintiff’s non-party health care providers.   The code section was adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in an attempt to override two  Tennessee Supreme Court  decisions.

The first of those cases was Givens v. Mullikin, 75 S.W.3d 383 (Tenn. 20o2), which held that a covenant of confidentiality between patients and their treating physicians arises because of an implied understanding between patient and doctor and from a public policy concern that private medical information should be protected.

In Hurley v. Pickens, No. E2015-02089-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2016), the Court of Appeals once again held that a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can take a voluntary nonsuit without prejudice while a motion to dismiss based on an insufficient certificate of good faith is pending.

This opinion was very similar to Clark v. Werther, No. M2014-00844-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2016) and discussed in this Day on Torts post, which came out just two days prior to the instant matter. In Clark, though, plaintiff was pro se and had failed to attach a certificate of good faith to his complaint. Here, plaintiff was represented by counsel and had attached a certificate of good faith, but defendants alleged the certificate was deficient and filed motions to dismiss accordingly.

While the motions to dismiss were pending, plaintiff filed a corrected certificate of good faith, a motion for extension of time to file a corrected certificate of good faith, and a motion for and notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice. At a hearing on all of the pending motions, and before any argument on the motions to dismiss, plaintiff “announced that he wanted to take a voluntary dismissal pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41,” which the trial court allowed. Defendants appealed the dismissal without prejudice, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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In Clark v. Werther, No. M2014-00844-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2016), the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that nothing about the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA)  certificate of good faith requirement prohibited a plaintiff from taking a TRCP Rule 41 voluntary nonsuit while a motion to dismiss was pending.

Here, a pro se plaintiff filed a health care liability suit against fourteen healthcare providers. When filing his complaint, however, he failed to attach a certificate of good faith as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122. Several of the defendants filed motions to dismiss on this basis. In response, and before any hearing on the motions to dismiss, plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit and proposed order. Some of the defendants “opposed [plaintiff’s] notice of nonsuit on the ground that his complaint should be dismissed with prejudice because of the missing certificate of good faith,” as that is the appropriate penalty under the statute. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed without prejudice the claims against the non-objecting defendants, but dismissed with prejudice the claims against the defendants who objected to the nonsuit.

On appeal, the Court noted that Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.01 governs voluntary nonsuits and precludes a nonsuit in certain situations, including “in a class action case, in a shareholder derivative action, in a case in which a receiver has been appointed, or while an opposing party’s motion for summary judgment is pending,” or “when it would deprive the defendant of some vested right.” (citation omitted). Otherwise, a plaintiff’s ability to take a voluntary nonsuit is “free and unrestricted…before the jury retires.” (citation omitted).

In Newman v. Guardian Healthcare Providers, Inc., No. M2015-01315-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of a medical malpractice (now known as a “health care liability” or “HCLA”) claim because the plaintiff failed to file a certificate of good faith, and expert testimony was required in the case.

Plaintiff sued various companies that provided nursing and medical staff to a psychiatric facility. According to the complaint, plaintiff’s husband, who was a patient and resident at the facility, sustained life-ending injuries when he was attacked by another resident. Plaintiff alleged that defendants were negligence because her husband, who died, was supposed to have one-to-one care and supposed to have a wheelchair, yet had neither. She also alleged that the attacker was supposed to have one-to-one care and was known to be violent, and that defendants failed to take measures to protect the patients from the attacker.

When plaintiff filed her complaint, she did not give pre-suit notice or attach a certificate of good faith to her complaint, as required by the HCLA. At the time of this appeal, it was uncontested that this claim fell under the HCLA.

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