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Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

When determining the amount of attorneys’ fees to award in a post-settlement attorney fee dispute, the trial court should have considered the relevant facts and factors contained in Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5(a).

In Cordova v. Nashville Ready Mix, Inc., No. M2018-02002-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2020), the issues at play were “post-settlement disputes concerning an attorney’s fee lien filed by the plaintiffs’ first attorney, a subrogation lien filed by the employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, and the assessment of post-settlement discretionary costs against the carrier.” In the underlying case, Sergio Lopez had died from injuries he sustained at work. The injuries were caused by a third party (defendant), and Mr. Lopez’s employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier had been paying benefits to his wife and children. The wife filed a wrongful death claim against defendant company and its employee, alleging that the employee caused her husband’s death and that the company was vicariously liable.

In the wrongful death action, plaintiffs were initially represented by attorney Gary Hodges, whose fee agreement “entitled him to 33% of the gross recovery obtained through arbitration, settlement conference or trial.” The agreement also provided that if Mr. Hodges was discharged and plaintiff recovered after the discharge, Mr. Hodges would be entitled to “a reasonable attorney’s fee and reimbursement for all costs advanced.” Notably, the agreement did not differentiate between “discharge for good cause and discharge without cause.” After he was hired by the plaintiffs, “Mr. Hodges entered a separate fee-sharing agreement with another solo practitioner, Robert L. Martin.” Plaintiffs never had an agreement with Mr. Martin and were not told about the agreement between Mr. Hodges and Mr. Martin.

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Where plaintiff failed to produce a photograph of an accident scene in response to requests for production, despite a consent order compelling a response to the discovery requests, the Court of Appeals affirmed the exclusion of a portion of defendant’s deposition testimony that plaintiff wanted to use at trial as a sanction.

In Cuddeford v. Jackson, No. W2019-00539-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 16, 2020), plaintiff filed a negligence suit against defendant after a motorcycle accident. Defendant was backing out of his driveway, and plaintiff alleged that defendant backed into plaintiff’s path, causing plaintiff to lose control of his motorcycle and crash.

In February 2016, defendant sent interrogatories and requests for production of documents to plaintiff, which including a request for “copies of any photographs…relating to the accident scene.” Plaintiff did not respond to the discovery requests, which eventually resulted in defendant filing a motion to compel. The trial court entered a “consent order for Plaintiff to respond to the interrogatories and request for production of documents by July 6, 2016.” The only document produced by plaintiff in response was a medical authorization.

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Where plaintiffs could not prove that a trucking company owned the tractor that caused an accident, and instead offered directly contradictory evidence on the issue, summary judgment for defendants was affirmed.

In Affainie v. Heartland Express Maintenance Services, Inc., No. M2019-01277-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April. 1, 2020), plaintiffs were the driver and passenger of a car involved in a hit-and-run car accident when a tractor-trailer truck allegedly crossed into plaintiffs’ lane. Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant Heartland Express, whom they alleged owned the truck in question, as well as defendant State Farm under their uninsured motorist insurance policy.

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Where a plaintiff filed a personal injury action against the personal representative of the estate of the deceased tortfeasor, but the estate had already been closed and the statute of limitations had run by the time the plaintiff sought to extend the time to file correctly, dismissal based on untimeliness was affirmed.

In Algee v. Craig, No. W2019-00587-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 31. 2020), plaintiff was injured in a car accident allegedly caused by Nancy Craig on September 25, 2017. Nancy Craig died the following January, and her estate was opened with Defendant David Craig as her personal representative in February 2018. The estate was closed on July 13, 2018.

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Where plaintiff presented a statement of undisputed material facts that called into question the check cashing policies of defendant, but that statement of facts was ignored by the trial court in granting summary judgment for defendant, summary judgment was reversed.

In Great American Insurance Company v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, No. E2019-00649-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 5, 2020), plaintiff filed a negligence suit against defendant in relation to checks that were cashed by defendant’s stores. Plaintiff was a Comdata customer and used the Comdata system to pay certain independent contractors. Using this system, plaintiff would request a code for a Comdata check to be issued, and the check would be printed by defendant Pilot Travel Centers, which was a Comdata vendor. Independent contractors could then retrieve these checks from Pilot stores.

From June 2010 to March 2011, an employee of plaintiff, “without the knowledge or permission of [plaintiff,]” presented 689 codes at Pilot stores and both retrieved and cashed the checks, totaling over $368,000. Neither the employee nor plaintiff were the payee on the checks, and she cashed the checks wearing her work uniform, but defendant’s policy was to allow the “person presenting the code” to cash the check and “did not require that the payee of the check match the identification presented when the Comchek was cashed.” The employee used the controller’s password to request the codes, and there was a General Manager at plaintiff company in charge of “reviewing and signing off on the Comdata transactions.”

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Under what circumstances can a product manufacturer be hauled into state court to defend a products liability claim when the injury occurred in that state ? Or, as put by Ford Motor Company in Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court:

Whether the “arise out of or relate to” requirement for a state court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant under Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz is met when none of the defendant’s forum contacts caused the plaintiff’s claims, such that the plaintiff’s claims would be the same even if the defendant had no forum contacts.

The United States Supreme Court has accepted Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court for review, consolidating it with the Minnesota case of Ford Motor Corporation vs. Bandemer.

Where a plaintiff knew how to properly serve a defendant yet chose to delay service of process until after the statute of limitations on his claims had run, summary judgment for defendant was affirmed.

In Fuller v. Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, No. E2018-02267-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2020), plaintiff filed suit against defendant and Community National Bank in 2015. In that suit, plaintiff initially sent a summons for defendant to CT Corporation System, but CT Corporation informed plaintiff by letter that it was not authorized to accept service for defendant. Plaintiff then successfully served defendant’s general counsel. This first suit was eventually nonsuited, and plaintiff filed second suits against defendant and Community National Bank separately. For the suit against defendant, which was originally filed in August 2017, plaintiff again sent a summons to CT Corporation, who responded by letter in November 2017 that it was not authorized to accept service. “Plaintiff’s counsel did not attempt to properly serve defendant until March 20, 2018, when he returned the unserved summons, and obtained and mailed a second summons to defendant’s general counsel.”

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It is, as the Second District Court of Appeals of Florida said, a “rather arcane”issue: who decides whether a dispute is subject to an arbitration provision – a judge or an arbitrator.  Under the facts presented, the appellate court concluded that because the contract (a clickwrap agreement on AirBNB’s website)  “did not provide clear and unmistakable evidence that only the arbitrator could decide the issue of arbitrability” the issue was one for the judge.

The case is Doe v. Natt and AirBNB, Inc., Case No. 2D19-1383 (Fla. Ct. App. March 25, 2019).  The court reached a result different than several other intermediate appellate courts in Florida and thus is likely to go up on appeal.

Under what circumstances can a Tennessee court insist that an out-of-state defendant submit to the jurisdiction of a Tennessee state court?  The Tennessee Supreme Court is facing this issue in Crouch Railway Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC. 

The case arose when the plaintiff, a Tennessee civil engineering company,  filed an action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment against a Texas energy company (referred to in the opinions as “Lonestar” in Williamson County Chancery Court, alleging that the Texas company breached its contract with the Tennessee company by failing to pay for engineering and planning services.  Lonestar filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court granted the motion, determining that the minimum contacts test had not been satisfied because the Lonestar did not target Tennessee. Additionally, the trial court determined that it would be unfair and unreasonable to require the Lonestar to litigate the dispute in Tennessee.

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