Articles Posted in Limitation of Actions

A conviction in a criminal case, even if a post-conviction appeal is pending, does not satisfy the element of a “prior action [being] finally terminated in favor of plaintiff” for the purpose of a malicious prosecution claim.

In Moffitt v. McPeake, No. W2016-01706-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 10, 2017), plaintiff had been convicted of aggravated assault against the three defendants in a previous criminal case on July 31, 2014. On appeal, his conviction was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and plaintiff pointed out in arguments to the trial court that he had a “pending post-conviction appeal.”

The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to the applicable one-year statute of limitations. The trial court ruled that the limitations period began to run when plaintiff was arrested on May 16, 2013, and that his July 27, 2015 suit was thus untimely. The Court of Appeals rejected this ground for dismissal but affirmed on other grounds.

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Although the issue rarely arises, the statute of limitations on a claim does not begin to run until there is a person who can properly bring the action.

In In re Estate of Link, No. M2016-002002-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2017), John Clemmons had been appointed administrator of the Link Estate in 2003, and he served for ten years. Although the order appointing Mr. Clemmons required him to file an annual inventory and accounting, he filed one in 2004 and then never filed another. In 2013, Mr. Clemmons was removed as administrator and replaced by the plaintiff who filed this action. Seven months after his removal, Mr. Clemmons plead guilty to stealing over $770,000 from the Link Estate.

Plaintiff brought this suit in his capacity as administrator against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Plaintiff alleged that defendant’s “employees in the Probate Court Clerk’s office had been a cause of the Estate’s damages through their negligent failure to monitor Mr. Clemmons.” Plaintiff pointed to Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-602, which requires the Court Clerk “to cite the personal administrator for failing to carry out his or her administrative duties.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that the claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations and by the fact that plaintiff had already gotten a default judgment against Mr. Clemmons for the full amount of the damages. The trial court granted summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

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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 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.

The Court of Appeals recently examined whether the sickness and death of a lawyer’s child constituted extraordinary cause under the HCLA, finding that it did in fact excuse noncompliance with the statute.

In Kirby v. Sumner Regional Medical Center, No. M2015-01181-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 12, 2016), plaintiff was treated at the defendant hospital in June 2013, and plaintiff alleged that the treatment she received fell short of the required standard of care. Well before the one-year statute of limitations, on January 31, 2014, plaintiff’s counsel sent a fax to defendant regarding the claim. No other correspondence was sent, but on the day the one-year statute of limitations was to expire, plaintiff filed suit. Plaintiff attached a certificate of good faith to her complaint, but she admittedly had not served the statutorily required pre-suit notice with attached HIPAA release.

Defendant moved to dismiss the case based on the lack of pre-suit notice. In response, plaintiff’s counsel pointed out that his son was born on March 6, 2014, and subsequently died on June 20, 2014, just days before the statute of limitations was set to expire on this claim. Counsel stated that “[f]or the few months my son lived, there were frequent periodic indications that each day could be his last, including a few serious hospitalizations.” In his memorandum opposing dismissal, plaintiff’s counsel asserted:

In Haynes v. Bass, No. W2015-01192-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 9, 2016), plaintiff brought suit against her ex-husband, a mortgage company, a title company and an attorney claiming she suffered damage when a home that was supposed to be titled to her alone was sold at auction. Plaintiff and defendant ex-husband had previously been married, and in December 2007 they executed a postnuptial agreement stating that, once another property sold which was already under contract, a residence in Collierville that was being purchased by plaintiff would be plaintiff’s “sole and separate property.” After the sale, however, the money was split between the husband and wife and the deeds were allegedly not recorded as planned in the agreement. Plaintiff alleged that her name was forged on the deeds of trust for the property.

In 2014, the couple got divorced in Arkansas. During the divorce proceeding, plaintiff was supposed to be paying the mortgage on the residence, as she was living in it alone, but it was discovered that she had failed to pay and owed $51,000. The Arkansas court entered an order holding plaintiff in contempt for failing to pay the mortgage and stating that plaintiff could pay defendant husband $55,000 or the property would be sold by a receiver at auction. After plaintiff failed to pay, the residence was sold, and plaintiff filed suit seeking damages for the loss of the property.

In this Tennessee action, plaintiff brought several claims, including fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence and civil conspiracy. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint in total for failure to state a claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Against her ex-husband, plaintiff advanced claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation, among other contract-based claims. Both of these causes of actions, though, require the plaintiff to suffer damages due to the misrepresentations. Here, the Court found that the evidence “reveal[ed] that [plaintiff] lost the residence, and the value of all of the improvements she made to the property, because of her failure to pay the mortgage, which resulted in the Arkansas court ordering the property to be sold.” Even if plaintiff’s allegations were taken as true, the Court held that “the allegations are not sufficient to make out a claim against [defendant] because the damages sustained by [plaintiff] are not related to [defendant’s] alleged breach of the postnuptial agreement.”

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In a recent legal malpractice case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the one-year statute of limitations had run and that the case should accordingly be dismissed in total.

In Story v. Bunstein, No. E2015-02211-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 9, 2016), plaintiffs had previously been represented by defendant lawyers in a lender liability suit against three defendants. The timeline of the underlying litigation included the following:

  • On May 7, 2013, the trial court granted summary judgment to two defendants.
  • Lawyer “allegedly advised [plaintiffs] that he would fie a motion to correct what he perceived was the erroneous grant of the motion for summary judgment.”
  • Layer filed a motion to alter or amend, but no hearing was ever set for that motion.
  • “Shortly before trial on the remaining claims, [lawyer] allegedly informed [plaintiffs] that their damages evidence was not ready for trial” and recommended voluntary dismissal.
  • Underlying suit was voluntarily dismissed on November 13, 2013, and was not re-filed.

This legal malpractice claim was filed on September 3, 2014.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations. In response, plaintiffs argued that “the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the order of dismissal as to [plaintiff’s] remaining claims was entered on November 13, 2013.” The trial court held that the statute of limitations barred some of plaintiffs’ malpractice claims, but that plaintiffs’ “allegations with respect to the November 2013 voluntary dismissal of their remaining claim in the underlying case is a discrete allegation of alleged legal malpractice which is not barred by the statute of limitations.” The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the entire case was in fact time-barred.

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In Credential Leasing Corp. of Tenn., Inc. v. White, No. E2015-01129-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 17, 2016), plaintiff lender brought various claims against defendant lawyer, including claims for professional negligence and fraudulent misrepresentation, related to the drafting of a deed of trust. Defendant attorney prepared a 2010 deed of trust in favor of plaintiff, conveying title to a parcel of land owned in part by defendant’s brother. Defendant stated that he would do the title work, prepare the deed of trust, and issue title insurance for the property at issue, though he never actually issued any title insurance.

The property was actually owned by the brother and another man as tenants in common. In 2007 a deed of trust had been executed on the same property to secure a loan from another bank, and defendant attorney had notarized the signatures of the grantors (and correct property owners) on that deed. Despite the fact that the brother only owned a half interest in the property, the 2010 deed of trust did not mention the other owner’s interest. Instead, it listed the brother and the brother’s wife as grantors, even though the wife had no interest in the property. Further, while the warranty deed and previous deed of trust used a “lot and block” description of the property, the 2010 deed of trust described the property by metes and bounds.

In 2011, the brother declared bankruptcy. Plaintiff received a notice of the bankruptcy filing, which showed the other creditor having a first lien, which plaintiff was already aware of. Almost two years later, however, plaintiff learned that the property had been sold at foreclosure, and plaintiff had not received notice. Only after learning of this sale did plaintiff find out that the brother had only owned a one-half interest in the property, and that their deed of trust thus had not covered the entire property.

A recent appeal in a claim filed under the Health Care Liability Act (HCLA) turned on when the statute of limitations began to run and whether a doctor was an employee under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA).

In Rogers v. Blount Memorial Hospital, Inc., No. E2015-00136-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2016), plaintiff arrived at the Blount Memorial Hospital’s (“Hospital”) emergency room on September 8, 2012. He was treated by Dr. Bhatti (“Doctor”), who diagnosed him with and began treating him for Guillain-Barre Syndrome (“GBS”). According to plaintiff, he later found out he never had GBS, but instead had a spinal abscess, and the delay in diagnosis and treatment of the abscess “resulted in permanent and irreplaceable spinal cord damage.”

Plaintiff sent pre-suit notice of this suit to the hospital on August 20, 2013, and to the doctor on October 7, 2013. The complaint was then filed on December 13, 2013. Both defendants filed motions for summary judgment, both of which were granted by the trial court for different reasons.

For the doctor, the trial court granted summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, finding that plaintiff “was aware of facts sufficient to place a reasonable person on inquiry notice that he had suffered an injury as a result of Dr. Bhatti’s alleged misdiagnosis” on September 13, 2012, or at least by October 5, 2012. According to the trial court, plaintiff’s pre-suit notice sent on October 7, 2013, was thus sent outside the statute of limitations. Plaintiff argued, though, that “he had no reason to suspect that the initial diagnosis of GBS was incorrect until he was informed by another medical practitioner in mid-October 2012 that he never had GBS.” Plaintiff asserted that although he had continuing symptoms and was told in the hospital that he would be treated for a spinal abscess, he thought the symptoms and abscess were consequences of the GBS and was never told otherwise.

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In 2011, the Tennessee legislature amended Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-1-106 regarding tolling of statutes of limitations, replacing the language “of unsound mind” and “after the removal of such disability” with “adjudicated incompetent” and “after legal rights are restored.” The current version of the statute reads:

If the person entitled to commence an action is, at the time the cause of action accrued, either under eighteen (18) years of age, or adjudicated incompetent, such person, or such person’s representatives and privies, as the case may be, may commence the action, after legal rights are restored, within the time of limitation for the particular cause of action, unless it exceeds three (3) years, and in that case within three (3) years from restoration of legal rights.

Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals analyzed the meaning of this language change, marking the first time a state court has interpreted the new terms.

 

In Johnson v. UHS of Lakeside, LLC, No. W2015-01022-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 23, 2015), plaintiff filed an HCLA claim related to her late husband’s fall at defendant’s facility. It was uncontested that she gave pre-suit notice more than one year after the cause of action accrued, and that she filed the complaint more than one year and 120 days after the same. Defendant moved to dismiss the claim based on the statute of limitations. Plaintiff opposed the motion on the basis that her husband met the criteria of § 28-1-106 and that the statute of limitations was thus tolled. The trial court dismissed the action, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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