Articles Posted in Uncategorized

An interesting article in The Atlantic about how the law came to treat corporations as people.

An excerpt:

Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. How exactly did corporations come to be understood as “people” bestowed with the most fundamental constitutional rights? The answer can be found in a bizarre—even farcical—series of lawsuits over 130 years ago involving a lawyer who lied to the Supreme Court, an ethically challenged justice, and one of the most powerful corporations of the day.

 

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has released the 2018 Tennessee Health Care Liability Claims Report (“Report”).  The 2018 Report was released in 2019 but contains data for 2017.   The Report is required as a result of legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2004.

Some 1589 claims against Tennessee health care providers were closed in 2017.  Of those, 1242 (78.6%) were claims closed other than as the result of judgment, settlement or ADR.

Some 33 claims (2.08%) were closed as a result of judgment, 8 of which were defense verdicts in prior years but affirmed on appeal in 2017.  A total of 253 cases (15.92%) were settled, and another 61 (3.84%) were resolved via ADR.  (Do not ask me why these numbers are kept separately or whether they are accurate.)

When a motion for summary judgment in an HCLA case was based solely on the failure to file a certificate of good faith with the complaint, the trial court rightly considered it a motion to dismiss and allowed plaintiff to take a voluntary dismissal.

In Renner v. Takoma Regional Hospital, No. E2018-00853-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2019), plaintiff filed an HCLA claim against defendants, but failed to file a certificate of good faith with her complaint. Defendants filed motions to dismiss on this basis, and plaintiff subsequently filed and served a certificate of good faith. Defendants then filed motions for summary judgment, with attached affidavits, arguing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law due to the failure to file the certificate of good faith with the complaint. Plaintiff filed a motion for voluntary dismissal, and defendants argued that Rule 41.01 prohibited voluntary dismissal when a motion for summary judgment was pending. The trial court ruled that the proper way to challenge the lack of a certificate of good faith was a motion to dismiss, and that the motion for summary judgment filed in this case was “in fact just a restyled motion to dismiss in that there are no facts that are necessary here.” The trial judge ruled that he was going to consider the motion a motion to dismiss, and thus allowed plaintiff to take a nonsuit.

Continue reading

Here is the beginning of my “Day on Torts” column for the Tennessee Bar Journal on what a plaintiff should do if the tortfeasor dies before suit is filed.  Click on the link to read the full text of the article.

Your new client thought she could avoid hiring a lawyer and instead work out on her own a settlement with the insurance claims representative for the other driver. The dance lasted 10 months. “Wait until the end of medical treatment.” “Sign these forms.” “Send me your medical bills.” “I need your EOB forms.” “Your employer needs to confirm in writing your lost wages.” And so on.

She (finally) has concerns about whether she is going to be treated fairly and hires you as her lawyer. You have two months to investigate and evaluate the case, and to file a lawsuit. Your chance to settle the case pre-suit is long gone.

A city government cannot be held liable in tort for a drainage problem on a road it does not own or operate caused by a malfunctioning pipe it did not install.

In Walker v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, No. M2016-00030-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2018), plaintiff homeowner sued defendant city “for damages to his property caused by storm water runoff under the tort theory of a temporary continuous nuisance.” Plaintiff alleged that storm water runoff from the road he lived on flooded his property, basement and foundation each time it rained, and that he had asked defendant several times to fix a malfunctioning drainage pipe. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that a previous homeowner had actually installed the malfunctioning pipe and that the city was accordingly immune from suit under the GTLA. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The evidence submitted in support of defendant’s motion for summary judgment showed that the road plaintiff’s property was on was a state highway, not a city street, and that before plaintiff owned the property the state had “acquired a permanent drainage easement” from the former owners. The state had installed a drainage pipe that funneled water to a ditch, which then funneled water to a creek. Before plaintiff bought the property, however, the previous homeowners enclosed the ditch and put a drainage pipe under the ground where the ditch was previously located, using a mix of both concrete and corrugated metal pipe. Defendant city did not install the pipe or fill in the ditch in question.

Continue reading

Where a landlord evicted a tenant by locking him out and bypassed the legal process outlined in the lease, the landlord was liable for conversion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed an award based on “the present day value of the personal property which Plaintiff claimed was not returned.”

In Philp v. Southeast Enterprises, LLC, No. M2016-02046-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2018), plaintiff tenant had rented an office space from defendant landlord. After plaintiff failed to pay rent for two months, defendant “changed the locks on the doors and posted a notice on the building entrance stating that Plaintiff had been evicted.” Plaintiff filed suit for various causes of action related to the lease and eviction, including a claim for conversion and punitive damages. After a trial, the trial court found that defendant was liable for conversion, which the Court of Appeals affirmed. The trial court also awarded plaintiff $5,000 in punitive damages, and although the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision to award punitive damages, it vacated the amount and instructed the trial court “to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law relative to the appropriate factors and enter judgment accordingly.”

Regarding the conversion claim, the Court of Appeals first affirmed that defendant was liable for conversion damages. The Court pointed out that “[b]y locking Plaintiff out, Defendants maintained possession of all of Plaintiff’s property inside the building.” The Court noted that “Defendants bypassed legal process and changed the locks on the door,” and that their “actions of wrongfully evicting Plaintiff from the property allowed them to exercise dominion and maintain control over Plaintiff’s personal property.” The finding that defendants were liable for conversion was thus affirmed.

Continue reading

Where plaintiff failed to have service issued for over a year against the defendant driver in a car accident case, her claim against her uninsured motorist insurance carrier was barred.

In Davis v. Grange Mutual Casualty Group, No. M2016-02239-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2017), plaintiff filed suit on March 20, 2015 after a car accident, naming both the defendant driver and her uninsured motorist carrier. The suit was filed within the one-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions, but plaintiff “did not cause a summons to issue to either defendant” until April 19, 2016, which was thirteen months after the complaint was filed. The summons was issued to the driver at his last known address and was returned unserved on April 21st by the sheriff with a notation that the driver was “not to be found in my county.”

On April 25th, “the trial court sua sponte dismissed the action for failure to prosecute.” Plaintiff filed a motion to set the dismissal aside on May 24th, and on the same day process for the insurance company was returned unserved. Second summonses were issued for both defendants on June 6th and 7th, and the driver’s was returned unserved indicating that he had died.

Continue reading

Being incarcerated does not constitute extraordinary cause and does not waive the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of the HCLA.

In Kinsey v. Schwarz, No. M2016-02028-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2017), a pro se prison inmate filed an HCLA suit regarding an allegedly “botched surgical procedure performed on his lower back.” Defendants included two doctors and a medical center. In plaintiff’s complaint, he stated that he “attempted to give [the two doctors] pre-suit notice on February 8, 2016 at their place of employment (or business address) by certified mail returned receipt as required…, but that both notices were returned to him as ‘refused’ by the defendants.” Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 28, 2016, without sending additional notice, and he did not attach a certificate of good faith.

Defendants filed motions to dismiss based on the lack of pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith, prompting plaintiff to file “a document entitled ‘Certificate of Good Faith’ in which he asked the trial court to waive the requirement that he file a certificate of good faith because of his alleged inability to comply due to reasons outside of his control.” Specifically, plaintiff stated that the prison doctor “refuse[d] to get involved in this case” and that his incarceration meant he was “unable to freely consult with other physicians.”

Continue reading

Substantial compliance is sufficient to meet the requirements regarding documents to be attached to a Tennessee HCLA complaint, even when the defendant is a governmental entity.

In Clary v. Miller, No. M2016-00794-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 8, 2017), plaintiff served timely pre-suit notice of her HCLA complaint, and attached a HIPAA-compliant authorization to the pre-suit notice. When she later filed her complaint, she attached copies of the pre-suit notice and proof of service, but she failed to attach copies of the HIPAA authorization.

Defendants, which included a medical center considered a governmental entity, moved to dismiss on the basis that the HIPAA authorizations were not attached to the complaint. The trial court granted the motion, finding that plaintiff substantially complied with the HCLA requirements but that “strict compliance was required because [defendant] was a governmental entity.” The Court of Appeals, however, reversed this holding.

Continue reading

The Tennessee Claims Commission has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over a claim by a plaintiff that the state “negligently supervised and retained a prison guard who sexually assaulted [an] inmate.” In Vetrano v. State, No. M2015-02474-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 8, 2017), the Court reversed the claim commission’s dismissal of a negligence suit. Plaintiff alleged that she was an inmate at a state women’s prison and was sexually assaulted by a prison guard. She filed an action with the Tennessee Claims Commission alleging that “state employees negligently supervised and retained the prison guard.” According to plaintiff, another inmate had filed a complaint against the guard for assault, and the guard’s supervisors “had actual and/or constructive knowledge that [the guard] was unfit for the job of corrections officer, and it was reasonably foreseeable that he posed an actual threat of harm to the inmates with whom he came in contact.”

The State moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that under the Claims Commission Act it “could not be liable ‘for the willful, malicious, or criminal acts of state employees.’” (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(d)). The Claims Commission granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

Continue reading