Certificates of Good Faith and Voluntary Dismissals Pending a Motion

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.

Because a party is not entitled to voluntary dismissal under Rule 41.01 if a motion for summary judgment is pending, the issue here was whether the trial court was correct in treating the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants as a motion to dismiss. On appeal, the Court stated that this was a matter of first impression. Other cases involving motions for summary judgment cited by defendants included motions based only partially on a plaintiff’s failure to comply with the certificate of good faith requirement and were either “easily distinguishable by the facts presented” or failed to address the language of the Myers case, which states that a motion to dismiss based on a failure to file a certificate of good faith “should state how the plaintiff has failed to comply with the statutory requirements by referencing specific omissions in the complaint and/or by submitting affidavits or other proof.” (quoting Myers v. AMISUB (SFH), Inc., 382 S.W.3d 300 (Tenn. 2012)).

The Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with the trial court, reasoning that the “proper way to challenge a plaintiff’s compliance with the healthcare liability statutes is through a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss,” and that the motion herein should be treated as such. (internal citation omitted). The Court said:

Here, both the motions to dismiss and for summary judgment related solely to the failure to file the certificate of good faith. The affidavits submitted to support summary judgment also related solely to the failure to file the required certificate and provided no new information concerning Plaintiff’s compliance or additional grounds in support of the request for summary judgment. Under these circumstances, we conclude that the court did not err in treating the motions for summary judgment as restyled motions to dismiss pursuant to the Court’s direction in Myers. We further conclude that Plaintiff’s right to take a voluntary nonsuit was not disturbed pursuant to Rule 41.01 and that the court did not err in entering an order of voluntary dismissal.

(internal citations omitted).

This was the right decision in this case and sets the correct precedent for the future. Allowing defendants to have styled what was essentially a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment would have curtailed the plaintiff’s right to a voluntary nonsuit under the Rules.