Day on Torts Nugget: Standards for Motions to Amend Pleadings in Tennessee

Motions to amend a complaint or answer are a routine part of trial practice in Tennessee state court.

Here is a recent statement on the law of motions to amend:

Trial courts have broad authority to decide motions to amend pleadings and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Hawkins v. Hart, 86 S.W.3d 522, 532 (Tenn.Ct.App.2001). Under the abuse of discretion standard, an appellate court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. Williams v. Baptist Mem’l Hosp., 193 S.W.3d 545, 551 (Tenn.2006). Numerous factors guide a trial court’s discretionary decision whether to allow a late-filed amendment. Some of these include undue delay, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments and futility of the amendments. Merriman v. Smith, 599 S.W.2d 548, 559 (Tenn.Ct.App.1979).

Pratcher v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, 407 S.W.3d 727, 741 (Tenn. 2013).  This law applies equally to plaintiffs and defendants.

In Pratcher, the Court said “Defendant had repeated opportunities to assert a statute of repose defense. Defendant’s conduct fell within the ambit of “’undue delay.’” We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s post-trial motion to amend its answer.”

Here are some other examples of situations where motions to amend have been denied and the denial upheld on appeal:

Sallee v. Barrett, 171 S.W.3d 822, 829 (Tenn.2005) (affirming trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend complaint to add in city as additional defendant); Parks v. Mid–Atlantic Finance Co., 343 S.W.3d 792, 802 (Tenn.Ct.App.2011) (affirming trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend complaint to add “regurgitation” of previous allegations); In re Estate of Haskins, 224 S.W.3d 675, 685 (Tenn.Ct.App.2006)(affirming trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s late-filed motion to amend complaint to add new parties); Harden v. Danek Med., Inc., 985 S.W.2d 449, 454 (Tenn.Ct.App.1998) (affirming trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to file third amended complaint in manufacturing defect case); Hall v. Shelby Cnty. Ret. Bd., 922 S.W.2d 543, 546 (Tenn.Ct.App.1995) (affirming trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend petition); Welch v. Thuan,882 S.W.2d 792, 794 (Tenn.Ct.App.1994) (affirming trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend complaint in medical malpractice action).

Pratcher at 741-42.

For a more recent case on point see Sullivan v. Sullivan, 2019 WL 4899760. at *16 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 4,2019) (trial court’s refusal to allow husband to assert counterclaim in divorce action shortly before trial upheld; no abuse of discretion).

Here is a case where the Tennessee Supreme Court held it was an abuse of discretion to refuse to permit a party to amend its answer: Gardiner v. Word, 731 S.W.2d 889, 891-92 (Tenn. 1987).  In Gardiner,  the court noted that  (a) the motions to amend were filed within one year after the complaint was filed and only two months after the trial court permitted the defendants’ attorney to withdraw from the case; (b) defendants’ new attorneys filed the motions to amend within sixty days, which was “not an unreasonable time for new counsel to familiarize themselves with the facts and status of a case already in progress; ” and (c)  delays already caused by the plaintiff in the case.

Here is how you avoid having a motion to amend denied:

  1. Give thought to the facts and legal theories when you file your initial pleading.
  2. From time to time, review your pleading to determine whether an amendment is required.
  3. Review your pleading a sufficient time before the end of fact discovery so that, if an amendment is necessary, your opponent cannot argue that the proposed amendment is untimely because fact discovery has been or will shortly be closed.
  4. Review your pleading a sufficient time before the deadline on motions to amend set forth in a scheduling order.
  5.  If the need to amend arises late in the proceedings, be prepared to demonstrate how the issue could not reasonably have been brought to the attention of the court earlier.
  6. Do legal research to avoid the “futility of amendment” objection.
  7. Be prepared to argue “lack of undue prejudice” to your opponent and require your your opponent to demonstrate claimed prejudice.
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