In Fletcher v. CFRA, LLC, No. M2016-01202-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 8, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment, finding that defendant restaurant owner was not vicariously liable for the actions of its employee.

Defendant owned an IHOP restaurant, and that IHOP hired a dishwasher who was on parole for “aggravated battery and felony firearms convictions.” Plaintiff ate at the restaurant with a friend very early one morning. When plaintiff was leaving the restaurant, the dishwasher believed he had not paid for his meal and followed him to the parking lot. There was no physical confrontation in the parking lot, and plaintiff paid the bill. The dishwasher’s shift had ended, so he called his girlfriend to pick him up from work. According to both the dishwasher and his girlfriend, after they left the IHOP parking lot the car that plaintiff and his friend were driving began following them. They drove to an apartment complex with plaintiff still following, and a physical altercation ensued. There was conflicting testimony about what exactly happened, but at some point the dishwasher jumped into the car plaintiff had previously been riding in and ran over plaintiff two times, severely injuring him.

Continue reading

In Rogers v. Hadju, No. W2016-00850-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a negligence case, finding that defendant companies could not be held liable for the actions for what was determined to be an independent contractor.

Ford Construction was hired by the state to perform road construction. Ford subcontracted with Traf-Mark Industries for part of the work; Traf-Mark subcontracted with Kerr Brothers; and Kerr Brothers subcontracted with RDH Contracting. On the job site, an employee of RDH Contracting was backing up a truck when he hit an employee of Ford Construction. The injured Ford Construction employee filed this negligence suit against Traf-Mark, Kerr Brothers, RDH Contracting and the driver, arguing that the defendant companies were vicariously liable for the incident because the driver of the truck “was acting in the scope of his employment with them at the time of the incident.”

Traf-Mark and Kerr Brothers filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that they were not liable for the driver’s negligence because RDH Contracting and the driver were independent contractors. The trial court granted summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Tennessee, “the doctrine of respondeat superior permits a principal to be held liable for the negligent acts of its agent.” (internal citation omitted). “While an employer may be held liable for the negligence of its employee, however, they are generally not liable for the negligence of independent contractors.” (internal citation omitted). When determining whether an employment or independent contractor relationship exists, courts should consider “(1) the right to control the conduct of the work, (2) the right of termination, (3) method of payment, (4) whether or not the worker furnishes his own helpers, (5) whether or not the worker furnishes his own tools, (6) self-scheduling of working hours, and (7) freedom to render services to other entities.” (citing Goodale v. Langenberg, 243 S.W.3d 575 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007)).

Continue reading

In Elliott v. State, No. M2016-00392-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 13, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed the Claims Commission’s finding that plaintiff failed to prove that “the State was negligent in the design, construction, or maintenance of [a] roadway.”

Plaintiff had a car accident on an exit ramp that was designed and maintained by the State. The road was wet from an earlier rain, and the road on the ramp “transition[ed] from asphalt to concrete.” Plaintiff asserted that the road had deteriorated at this transition point, and that “this deterioration caused her vehicle to fly off the roadway and roll down an incline.” Plaintiff pointed out that the State had patched the ramp by putting asphalt into holes. She claimed that “the State was negligent in the design, construction, and maintenance of the roadway and in failing to erect a proper barrier at the edge of the road to prevent vehicles from rolling down the hill.”

Continue reading

In Runions v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital Dist., No. W2016-00901-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals analyzed a case in which pre-suit notice for an HCLA claim was mistakenly sent to the wrong defendant/defendants. Under the specific facts of this case, the Court determined that the proper defendant did in fact receive notice and that a motion to amend and substitute the proper defendant was rightly granted.

Plaintiff’s infant daughter had been born and died shortly thereafter at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, and plaintiff accordingly sent pre-suit notice of an HCLA suit pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121. Plaintiff sent her notices to three defendants: (1) Bolivar General Hospital, Inc. (“BGH”), (2) West Tennessee Healthcare, Inc. (“WTH”), and (3) West Tennessee Healthcare Network (“WTHN”). All of these were addressed as d/b/a Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, Inc., and all were sent to the same registered agent and the same address.

One week after the pre-suit notices were sent, Laura Zamata, who was “Director of Risk Management” for the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District (“the District”) sent plaintiffs’ counsel a letter “acknowledging receipt of a pre-suit notice letter.” The letter stated that “The District is a governmental entity and has elected to be self-insured, therefore, there is no insurance carrier.” It also stated that Ms. Zamata was the designated contact for future correspondence.

Continue reading

In Cordell v. Cleveland Tenn. Hosp., LLC, No. M2016-01466-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2017), the Court of Appeals reversed dismissal in a case filed against a hospital, determining that the complaint did not contain claims covered by the HCLA and that the plaintiff was thus not required to follow the HCLA statutory requirements.

Plaintiff was taken to defendant hospital by “police who were concerned that she had taken too high of a dosage of prescribed medication.” She was put in a hospital room, and her husband alleged that when he arrived to see her he was forced to leave. Plaintiff had her cell phone, and she called her husband to tell him that the security guard outside her room was making her uncomfortable. She stated that he “kept opening her door and coming into her room in order to stare at her.” Plaintiff’s husband called the hospital to complain, and plaintiff alleged that the security guard then took her phone away. Plaintiff was relocated to another room, but she allegedly had “no recollection of any events that took place in the twelve-plus hours following her relocation.” The next evening, she was told she was being transferred to another hospital, and while there she “noticed blood and soreness when she used the restroom.” After she was discharged, she felt pain while showering and her husband observed “several injuries on her vaginal and anal areas.” She went to her obstetrician the next day, where “evidence of rape, including semen, was discovered.”

Continue reading

In Cruce v. Memmex Inc. D/B/A Salsa Cocina Mexicana Restaurant, No. W2016-01167-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a premises liability case because plaintiff failed to prove the existence of a dangerous condition.

In December 2012, plaintiff was going to a party on the second floor of defendant restaurant. On her way up the stairs, “she noticed that the railing on her right side was decorated with garland and Christmas lights,” and she said she had trouble finding anywhere to place her hand on the railing. When she was leaving the party and going back down the stairs, she reached for the decorated handrail but asserted that she “was unable to grasp the railing itself and instead only gripped a handful of garland.” She then fell, breaking her leg. Although plaintiff stated that she did not notice it at the time, it was undisputed that the railing on the other side of the stairwell was not decorated.

Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the restaurant “created a dangerous condition by covering a safety device, i.e., handrail, with items that impeded its use.” Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, relying primarily on the deposition of the restaurant owner wherein he stated that he had decorated one of the handrails for fifteen years and never had a problem, that no one had ever fallen down the stairs “either as a result of the Christmas decorations or for any other reason,” and that only one of the handrails was decorated. The trial court granted summary judgment, ruling that “the decorated handrail did not constitute a dangerous or defective condition for purposes of premises liability,” and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Continue reading

In Rushing v. AMISUB Inc., No. W2016-01897-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 8, 2017), a premises liability claim once again failed when the plaintiff had no evidence regarding how long the dangerous condition existed or who had created it.

Plaintiff was walking into defendant hospital’s emergency room, and as she approached the registration desk she allegedly “slipped and fell in a clear liquid on the floor.” Plaintiff filed this premises liability suit against the hospital and at some point was represented by counsel, though by the time of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment she was proceeding pro se. In its answer, the hospital alleged comparative fault against its housekeeping management service, which plaintiff then added as a defendant.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff could not prove notice of the alleged spill. In her response, plaintiff stated that two hospital employees “admitted that the spill was sprite. They said that they had contacted the housekeeping company…to remove the spill. To their knowledge they thought the employees had gotten it up but apparently not.” At the summary judgment hearing, the trial court determined that these two employees had not been deposed and accordingly gave plaintiff sixty additional days for discovery. When the second hearing occurred, plaintiff had still not deposed the two employees who she claimed admitted that they knew the liquid was on the floor. Finding that “plaintiff’s evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of her claim, which is notice of the allegedly dangerous condition,” the trial court granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Continue reading

In Clear Water Partners, LLC v. Benson, No. E2016-00442-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 26, 2017), the Court of Appeals reversed dismissal of a claim for intentional interference with business relationships and civil conspiracy.  The Tennessee court concluded that a current contractual relationship was not an automatic bar to an intentional interference with contractual relationships claim.

Plaintiff had an option contract to purchase and develop 111 acres of land, with the purchase being “contingent on the approval of a development plan, obtaining rezoning approval, and the performance of certain site development work.” Plaintiff also had a contract to sell Paul Murphy around 30 acres of the property once the option had been executed. According to plaintiff, the 23 named individual defendants used “improperly motivated conduct and/or improper means” to delay and oppose the rezoning and the approval of the development plan, causing Mr. Murphy to “void” his contract with plaintiff. Subsequently, plaintiff entered into another contract to sell the 30 acres to Belle Investments, but that contract required plaintiff to make some changes to its plan and incur damages.

As plaintiff continued to work towards rezoning and approval of its project, plaintiff alleged that the Defendants “individually and through their attorney/agent, ‘vigorously opposed’ its rezoning application and development plans.” Plaintiff alleged that defendants created false email accounts to make it look like residents near the development were emailing the County Commission, that one defendant sent a flyer containing false information home with the students at an elementary school, that one defendant gave a flyer with false information to nearby residents, and that an affidavit containing false information was given to the planning commission and zoning board, among other allegations. Plaintiff’s fight with defendants wound its way through the planning commission and zoning board, the circuit court, and even included an appeal to the Court of Appeals. At the time of plaintiff’s filing of the complaint in this case, the circuit court had upheld the zoning board’s decision to approve the development plan and deny part of the rezoning request.

Continue reading

The United States Supreme Court recently analyzed a federal court’s “inherent authority to sanction bad-faith conduct by ordering a litigant to pay the other side’s legal fees,” holding that such an award was “limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct.”

In Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haegger, No. 15-1406, 581 U.S. ____ (April 18, 2017), the Haeger family had sued Goodyear after a Goodyear tire allegedly failed and caused their motorhome to flip over. During the original suit, Goodyear was slow and unresponsive to many of the Haegers’ discovery requests, especially when the Haegers requested internal company tests for the tire at issue. The case eventually settled just before trial. Months later, the Haegers’ attorney noticed a news story indicating that, in a similar suit, Goodyear had disclosed “test results indicating that the tire got unusually hot at highway speeds.” Goodyear subsequently admitted to the attorney that it had withheld information in the Haeger suit.

Because the case had already settled, the district court was limited in its options when addressing Goodyear’s misconduct, and “[a]ll it could do for the Haegers was to order Goodyear to reimburse them for attorney’s fees and costs paid during the suit.” The district court determined that this award could be “comprehensive, covering both expenses that could be causally tied to Goodyear’s misconduct and those that could not.” The district court calculated all the Haegers’ litigation expenses after the very early moment when Goodyear first dishonestly responded to discovery and awarded the Haegers $2.7 million. When explaining its award, the district court stated that while the usual case requires the fees awarded to be causally related to the misconduct, the misconduct in this case “rose to a truly egregious level.” The district court found that the level of misconduct here meant that all attorneys’ fees could be awarded with no need to find a causal link between the fees and the sanctioned party’s conduct.

Continue reading

In Keane v. Campbell, No. M2016-00367-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2017), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendants in a negligence case revolving around the collapse of a deck.

Plaintiff was teenager who attended a party at defendants’ home. The party was for high school students, and between 40 and 70 kids attended. During the party, the kids were “dancing and jumping on an elevated, wooden deck attached to Defendants’ house” when the deck collapsed suddenly, and plaintiff fell and was injured. Within one year of plaintiff turning 18, she and her parents filed a negligence suit against defendants, asserting that “Defendants: (1) failed to properly and adequately monitor or supervise the children attending the party; (2) failed to warn the children of the danger they were facing; (3) failed to take any action to prevent the collapse of the deck; (4) failed to prevent the injury to the children; and (5) failed to observe what they could have observed in the exercise of reasonable care regarding the flexing of the deck.”

Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, holding that there was no duty owed to plaintiff because the collapse of the deck was not foreseeable. The Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling.

Continue reading