Where plaintiff was in a car accident when she was four years old, and her parents filed a personal injury suit purporting to represent her once she turned 18, the trial court properly granted summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. The parents, who were not attorneys, could not represent plaintiff, and by the time the motion to dismiss had been filed more than one year had passed since plaintiff turned 18, so any claim was time-barred.
In McCall v. United Parcel Service, No. M2022-01112-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 15, 2023), plaintiff was in a car accident when she was four, and after she turned 18, her mother and father filed this personal injury action on her behalf. Plaintiff did not sign the complaint, and neither parent was an attorney. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on the one-year statute of limitations. At the hearing, the mother stated that plaintiff had been on an IEP in school but “had never been adjudicated incompetent or disabled.” The trial court granted dismissal, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
On appeal, the Court first analyzed whether it would consider certain post-judgment facts submitted by plaintiff. Tenn. R. App. P. 14 provides that “the consideration of post-judgment facts that are ‘unrelated to the merits and not genuinely disputed’ may be ‘necessary to keep the record up to date.’” Post-judgment facts that “could be disputed in the trial court or from which different conclusions could be drawn” should not be considered. (internal citation omitted). The facts presented by plaintiff included a school psychoeducational evaluation, an IEP, a psychologist evaluation, and letters of guardianship and letters of conservatorship dated after the order of dismissal was entered. The Court of Appeals declined to consider any of this evidence, finding that the school evaluation and IEP “existed at the time of the trial court’s ruling” and that the psychologist evaluation and letters were “offered to establish [plaintiff’s] competency, which is a disputed issue in this case,” so did not qualify as being “unrelated to the merits and not genuinely disputed.
The Court next analyzed whether plaintiff’s claim was time-barred. Personal injury actions are subject to a one-year statute of limitations pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1)(A). Because plaintiff was a minor at the time of the accident, the Court looked to Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106, which governs tolling for minors and persons adjudicated incompetent. Under that statute, the limitations period for plaintiff’s claim began to run on June 8, 2021, when she turned 18. This case was filed by her parents on her behalf on April 19, 2022, which was within the one-year period, but her parents were not attorneys. While a person may represent themselves under Tenn. Code Ann. § 23-1-109, only a licensed attorney may represent someone else. The mother’s purported conservatorship status over her daughter did not give her the right to practice unauthorized law by representing plaintiff in this lawsuit. (internal citation omitted). “Because neither the complaint nor the amended complaint was signed by [plaintiff] or by a licensed attorney, the complaints were nullities and had no effect.” (internal citation omitted). Dismissal based on the statute of limitations was thus affirmed.
During the appeal, the parents asserted that plaintiff’s statute of limitations was tolled because she was not competent. Because the issue of plaintiff’s competence was not raised in the trial court, it was not proper to argue in the Court of Appeals.
This opinion was released 1.5 months after the case was assigned on briefs.