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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Comparative Fault: Another New Opinion on Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119

On Dec. 13, 2018, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. Memphis Light, Gas and Water, No. W2017-02551-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
Plaintiff/Appellant Nationwide appeals the trial court’s grant of Defendant/Appellee’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Defendant’s motion was based on the argument that Plaintiff’s claim was time-barred pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, and that Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119 did not allow Plaintiff to timely add Defendant to the suit. Because we conclude that the trial court incorrectly applied Tennessee’s comparative fault statute, we reverse.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion does a good job of analyzing and explaining Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 20-1-119 (our state's comparative fault joinder statute).  I am a little surprised the trial court granted the dismissal as this issue was addressed a few years ago in Queen’s Tree Surgery v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. M2003-00228-COA-R3-CV, 2003 WL 22768689 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 24, 2003).  For what it is worth, I had a similar issue come up a little while back in Scales v. H.G. Hill Realty Co., which is the subject of my Jan. 31, 2018 post: http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2018/01/new-tennessee-court-of-appeals-opinion.html.

Trial Court's Dismissal of Case Against Truck Stop Reversed on Appeal Because Trial Court Misapplied Standard of Review in Granting Truck Stop's Motion to Dismiss

On Nov. 5, 2018, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mershon v. HPT TA Properties Trust, No. M2018-00315-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 5, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
A motor vehicle accident on the roadway abutting a truck stop resulted in the death of the plaintiff’s husband. The driver of the vehicle turning left into the truck stop was using the entrance meant for semi-trailer trucks and had a limited view of oncoming traffic due to a hill that crested a short distance ahead. The plaintiff filed a negligence claim against the truck stop owners and operators, asserting they created a hazardous condition by failing to place visible signage on their property directing passenger vehicles to the appropriate entrance. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, contending they owed no duty to the traveling public because the collision occurred on a municipal road, not on their property. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff appealed. We reverse the trial court’s judgment, holding that a balancing test is required to determine whether the defendants owed a duty to the plaintiff’s husband and that dismissing the complaint is premature at this stage of the proceedings.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This is an excellent opinion that discusses the standard of review to be applied for motions to dismiss and when a duty of care arises.  This is a must-read opinion for attorneys who are interested in these two matters.  

Tennessee's Peer Review Statute Cannot Be Used to Suborn Perjury!

On Dec. 11, 2018, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Reynolds v. Gray Medical Investors, LLC, No. E2017-02403-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 11, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
We granted the Tenn. R. App. P. 9 application for interlocutory appeal in this case to consider whether a healthcare provider can use Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272, (“the peer review statute”), to claim privilege and exclude evidence that an employee was threatened with dismissal or retaliation if the employee refused to change their story or alter documents in order to cover up possible negligent conduct. We find and hold that the peer review privilege contained within Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272 never was intended to allow a healthcare provider to attempt without fear of adverse consequences to force an employee to commit perjury. We, therefore, reverse the July 31, 2017 order of the Circuit Court for Washington County ... excluding the testimony of defendants’ employee pursuant to the peer review privilege contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272 and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: The defendant herein was attempting to use the peer review statute to suborn perjury; take a minute for that to sink in.  Perjury!  That is why the panel, in construing the peer review statute, wrote: "[I]n no known universe does suborning perjury fit within the General Assembly’s stated purpose of Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272...."  Reynolds, No. E2017-02403-COA-R9-CV, slip op. at 7 (emphasis added).  I am glad the panel did what it did and shut this sort of "argument" down, because what was being attempted was simply beyond the pale.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Dismissal of Plaintiffs' Lawsuit Upheld on Appeal Due to Their Failure to Properly Substitute a Representative of Deceased Tortfeasor Within the Time Prescribed by Applicable Law

The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion today in Owens v. Muenzel, No. E2018-00199-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 21, 20180.  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
This appeal arises from an action for personal injuries incurred in a vehicle collision. The alleged tortfeasor died subsequent to the injury-causing accident. The plaintiffs, unaware of the death of the decedent, commenced this action and named him as a defendant. The plaintiffs also sued their uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance carrier. Upon learning of the death of the decedent, the plaintiffs moved for the trial court to appoint an administrator ad litem. The trial court eventually dismissed the matter in its entirety with prejudice upon finding, inter alia, that it did not possess subject matter jurisdiction to appoint an administrator ad litem and that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. We affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion does a great job of outlining what must be done by a plaintiff to "revive" (although that term is not technically used now under current law, see generally Tenn. R. Civ. P. 25.01, https://www.tncourts.gov/rules/rules-civil-procedure/2501) a claim against a deceased tortfeaso so that claims asserted in a civil action do not become time-barred.  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Grant of Summary Judgment Overturned Because Trial Court Failed to Follow Rule 56.04, Tenn. R. Civ. P.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Bertucelli v. Haehner, No. E2017-02068-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
Appellants appeal the trial court’s order granting Appellees’ motion for summary judgment “as to all remaining issues” asserted by Appellants in their complaint. In its order granting summary judgment, the trial court failed to state the legal grounds on which it granted summary judgment on the remaining claims as required by Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04. In the absence of such grounds, this Court cannot make a meaningful review of the trial court’s decision. We, therefore, vacate the trial court’s final order and remand the case for further proceedings. Vacated and remanded.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/raymond_bertuccelli_et_al._v._carl_mark_haehner_et_al..pdf

Here is a link to Rule 56.04, Tenn. R. Civ. P.:

http://www.tncourts.gov/rules/rules-civil-procedure/5604

Plaintiff's Case Not Subject to Dismissal Due to Lost Return of Proof of Service of Process

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Hart v. Memphis Light Gas & Water Division, No. W2018-00254-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
The parties dispute whether, under Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-15-710, the applicable statute of limitations was tolled by service of process when no proof of service was returned to the court as required under Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-15- 902(a). Under the holding in Fair v. Cochran, 418 S.W.3d 542 (Tenn. 2013), we conclude, as did the trial court, that Appellee’s failure to make return to the court did not, ipso facto, constitute a lack of service of process such that the statute of limitations expired.  Affirmed and remanded.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: In my opinion, I think this case hinges upon the fact that the appellant-defendant's attorney admitted in court that her client had been served with leading process.  HartNo. W2018-00254-COA-R3-CV, slip op. at 2.  And, I think it mattered that Plaintiff's prior counsel's credible testimony evinced that he had made a proper return of proof of service to the clerk's office.  Id.

This opinion also cites one of my cases, Fair v. Cochran, 418 S.W.3d 542 (Tenn. 2013), just like the one in my prior blog post.  Always nice to be part of a solid opinion that is relied upon for years to come.  

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Trial Court's Dismissal of Civil Action Upheld on Appeal Because Plaintiff Failed to Have Leading Process Reissued and Properly Served upon a Defendant

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Middleton v. City of Millington, No. W2018-00338-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 11, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant city on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations. Specifically, the trial court ruled that plaintiff’s complaint was ineffective to toll the statute of limitations where service of process on the city clerk did not comply with Rule 4.04(8) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and process was not reissued. Discerning no error, we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:


NOTE: This opinion cites one of my cases, Fair v. Cochran, 418 S.W.3d 542, 544 (Tenn. 2013).  MiddletonW2018-00338-COA-R3-CV, slip op. at 3.  Both this opinion and Fair are must-reads if you practice on the civil side in Tennessee state courts because they stress the point that while filing a civil action within the applicable statute of limitations is vitally important, the service of leading process is also vitally important to prevent claims in a civil action from becoming time-barred.  

What can a plaintiff do when insufficiency of service of process is pleaded as an affirmative defense like what was done in this case?  Take a look at Rule 4.07 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, which can be viewed at this link: http://www.tncourts.gov/rules/rules-civil-procedure/407.

Rule 4.07 has a cost-shifting provision that helps ensure that a defendant is properly before a Tennessee state court (much like the similar federal provision).  It has some teeth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

New Health Care Liability Action: Trial Court's Dismissal of Case Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just released its opinion in Parks v. Walker, No. E2017-01603-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2018).  The syllabus from the majority opinion reads as follows:
This is a health care liability action. Plaintiff gave written pre-suit notice of her claim to potential defendants. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c) (2018). She then filed her complaint. Defendants filed motions to dismiss. After a hearing, the trial court held that plaintiff failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the notice statute by failing to provide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). It entered an order granting defendants’ motions to dismiss. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.
Here is a link to the majority opinion:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/parks_vs._walker_coa_majority_opinion.pdf

Judge Swiney authored a dissent, which can be found here:

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/jennifer_parks_v._walker_dissenting_coa_separate_opinion.pdf


NOTE: Respectfully, I think the majority opinion is in error.  Again it confounds me that the courts of Tennessee—and many lawyers—have not picked up on the fact that a defendant (or potential defendant) in a health care liability action does not have to have a HIPAA-compliant authorization to share a patient's or plaintiff's protected health information ("PHI") with other defendants and their legal counsel because because doing that is part of a covered entity's "health care operations" as defined by 45 C.F.R. sections 164.501, -502(b), -.514(d).

As such, dismissal of a health care liability action because a defendant did not get a HIPAA-compliant authorization for a patient's PHI would be improper because Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121's requirement that such an authorization be enclosed as part of a claimant's presuit notice appears to be preempted by HIPAA. 

Again, I think the dissent is in error for the reasons stated above.  




Friday, November 16, 2018

New Comparative Fault Opinion: Trial Court's Decision to Allow Fault to Be Allocated to an Agritourism Nonparty Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Green v. St. George's Episcopal Church, No. M2017-00413-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
This appeal arises from a jury verdict in a personal injury action. The defendant alleged the comparative fault of a nonparty who was potentially immune from liability under Tennessee’s agritourism statute. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 43-39-101 to -103 (Supp. 2018). Before trial, the defendant asked the court to exclude all evidence and argument before the jury regarding statutory immunity as irrelevant and prejudicial. The court excluded argument and evidence of immunity but allowed the parties to present evidence on whether the nonparty had complied with the statute. At the conclusion of the trial, the court permitted the jury to apportion a percentage of fault to the nonparty without considering the nonparty’s compliance with the agritourism statute. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to allocate fault to the nonparty because the agritourism statute provided immunity from fault as well as liability. We conclude that nothing in the agritourism statute precludes the allocation of fault to a nonparty agritourism professional in a negligence action. So we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion: 


NOTE: This opinion does a good job of explaining Tennessee's system of modified comparative fault and the allocation of fault under as affected by our agritourism statutes, which grant immunity under certain circumstances.