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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

New Opinion on Motions to Strike and Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119

The Tennessee Court of Appeals just issued its opinion in Santore v. Stevenson, No. W2017-01098-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2018).  The syllabus from the slip opinion states as follows:
At issue in this personal injury action is whether the trial court erred by striking the defendant’s affirmative defense that an unknown “John Doe” driver of an Averitt Express truck was comparatively at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries. Relying on Brown v. WalMart Discount Cities, 12 S.W.3d 785 (Tenn. 2000) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119, the trial court struck the affirmative defense as to John Doe and Averitt Express upon the finding that the defendant failed to sufficiently identify John Doe so that the plaintiff may serve process on John Doe. We have determined the trial court’s discretionary decision to strike the affirmative defense of comparative fault as to John Doe and Averitt Express was premature because the defendant was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to engage in pre-trial discovery to endeavor as to the identity of John Doe in sufficient detail for the plaintiff to serve process on John Doe. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Here is a link to the opinion:

NOTE: This opinion does a good job of explaining motions to dismiss under Rule 12 and its interpretive case law.  However, it appears to be in conflict with two cases: Breeding v. Edwards, 62 S.W.3d 170, 171 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001),,43, and Marler v. Scoggins, 105 S.W.3d 596, 597 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002),,43.  Both of those cases acknowledge an exception to the rule against faulting a phantom (i.e., John Doe) tortfeasor, which is relied upon in this case.  It is also interesting that this opinion makes no mention of Breeding or Marler, which are reported opinions and controlling authority under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 4(G)(2).  I might need to give this case another think (I've been up since 4:30 a.m.), but, as for now, I cannot reconcile it with Breeding or Marler.  Perhaps the litigants did not bring Breeding or Marler to the Court's attention.  

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