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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

New Case on Waiver of Affirmative Defenses and Summary Judgment: Trial Court's Grant of Summary Judgment Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its opinion in F & M Bank v. Fleming, No. M2020-01086-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

Appellant debtor appeals the trial court’s decision to find certain affirmative defenses waived, to deny his motion to continue the summary judgment hearing in order to conduct discovery, and to grant summary judgment to the defendant bank. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm. 

Here is a link to that opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/f__m_bankv.fleming.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: This opinion is a one that every trial lawyer in Tennessee must read because it addresses waiver of affirmative defenses, motions filed under Rule 56.07 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure seeking additional time to respond to motions for summary judgment, and summary judgments in general.  Keep this one handy.       

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Trial Court's Denial of Directed Verdict to Insuror in Declaratory Judgment Action Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has recently released its decision Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. v. Simmons, No. E2020-00791-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 14, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

In the underlying declaratory judgment action, an insurance company sought a judgment that an automobile insurance policy issued to a mechanic does not provide coverage for an accident involving the mechanic. After examining the mechanic under oath, the insurance company moved for summary judgment, arguing that the policy contained a business purpose exclusion for accidents occurring while road testing a vehicle, which the mechanic stated he was doing at the time the accident occurred. The mechanic responded with an affidavit asserting that he was driving the vehicle for personal errands. The trial court denied the motion, finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the mechanic’s purpose for driving the vehicle. At trial, the mechanic testified that he was running personal errands at the time of the accident but offered no explanation for his contradictory sworn statements. Following the close of proof, the insurance company renewed its argument regarding the policy’s exclusion and moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied the motion and submitted the matter to a jury, which found that the exclusion did not preclude coverage of the accident. On appeal, the insurance company contends that the trial court erred by not applying the cancellation rule. We agree and hold that if the rule had been applied, no genuine issue existed for the jury to consider with respect to the mechanic’s business purpose at the time the accident occurred. Thus, the trial court should have directed a verdict in favor of the insurance company. The judgment of the trial court approving the jury verdict is vacated and the case is remanded.

Here is a link to the opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/e2020-791_tn_ins._v._simmons.pdf.

NOTE: This opinion offers a good discussion of Tennessee insurance policies, the cancellation rule, etc.  It is worth reading in my humble opinion.  


Friday, August 27, 2021

New Tennessee Claims Commission Case: Dismissal of Claim Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its decision in Howard v. State, No. M2020-00735-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 26, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

Following a car accident involving an employee of the State of Tennessee, Irene Howard . . . sought damages against the State based on alleged injuries arising from the accident.  The claim was denied by the Division of Claims and Risk Management . . . , and Claimant thereafter appealed to the Claims Commission . . . .  Because Claimant failed to appeal the DCRM’s decision within ninety days, however, the Commission concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the case and dismissed the appeal. We affirm. 

Here is a link to that opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/howard.irene_.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: This opinion offers a good discussion on filing claims in Tennessee Claims Commission and the  procedure associated with doing that.  A must read for one who handles claims against the State of Tennessee.     

  

Thursday, August 05, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Dismissal of Plaintiff's Claim Due to Defective Presuit Medical Records Authorization Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Reese v. Waters of Clinton, LLC, No. E2020-01466-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 4, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

This healthcare liability action was brought against a skilled nursing facility. The plaintiff sent pre-suit notice to multiple potential defendants prior to initiating the action. The plaintiff, however, failed to include as part of the pre-suit notice a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization as one of the six core elements was missing from the authorization. Following a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), the Trial Court granted the motion and dismissed the action against the defendant due to noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121 and as being untimely. The Trial Court denied the plaintiff’s request to compel discovery in this matter concerning whether the plaintiff had substantially complied with the pre-suit notice requirement. The plaintiff argues on appeal that the Trial Court erred by not treating the defendant’s motion as a motion for summary judgment and by preventing the plaintiff from conducting discovery regarding the plaintiff’s compliance with Section 29-26-121, as well as the resulting prejudice to the defendant. Discerning no error, we affirm the Trial Court’s judgment in all respects.

Here is a link to that opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/e2020-1466_reese_v._clinton.pdf.

NOTE: This case offers a good discussion on what needs to be done to comply with HIPAA as it relates to authorizations to share and receive a patient's protected health information (PHI); those authorizations are supposed to be included as part of any presuit notice package sent to a potential defendant under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121.  In this case, a blank was left in each authorization so that the provider receiving presuit notice could ostensibly fill it in.  Reese, E2020-01466-COA-R3-CV, slip op. at 2.  That practice, however, has been held to not comply with HIPAA.  Id. at 13–14.  Since the authorizations did not comply with HIPAA, the plaintiff's claim fails as a matter of law.  See T.C.A. § 29-26-121 (LexisNexis 2021).  

This case also offers a good discussion of motions to dismiss versus motions for summary judgment to the extent that both challenge a plaintiff's noncompliance the presuit notice requirements contained in Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 29-26-121.  See id., passim.

Also, this opinion touches upon an attorney-in-fact (agent) acting on behalf of a patient in a Tennessee health care liability action (formerly known as a "medical malpractice case").  Id. at 2.  To the extent that the agent signs an authorization required for the release and sharing of a patient's PHI under -121 via a power of attorney form (POA), that form must be for health care purposes and not a general POA.  See June M. Sullivan & Shannon B. Hartsfield, HIPAA: A Practical Guide to the Privacy and Security of Health Data 39–40 (2d ed. 2020) ("For purposes of HIPAA, an individual's personal representative is a person with authority under state law to make health care decisions for the individual."  (Footnote omitted.)).  


Tuesday, August 03, 2021

New Tennessee Supreme Court Case: The Economic Loss Doctrine Clarified; Jury Verdict for Plaintiff Overturned, Etc.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released its opinion in Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc., No. W2018-00084-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Aug. 8, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

We granted permission to appeal primarily to consider how, if at all, the economic loss doctrine, which generally precludes recovery for purely economic losses in tort actions, applies in Tennessee to claims of fraudulent inducement. We hold that when, as here, a fraud claim seeks recovery of only economic losses and is premised solely on misrepresentations or nondisclosures about the quality of goods that are the subject of a contract between sophisticated commercial parties, the economic loss doctrine applies. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the economic loss doctrine bars the plaintiff’s fraudulent inducement claim. We also affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the plaintiff’s claim under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) is barred as a matter of law because the trucks at issue are not “goods” as that term is defined by the portion of the TCPA on which the plaintiff relied. Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-104(b)(7) (2013 & Supp. 2020). We, therefore, set aside the plaintiff’s award of attorney’s fees and costs based on the TCPA. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the separate grounds stated herein. 

Here is a link to the opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/milansupplychainv.navistar.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: As a matter of full disclosure, I represented some of the amici in this case.  This opinion clarifies the law in Tennessee concerning the economic loss doctrine, which was unclear till now.    

New Uninsured Motorist (UM) Insurance Coverage Case: Trial Court's Finding of No UM Coverage for the Plaintiff Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Medders v. Newby, No. M2020-01094-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 6, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

An insurance company denied coverage for an accident its insured had with an uninsured/underinsured motorist because the insured had a “non-owner’s” policy, and the car she was driving did not fit the definition of a “non-owned auto.” The trial court concluded, following a bench trial on the bifurcated issue of coverage, that the insured’s policy did not cover the accident, and the insured appealed. We affirm the trial court’s judgment. 

Here is a link to the opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/medders.kimberly.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: This is a good opinion to read for some insight into Tennessee's UM law., especially when it comes to the construction of insurance policies (which are contracts).  


Thursday, July 29, 2021

New Wrongful Death Opinion: Grant of Summary Judgment to Defendant Upheld on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion in O'Guin v. State, No. M2020-00732-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2021).  Here is the syllabus from the slip opinion:
A patient died after a fall at a state-owned rehabilitation facility. The administrator of the deceased patient’s estate filed a monetary claim against the State of Tennessee for negligently creating or maintaining a dangerous condition on real property. The State moved for summary judgment arguing that the claimant lacked sufficient evidence of causation. The Claims Commission agreed and granted summary judgment to the State. Because the claimant lacked sufficient evidence that the State’s conduct more likely than not caused the patient’s fall, we affirm.
Here is a link to the opinion:


NOTE: This opinion offers a good discussion of causation of injury (in this case, death) under Tennessee law.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Trial Court's Denial of Motion to Revise Interlocutory Order Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Ingram v. Gallagher, No. E2020-01222-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 19, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

This appeal arises from a healthcare liability action wherein the plaintiff initially sued the doctor, the hospital, and two other defendants. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the action without prejudice against all defendants except for the doctor. The doctor subsequently filed an answer to the complaint, stating that the action should be dismissed under the Governmental Tort Liability Act because the hospital, a governmental hospital entity and the doctor’s employer, was not a party to the action. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed a “Motion to Alter or Amend,” seeking to set aside the Trial Court’s order of dismissal in order to withdraw his voluntary dismissal of the hospital as a party. The Trial Court denied the plaintiff’s motion to alter or amend, determining that the voluntary dismissal order was a final order and that the plaintiff knew about the doctor’s employment with the hospital prior to the voluntary dismissal. We determine that the Trial Court erred by treating the plaintiff’s motion as a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60 motion, instead of a motion to revise pursuant to Rule 54.02, and further hold that the Trial Court erred by denying the plaintiff’s motion to revise the non-final order of voluntary dismissal.

Here is a link to the slip opinion: 

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/ingram_vs._gallagher_coa_opinion.pdf.

NOTE: Procedurally, this case is a mess.  There was a lot going on in the trial court below.  This opinion, however, is a great one that addresses motions to revise interlocutory orders under Rule 54 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.  A lot of lawyers file motions to "alter or amend" interlocutory (nonfinal) orders, which is procedurally improper; this opinion sheds light on the issue and hopefully will clear up any confusion on this issue.  

Also, practically speaking, the plaintiff could have added the hospital as a party-defendant under Tennessee's comparative fault joinder statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119, after the doctor's answer was filed indicating that he was an employee of the hospital at the time in question.  That would have remedied the problem of the employer not being a party to the lawsuit under Tennessee's Governmental Tort Liability Action (and would have been an easy fix, too).  See Bidwell ex rel. Bidwell v. Strait, 618 S.W.3d 309, 323–30 (Tenn. 2021), https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12106812184700824746&q=618+S.W.3d+309&hl=en&as_sdt=4,43.