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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Another New Case on Summary Judgment; Summary Judgment for the Defense Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Flagg v. Hudson Construction Co., No. E2017-01810-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 28, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
A motorcyclist sustained severe injuries in an accident on a recently paved portion of a state maintained highway. Alleging that his accident was caused by loose gravel on the highway from the recent paving project, the motorcyclist filed separate actions against the state contractor who resurfaced the state highway and the State of Tennessee. The two actions were consolidated in the circuit court for discovery and trial. Both defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff could not prove that the gravel came from the paving project or that the defendants had notice of the gravel before the accident. The state contractor also argued that it was discharged from liability under the State Construction Projects Liability Act. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 12-4-503 (2011). The trial court initially denied the motions. But after the defendants filed motions to alter or amend based on new evidence, the court reversed its decision and granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims. The plaintiff appealed. Upon review, we conclude that the trial court erred in excluding lay witness opinion testimony and in ruling that expert proof was necessary to determine the source of the gravel. Taking the strongest legitimate view of the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, we conclude that the plaintiff demonstrated genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. So we reverse.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

NOTE: This opinion does an excellent job of describing when expert testimony is necessary and the summary judgment standard.  See my note from my prior post as to the applicable standard of review.

New Case on Summary Judgment; Grant of Summary Judgment for the Defense Reversed

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion the day before yesterday in Emert v. Millennium Taxi Service, LLC, No. E2018-01450-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 29, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads as follows:
The trial court granted summary judgment to various of the defendants in a personal injury action. The Plaintiff appeals, contending that material facts are in dispute, precluding summary judgment. Finding that disputes of material fact exist, we reverse the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
The link the majority opinion is here:

Judge Susano's dissenting opinion is here:

NOTE: This opinion is a good refresher on summary judgment procedure in Tennessee.  However, Tenn. Code Ann. sec.20-16-101, which purports to adopt a summary-judgment standard similar to the one in federal courts, may provide the applicable standard of review instead of Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, MPLLC, 477 S.W.3d 235 (Tenn. 2015), because this case was filed after July 1, 2011.  Rye, 477 S.W.3d at 261 n.7 (pointing out that Tenn. Code Ann. sec. 20-16-101 did not apply therein because the Ryes filed suit before the statute's July 1, 2011 effective date).  However, that may be a distinction without a difference as the standard in 20-16-101 and Rye are consistent.  Rye, 477 S.W.3d at 274 (Bivins, J., concurring).  

Thursday, May 23, 2019

New Case on Voluntary Dismissals ("Nonsuits") under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.01

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently issued its opinion in Lemonte v. Lemonte,No. 63CC1-2018-CV-154 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 17, 2019).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
The day before a hearing on a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution was held, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal. Plaintiff did not appear at the hearing the following day. As such, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss and dismissed the case with prejudice. We reverse and remand for the entry of an order of dismissal without prejudice pursuant to Rule 41.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

NOTE: This is a great opinion and a must-read one for any lawyer who practices in the State of Tennessee's courts.  It's a good reminder that, absent few exceptions, a plaintiff has a right to take a voluntary dismissal (a "nonsuit") in civil actions in Tennessee.  No motion seeking leave to nonsuit needs to be filed as I have seen done in some cases; only a notice need be filed.  An order can be submitted later; and the one year to refile under the saving statute runs from the entry of that order.  Tenn. R. Civ. 41.01(3). 

Further, even if a motion for summary judgment is pending, which is one of the exceptions to having a right to take nonsuit, a voluntary dismissal without prejudice can still be taken with court permission.  Stewart v. Univ. of Tenn., 519 S.W.2d 591, 592–94 (Tenn. 1974).