Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court

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In this case alleging health care liability claims, the trial court erred by allowing Plaintiff to amend her complaint after the expiration of the statute of limitations to substitute as a defendant a health care provider to which Plaintiff had not sent pre-suit notice. The Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the trial court and court of appeals, holding that Plaintiff did not comply with the mandatory pre-suit notice provision of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(a)(1), because she did not give written pre-suit notice of the potential claim to the health care provider she later sought to substitute as a defendant after the expiration of the statute of limitations. View "Runions v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District" on Justia Law

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Charity Spires and Plaintiff-Appellee Kenneth Spires married and had one child, Uriah. A month after Uriah was born, Kenneth abandoned Charity and the child. Though the Spires did not divorce, Kenneth never returned to the marital home. Charity died in an automobile accident involving Defendant Haley Simpson. Custody of Uriah was awarded to his maternal grandmother, Constance Ogle, who served as administrator of Charity's estate. Kenneth filed this wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson and her parents. Ogle sought to intervene. While she acknowledged Kenneth was the Decedent's surviving spouse, Ogle argued he should be disqualified from prosecuting the lawsuit because he owed child support arrearages, and because the abandoned the Decedent and Uriah. While Ogle’s motion to intervene in the wrongful death lawsuit was still pending, a Chancery Court entered an order of adoption, permitting the Decedent’s brother, Captain (now Major) Dana Trent Hensley, Jr., M.D., to adopt Uriah. The adoption order terminated Kenneth's parental rights as to Uriah. Ultimately the trial court granted the motion to intervene, dismissed Kenneth from the suit and substituted Ogle and Major Hensley as plaintiffs. Kenneth appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that as the surviving spouse, Kenneth was not disqualified from commencing and maintaining the wrongful death action, notwithstanding the child support obligation. Because Kenneth was not statutorily disqualified from bringing the action, the Court of Appeals held that he was the proper plaintiff and that Kenneth and Uriah were each entitled to half of the settlement proceeds under the laws of intestate succession. Based on Kenneth's stipulation that he owed almost $72,000 in child support for four other children, the appellate court determined that his entire portion of the lawsuit proceeds had to be paid towards his outstanding child support obligations through the Child Support Receipting Unit. The Tennessee Supreme Court held the prohibitions in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) were intended to apply only to cases in which the “parent” who seeks to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit was a parent of the decedent child, and the child support arrearage is owed for the support of that decedent child. Neither statute was applicable under the facts of this case. Consequently, the Court reversed and vacated the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals applying Sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) in this case. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Spires v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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Father’s appeal in this termination of parental rights case satisfied the signature requirement contained in Tenn. Code Ann. 36-1-124(d) and was not subject to dismissal. Father timely a timely notice of appeal from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights. The notice of appeal was signed by Father’s attorney but not signed personally by Father.The court of appeals entered an order directing Father to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction for failure to comply with section 36-1-124(d). Father’s response included a challenge to the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over the case and, after directing the parties and the attorney general to address certain issues, held (1) section 36-1-124(d) does not require a notice of appeal to be signed personally by the appellant; and (2) because the notice of appeal signed by Father’s attorney satisfied the signature requirement, Father’s appeal was not subject to dismissal, thus rendering moot the other issues before the court. View "In re Bentley D." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the standard for determining whether a shareholder’s claim is a direct claim or a derivative claim. This case arose from a dispute among siblings who were shareholders in a closely-held family corporation. The conflict resulted in dissolution of the original family corporation, the formation of two new corporations, and a lawsuit. In the suit, one group of shareholder siblings asserted claims against the other group of shareholder siblings. The trial court awarded damages to the plaintiff shareholder siblings. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the plaintiff shareholder siblings did not have standing because their claims were derivative in nature and belonged to their new corporation. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the traditional approach for determining whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative described in Hadden v. City of Gatlinburg is hereby set aside; (2) the framework set forth by the Delaware Supreme Court in Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc. is hereby adopted; and (3) under the Tooley framework, the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert some claims but had standing as to other claims. View "Keller v. Estate of Edward Stephen McRedmond" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an action against Defendant within the extended statute of limitations set by a tolling agreement. Plaintiff voluntarily nonsuited the action and refiled it within one year but after the extended statute of limitations in the tolling agreement. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, determining that the case was not timely filed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the tolling agreement precluded application of the savings statute and, therefore, Plaintiff’s claims were barred. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the parties’ agreement, the savings statute applied to save the suit that Plaintiff refiled after the extended statute of limitations set in the tolling agreement but within the one-year period provided by the savings statute. Remanded. View "Circle C. Constr., LLC v. Nilsen" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Father filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother did not file an answer to the petition. The trial court subsequently entered a default judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights. In 2010, Mother filed a petition seeking to set aside the judgment terminating her parental rights as void for lack of personal jurisdiction. Father argued that Mother’s petition was barred by the one-year statute of repose applicable to judgments terminating parental rights and thus should be dismissed. The trial court granted Mother’s petition and set aside the default judgment terminating her parental rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the default judgment was void for lack of personal jurisdiction; (2) the reasonable time filing requirement of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 does not apply to petitions seeking relief from void judgments under Rule 60.02(3); and (3) however, relief from a void judgment should be denied if certain exceptional circumstances exist. Remanded for a hearing to determine whether exceptional circumstances justify denying relief in this case. View "Turner v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against three health care providers. The trial court granted motions for summary judgment dismissing all the claims against one of the providers. The trial court did not explain the grounds for its decisions and, rather, requested counsel for the provider to prepare orders establishing the rationale for the court’s ruling. In response, the provider’s counsel prepared “extremely detailed” orders essentially restating the arguments contained in the provider’s filings in support of its summary judgment motions. The trial court signed the orders over Plaintiff’s objections. The court of appeals vacated the contested orders because the trial court had failed to state the legal grounds for its decisions as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that trial court failed to comply with Rule 56.04 because the summary judgment orders did not demonstrate that the court exercised its own independent judgment in reaching its decision. View "Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a health care liability action against Defendant-health care providers. Six days before filing his complaint, Defendant sent a pre-suit notice of his potential claim to each Defendant by certified mail, return receipt requested, as permitted by Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(a)(1). Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff failed to file with his complaint an affidavit of the person who had sent the pre-suit notice by certified mail. The trial court dismissed the complaint. The court of appeals affirmed but noted the harsh results strict compliance produces in cases such as this one where no prejudice is alleged. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the complaint, holding (1) the statutory requirement that an affidavit of the person who sent the pre-suit notice by certified mail be filed with the complaint may be satisfied by substantial compliance; and (2) Plaintiff substantially complied with the statute in this case. View "Thurmond v. Mid-Cumberland Infectious Disease Consultants, PLC " on Justia Law