Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court
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This case involves a conservatorship dispute over Susan Davis Malone. Two attorneys involved in the case filed two motions requesting the trial judge to recuse himself. The first recusal motion was denied and affirmed on appeal. The second recusal motion was also denied. The attorneys then filed a second petition for recusal appeal, arguing that trial court orders entered after the Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the first recusal appeal, but before the mandate issued, are void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Court of Appeals agreed with the attorneys and held that the orders were void. The counterpetitioners and co-conservators then filed an accelerated application for permission to appeal in the Supreme Court of Tennessee.The Supreme Court of Tennessee granted the application and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. The court held that the stay imposed by the Court of Appeals in the first recusal appeal did not divest the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The court also held that the attorneys waived any other argument that orders entered by the trial court should be vacated because they were entered prior to issuance of the mandate. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision. View "In Re Conservatorship of Malone" on Justia Law

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The case involves a slip and fall incident at a Trader Joe's grocery store in Nashville, Tennessee. The plaintiff, Melissa Binns, alleged that she slipped and fell due to the negligence of an employee who was stocking shelves in a disorganized manner, causing a package of tofu to fall and spill liquid on the floor. Binns filed a complaint against Trader Joe's East, Inc., alleging premises liability, negligent training, and negligent supervision. Trader Joe's sought to dismiss the negligent training and supervision claims, arguing that these claims should be dismissed when asserted concurrently with a premises liability claim and that the plaintiff's direct negligence claims were no longer viable due to the defendant admitting it was vicariously liable for the conduct of its employee.The trial court rejected both of Trader Joe's arguments and denied its motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. The court granted permission for an interlocutory appeal, which was denied by the Court of Appeals. Trader Joe's then appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, which granted review.The Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the preemption rule, which would dismiss direct negligence claims when a defendant admits vicarious liability, is incompatible with Tennessee's system of comparative fault and declined to adopt it. The court also declined to adopt the rule proposed by Trader Joe's that "negligent activity" claims cannot be asserted alongside premises liability claims. As a result, the court affirmed the trial court's order denying Trader Joe's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Binns v. Trader Joe's East, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the conclusion of the trial court that Plaintiff failed to establish Defendant's requisite minimum contacts with Tennessee, and thus the court lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendant with respect to Plaintiff's suit, holding that the trial court correctly dismissed Plaintiff's complaint.Plaintiff, a Tennessee resident, hired Defendant, an Alabama corporation with its principal place of business in Alabama, to build a house on a parcel of land in Alabama. Upon becoming dissatisfied with the quality and expense of the construction work Plaintiff filed suit in the Davidson County Chancery Court. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that Defendant's contacts with Tennessee were minor and attenuated. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of the minimum contacts necessary for a Tennessee court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant. View "Baskin v. Pierce & Allred Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' action seeking a declaratory judgment concerning the rights and obligations of the parties under a 2001 contract, holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that dismissal was appropriate on the grounds that the complaint was barred by the doctrine of res judicata.In a previously filed action, Plaintiffs sought similar relief, but the case was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In the instant case, the trial court granted Defendants' motions to dismiss, finding that Plaintiffs lacked standing. The court of appeals affirmed on other grounds, concluding that res judicata barred the complaint and, as such, declined to address the standing issue. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that dismissal of the previous case did not constitute an adjudication on the merits for purposes of res judicata. The Court then remanded the case to the court of appeals for consideration of the standing issue. View "Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the chancery court dismissing this complaint against a Texas company for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction was constitutionally permissible.The Texas company contracted with a Tennessee civil engineering company for services related to the potential construction of a railcar repair facility in Texas. When the Texas company failed to pay in full, the Tennessee company filed a breach of contract action in Tennessee. The chancery court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the Texas company lacked the minimum contacts necessary for the exercise of personal jurisdiction and that requiring the Texas company to litigate in Tennessee would be unreasonable and unfair. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Tennessee company established a prima facie case for the valid exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Texas company; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction was fair and reasonable. View "Crouch Railway Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court clarified the procedure circuit courts must follow when an original defendant in general sessions court appeals an adverse general sessions judgment to circuit court but then fails to appear for the de novo circuit court trial to prosecute his appeal, holding that, in the instant case, the circuit court erred in dismissing Appellant's appeal.When Appellant failed to appear in circuit court to prosecute his appeal from an adverse general sessions court judgment the circuit court dismissed the appeal and remanded this case to the general sessions court for execution of the judgment. The court of appeals reversed the circuit court's order that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under Tenn. Code Ann. 27-5-106 and -107, the circuit court should have entered a default judgment against Appellant in the amount of the general sessions judgment, subject to execution in the circuit court; and (2) after the circuit court dismissed the appeal and remanded to the general sessions court, the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction to grant Defendant's motion to set aside its prior order. View "Ken Smith Auto Parts v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court that documents containing communications between a corporation’s legal counsel and a property management property were protected under the attorney-client privilege, holding that the attorney-client privilege applied to the documents in this case.After acquiring commercial properties, the corporation filed unlawful detainer actions against the properties’ tenants. The tenants sought documents from the property management company that managed the corporation’s properties, but the corporation and property management company objected to producing the documents. The trial court concluded that the property management was an agent of the corporation, and therefore, the attorney-client privilege applied. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) the attorney-client privilege extends to communications between an entity’s legal counsel and a third-party non employee of the entity if the non employee is the functional equivalent of the entity’s employee; (2) the property management company in this case was the functional equivalent of the corporation’s employee; and (3) the communications related to the subject matter of counsel’s representation of the corporation and were made with the intention that they would be kept confidential. View "Dialysis Clinic, Inc. v. Medley" on Justia Law

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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