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Watson v. City of Jackson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

August 26, 2014

CANDACE D. WATSON
v.
THE CITY OF JACKSON

July 23, 2014 Session

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Madison County No. C08343 Roy B. Morgan, Jr., Judge

Candace Watson, Jackson, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Lewis L. Cobb and Richard Lowell Finney III, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, City of Jackson.

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, J., DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT, IN WHICH DAVID R. FARMER, J., AND ROBERT L. CHILDERS, SP. J., JOINED.

MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE

Background

This is the second appeal in this case. See Watson v. City of Jackson, No. W2014-00100-COA-10B-CV, 2014 WL 575915 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2014), no app. perm. app. filed (affirming the trial court's denial of a recusal motion) (hereinafter, "Watson I"). The relevant facts and procedure are set forth in our first Opinion:

On November 17, 2008, Plaintiff/Appellant Candace Watson filed a complaint against the Defendant/Appellee City of Jackson ("the City") for injuries she allegedly sustained while employed by the City. According to her complaint, while working in a City building, Ms. Watson was injured when she slipped and fell on a recently waxed floor. Ms. Watson alleged that the fall caused her neck, back, leg, and arm pain, which continued at the time of the filing of the complaint.
The City filed an answer on January 16, 2009, specifically raising the defenses of contributory negligence and comparative fault. . . .
On December 27, 2012, the City filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the undisputed evidence showed that there was no hazardous condition on the floor, until after Ms. Watson left work on the day of the alleged incident. Specifically, the City argued that Ms. Watson had alleged that a hazardous condition existed because City staff was waxing the floor prior to her departure; however, deposition testimony allegedly undisputedly showed that no waxing took place until after Ms. Watson left for the day. The City also argued that the evidence showed that if there was any negligence on the part of the City, the evidence nevertheless undisputedly showed that the negligence of Ms. Watson made her more than fifty percent responsible for her injuries, precluding recovery. Ms. Watson filed a response to the Motion for Summary Judgment on January 23, 2013. In her response, Ms. Watson denied that the undisputed facts entitled the City to judgment in its favor. On February 15, 2013, the trial court denied the City's Motion for Summary Judgment, finding a dispute as to the material facts in the case.
A trial was held on March 8, 2013. Ms. Watson testified on her own behalf.

Watson I, 2014 WL 575915, at *1–*2 (footnote omitted). Specifically, Ms. Watson testified that on the day of the incident, she was working at the ticket counter of the City's Civic Center building. Ms. Watson stated that she observed the janitorial staff waxing the floors prior to her departure. However, because there were no posted signs warning of wet or slippery floors when she left for the day, Ms. Watson testified that she believed that the floor was dry. Accordingly, Ms. Watson exited the building through the door where she had previously seen the janitorial staff waxing. Ms. Watson admitted that other doors were available to exit from and that she took no special precautions in crossing the floor. Immediately prior to reaching the door, Ms. Watson testified that she slipped. Ms. Watson did not fall, but instead was able to correct her balance by reaching for the door to the building. According to Ms. Watson, however, that movement caused a significant injury to her back, which continued to cause her pain. Ms. Watson testified that she had seen several doctors regarding her injury and that she was now unable to maintain full-time employment due to her pain.

According to our prior Opinion:
Two City workers who were alleged to have waxed the floor on the day in question testified on behalf of the City. Both parties agreed that the medical testimony would be submitted through deposition, for the trial court to read after the conclusion of the live proof. However, at the conclusion of trial, the trial court determined that, even taking all of Ms. Watson's testimony regarding her injury and its causation as true, Ms. Watson's own testimony showed that she was more than fifty percent (50%) at fault for her injuries. Thus, the trial court concluded that Ms. Watson could not recover.
Before the trial court entered an order on its judgment, the City filed a Motion seeking discretionary costs. In addition, on April 15, 2013, Ms. Watson, acting pro se, filed a motion captioned "Emergency Motion to Dismiss Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Dr. Bede Anyanwu." The Motion asked that the Court allow Ms. Watson to dismiss Dr. Anyanwu as her counsel of record. . . .
On April 16, 2013, Ms. Watson, acting pro se, filed a Motion opposing the City's request for discretionary costs. Ms. Watson argued that to assess discretionary costs against her "is basically a slap in the face." On the same day, Ms. Watson filed another Motion to dismiss her trial counsel, citing additional reasons for the dismissal that are not relevant to this appeal. Despite this Motion, Ms. Watson's trial counsel filed his own response to the City's motion for discretionary costs, arguing that because Ms. Watson and the City were found to be equally at fault, there was no prevailing party to whom discretionary costs could be awarded.
On April 29, 2013, Ms. Watson, acting pro se, filed a motion captioned: "Motion to Object Defective Verdict, " arguing that the trial court did not "apply the law accordingly to Rule 2.1 Code of Judicial Conduct." Specifically, Ms. Watson took issue with the trial court's ruling that she was on notice that the floors were slippery, when testimony showed that no signs were posted warning of the slippery floors. Ms. Watson also raised, for the first time, an issue regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. On May 7, 2013, Ms. Watson, again acting pro se, filed a new motion captioned: "Motion to Open and Amend Judgment and/or Grant New Trial." In this Motion, Ms. Watson argued that the trial court's ruling violated several procedural and substantive rules, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, several rules of evidence and procedure, Rule 2.9 of the Judicial Code of Conduct, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Ms. Watson also noted that she had obtained newly discovered evidence of a witness to her departure from the City building on the day in question. . . .
On May 14, 2013, the trial court entered an order dismissing Ms. Watson's Motion to dismiss her trial counsel. The trial court noted that Ms. Watson did "not need permission of the Court to dismiss her privately retained legal counsel in a civil action." The trial court noted, however, that Ms. Watson "acknowledges her responsibility as a Pro Se litigant if she does proceed without legal counsel . . . ." Also on May 14, 2013, the trial entered its final judgment in favor of the City. The trial court also entered an order awarding the City discretionary costs.
On May 29, 2013, the City filed a response to Ms.Watson's Motion objecting to the trial court's "verdict." The City denied the allegations contained therein, and noted that Ms. Watson had not raised the Americans with Disabilities Act in her complaint. On the same day, the City also filed a response to Ms. Watson's "Motion to Amend Verdict, " denying the allegations contained therein. On June 7, 2013, the trial court denied Ms. Watson's "Motion to Open and Amend Judgment and/or Grant New Trial."
On June 10, 2013, Ms. Watson filed a Notice of Appeal of the trial court's ruling.

Watson I, 2014 WL 575915, at *2–*3 (footnotes omitted).[2]

Thereafter, the parties engaged in a number of disputes regarding the record on appeal. Specifically, Mr. Watson submitted a Statement of the Evidence for approval of the trial court pursuant to Rule 24 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Id. at *3. Based upon the City's objections, the trial court declined to accept Ms. Watson's statement. Id. at *4. Thereafter, Ms. Watson filed a motion seeking to force the trial court to recuse from presiding over the preparation of the record on appeal. The trial court declined to recuse and Ms. Watson filed an accelerated appeal to this Court of the trial court's recusal decision. Id. at *5–*6; see also Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.01 ("If the trial court judge enters an order denying a motion for the judge's disqualification or recusal, or for determination of constitutional or statutory incompetence, an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right lies from the order.").This Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying recusal. See Watson I, ...


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