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Smith v. Hauck

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 25, 2015

SHARON M. SMITH, ET AL.
v.
READ HAUCK, ET AL

Session January 27, 2015

Tenn R. App. P. 3 Appeal; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded. Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County. No. 13C2364. Amanda Jane McClendon, Judge.

George R. Fusner, Jr., Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellants, Sharon M. Smith, Jennifer A. Mortimer and James L. Mortimer.

James P. Catalano, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc.

ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRANDON O. GIBSON J., and KENNY ARMSTRONG, J., joined.

OPINION

Page 565

ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

The trial court granted Defendant/Appellee's motion to dismiss based upon expiration of the applicable statute of limitations and made its judgment final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. Because we find that the trial court considered matters outside the pleadings in ruling on Defendant/Appellee's motion to dismiss we converted it to a motion for summary judgment. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

OPINION

Page 566

The facts relevant to our disposition of the issues presented on appeal in this matter are not disputed. On June 25, 2012, a vehicle operated by Plaintiff Sharon M. Smith (" Ms. Smith" ) and a vehicle operated by Defendant Read Hauck (" Mr. Hauck" ) collided. Plaintiff Jennifer A. Mortimer (" Ms. Mortimer" ) was a passenger in Ms. Smith's vehicle at the time of the accident.

On June 7, 2013, Ms. Smith, Ms. Mortimer, and James L. Mortimer (" Mr. Mortimer" ; collectively, " Plaintiffs" ) filed an action for damages against Mr. Hauck in the Circuit Court for Davidson County. In their complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that Ms. Smith's vehicle was stopped on an exit ramp off I-40 when it was struck from the rear by Mr. Hauck's vehicle. Ms. Smith and Ms. Mortimer sought compensatory damages for injuries allegedly caused by Mr. Hauck's alleged negligence and negligence per se and Mr. Mortimer's alleged loss of consortium damages arising from injuries sustained by his wife. Plaintiffs prayed for damages in excess of $25,000 each. Mr. Hauck answered on August 26, 2013, generally denying liability and asserting the doctrine of comparative fault against Ms. Smith and Ms. Mortimer. He additionally asserted that Plaintiffs' complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

On August 30, Plaintiffs served their first set of interrogatories and request for production of documents on Mr. Hauck. Plaintiffs' interrogatories, in relevant part, sought information regarding Mr. Hauck's purpose for traveling at the time of the collision and information regarding his employer. After Mr. Hauck's responses were approximately six weeks past due, Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel on November 18, 2013. Mr. Hauck responded to the interrogatories on December 4, 2013, and stated that he was working for St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc. (" St. Jude Medical" ) when the collision occurred. He also stated that, at the time of the accident, he was traveling to St. Thomas Hospital to participate in surgery as part of his employment with St. Jude Medical. On that same day, December 4, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their complaint to add St. Jude Medical as a Defendant. The trial court granted the motion, and Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint on December 20, 2013. In their amended complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Hauck was working in the course and scope of his employment with St. Jude Medical when the accident occurred and that St. Jude Medical was liable for damages under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

On February 3, 2014, St. Jude Medical filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6). In their motion, St. Jude Medical asserted that Plaintiffs' action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated § 28-3-104(a)(1). Plaintiffs responded in March 2014, asserting that the statute of limitations was tolled by the discovery rule because " Plaintiffs had no idea that Defendant Hauck was acting within the scope of his employment until the information became known in written discovery." Plaintiffs further asserted, " Defendant Hauck likewise failed to state in his Answer that he was acting within the scope of his employment nor was there any indication of such in any accident reports or other documents available to Plaintiffs prior to filing the lawsuit."

In April 2014, the trial court granted Plaintiffs' second motion to amend their complaint. In their April 23, 2014 second amended and restated complaint (hereinafter, " complaint" ), Plaintiffs specifically asserted that they " had no knowledge that the Defendant, Read Hauck, was working

Page 567

in the scope and course of business of his employer, the Defendant, St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc. until after the Defendant, Mr. Hauck, filed his interrogatory answers in December of 2013." They additionally stated, " Further, the Plaintiffs were given no indication of Mr. Hauck's employment until the interrogatory answers were received by their counsel on December 4, 2013." They reasserted their claim against Mr. Hauck, alleged that St. Jude Medical was vicariously liable for damages under the doctrine of respondeat superior, and demanded a trial by jury.

The trial court granted St. Jude Medical's motion to dismiss by order entered April 25, 2014. Plaintiffs filed a motion for interlocutory appeal in May, which the trial court denied in July 2014. By order entered July 2, 2014, the trial court made its April 25 order dismissing St. Jude Medical final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02, and Plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court.

Issues Presented

Plaintiffs present the following issues for our review, as they state them:

1) Whether the trial court erroneously dismissed the foregoing personal injury lawsuit based upon the statute of limitations[.]
2) Whether the Discovery Rule tolled the statute of limitations[.]
3) Whether Defendants were guilty of fraudulent concealment[.]

Standard of Review

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12.02(6) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, the trial court must determine whether the pleadings state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6); Cullum v. McCool, 432 S.W.3d 829, 832 (Tenn. 2013). The motion tests " only the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not the strength of the plaintiff's proof or evidence." Webb v. Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity, Inc., 346 S.W.3d 422, 426 (Tenn. 2011). Therefore, when reviewing a motion to dismiss, we must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in favor of the plaintiff. Myers v. AMISUB (SFH), Inc., 382 S.W.3d 300, 308 (Tenn. 2012). The trial court should grant a motion to dismiss only if it appears that the plaintiff cannot establish any facts in support of the claim that would warrant relief. Doe v. Sundquist, 2 S.W.3d 919, 922 (Tenn. 1999). We review a trial court's award of a motion to dismiss de novo with no presumption of correctness. Myers, 382 S.W.3d at 308.

When the trial court considers matters outside of the pleadings, however, " a motion to dismiss is converted to a motion for summary judgment." Moore v. State, 436 S.W.3d 775, 783 (Tenn. Ct.App. 2014) (citation omitted). Like our review of a trial court's order granting a motion to dismiss, our review of a trial court's award of summary judgment is de novo with no presumption of correctness. Id. (citation omitted). We must " review[] the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Id. (citation omitted). It is well-settled that summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party carries his burden to demonstrate that the " pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. (citations omitted).

As the trial court noted in its April 2014 memorandum opinion in ...


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