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McAllister v. Rash

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

June 5, 2015

ROBERT McALLISTER
v.
TIMOTHY RASH, ET AL.

Assigned on Briefs April 30, 2015

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Knox County No. 166812 Dale C. Workman, Judge

Robert McAllister, Friendsville, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Stewart C. Stallings and Betsy Hull Hesselrode, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellee, Timothy Rash.

Latisha J. Stubblefield, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Farmers Insurance Group/Mid-Century Insurance Group.

J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.

OPINION

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE

Background

On December 10, 2012, Plaintiff/Appellant Robert McAllister, acting pro se, filed a complaint for damages against Defendants/Appellees Timothy Rash and Farmers Insurance Group ("Farmers Insurance"). The complaint alleged that on or about December 20, 2011, Mr. Rash hit Mr. McAllister with his automobile, while Mr. McAllister was on the sidewalk in a "disabled motorized scooter." According to the complaint, Mr. McAllister suffered injuries as a result of the collision. Mr. McAllister requested $250, 000.00 in compensatory damages and an additional $250, 000.00 in punitive damages.

On January 4, 2013, Farmers Insurance filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Mr. McAllister could assert no direct cause of action against it. Farmers Insurance also asserted that it was not the carrier of the insurance policy at issue, as that policy had been issued by Mid-Century Insurance Company ("Mid-Century Insurance").[1] Mr. Rash filed an answer on January 10, 2013, denying the material allegations contained therein. Mr. Rash also raised the affirmative defense of comparative fault.

On January 23, 2013, Mr. McAllister filed a motion for an extension of time to file his response to Farmers Insurance's motion to dismiss. On February 20, 2013, Mr. McAllister filed a motion to amend his complaint to add allegations that Farmers Insurance and Mid-Century Insurance were vicariously liable for the negligence of Mr. Rash. On March 11, 2013, the trial court entered an order denying Mr. McAllister's motion for an extension of time to file a response and granting Farmers Insurance's motion to dismiss. The trial court certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.

On March 22, 2013, Mr. Rash filed a motion in opposition to Mr. McAllister's motion to amend his complaint, arguing that there was no need to amend the complaint to add allegations against Mid-Century Insurance, as Mr. McAllister could not assert a direct cause of action against the insurer. On the same day, Mr. Rash filed a motion to compel Mr. McAllister to sign a medical authorization form allowing Mr. Rash to obtain Mr. McAllister's health records relative to the accident.

The trial court granted Mr. Rash's motion to compel on April 15, 2013.[2] The trial court's order required that Mr. McAllister sign and return to Mr. Rash a completed health authorization form within ten days of the entry of the order. On the same day, the trial court denied Mr. McAllister's motion to amend his complaint, again ruling that Mr. McAllister could not assert a direct cause of action against the insurance companies.

On May 9, 2013, Mr. Rash filed a motion for sanctions against Mr. McAllister on the ground that he failed to comply with the trial court's order directing him to sign and return a medical authorization form. As a result of Mr. McAllister's noncompliance, Mr. Rash asked that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice. On July 10, 2013, Mr. Rash filed his own motion to dismiss Mr. McAllister's complaint on the ground of failure to prosecute. Mr. McAllister responded in opposition on July 30, 2013.

The trial court set the case for trial on April 7, 2014. Because the claims against Farmers Insurance had been dismissed and the trial court denied Mr. McAllister's request to amend his complaint to add allegations against Mid-Century Insurance, only the claims against Mr. Rash remained pending. On April 7, 2014, however, Mr. McAllister failed to appear. Accordingly, on April 11, 2014, the trial court entered an order dismissing with prejudice Mr. McAllister's complaint for failure to prosecute. The order indicated that Mr. McAllister was provided proper notice of the date and time that the trial was set to occur and that the trial court had waited for approximately thirty minutes for Mr. McAllister to appear before determining that dismissal was proper.

Thirty-two days after the entry of the order dismissing Mr. McAllister's complaint, on May 13, 2014, Mr. McAllister filed a motion to set aside the trial court's judgment pursuant to Rule 60.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Mr. McAllister asserted that his failure to appear at trial was the product of excusable neglect. Specifically, Mr. McAllister alleged that he was suffering from severe mental health issues, which caused him to forget the trial date after he received the notice. Mr. McAllister's motion was supported by two sworn affidavits, one from himself, and one from his mother. Both affidavits attested to the fact that Mr. McAllister had been in and out of mental hospitals from around February 2013 to March 17, 2014. The affidavits also indicate that Mr. McAllister had been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder[3] and that he is highly medicated to treat his condition.

Mr. Rash filed a motion in opposition on or about June 2, 2014, arguing that simply forgetting a trial date is not sufficient to show excusable neglect. The trial court entered an order denying Mr. McAllister's motion to set aside the judgment on June 16, 2014. Mr. McAllister filed his notice of appeal on July 3, 2014.[4] While the case was on appeal, several procedural disputes occurred between the parties.[5] Eventually, Mr. McAllister was permitted to file a supplemental brief to this Court, and the case was set to be heard without oral argument.

Issues Presented

On appeal, Mr. McAllister raises two issues, which are taken from his initial brief:

1. Whether the [trial] [c]ourt erred in dismissing [Mr. McAllister's] case for failing to prosecute in li[ght] of ...

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