BILLY COFFEY, ET AL.
HAMBLEN COUNTY, ET AL.
Session October 19, 2016
from the Circuit Court for Hamblen County No. 15CV139 Douglas
T. Jenkins, Chancellor
a breach of contract action in which the plaintiffs filed
suit on behalf of the decedent, who died as a result of
suicide in the county jail. The plaintiffs sought damages
from the designated emergency medical services provider
pursuant to a contract between the provider and the county.
The provider filed a motion to stay and compel arbitration
pursuant to the terms of the contract. The plaintiffs argued
that the arbitration provision in the contract was invalid
because it did not contain the required notice advising the
parties of the waiver of trial by jury and appeal. The trial
court agreed and denied the motion. We reverse and remand for
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
Russell W. Adkins and Robert L. Arrington, Kingsport,
Tennessee, for the appellant, Morristown Emergency &
Rescue Squad, Inc. d/b/a Morristown-Hamblen Emergency Medical
Jeffrey R. Thompson and Gina C. Sarli, Knoxville, Tennessee,
for the appellee, Hamblen County.
L. Bowlin, II, Morristown, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Billy Coffey, Melissa Coffey, and Melinda Wolfe.
W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.
W. McCLARTY, JUDGE.
1, 2015, Thomas Coffey ("Decedent") was arrested
and transported to the Hamblen County Jail. Decedent, who was
under the influence of alcohol and "other drugs" at
the time of his arrest, was placed in the general population
in a regular housing unit with other inmates. Jail personnel
later discovered Decedent unconscious and hanging in his cell
as a result of an apparent suicide attempt on July 4, 2015.
Jail personnel called the Morristown Emergency Rescue Squad,
Inc. d/b/a Morristown-Hamblen Emergency Medical Services
("EMS") for service and transport of Decedent to
the hospital. When no ambulance arrived, jail personnel
called EMS a second time. EMS advised them that transport was
unavailable at the moment because EMS was "out on other
calls." Deputy sheriffs then transported Decedent by
patrol car to the Morristown Hamblen Hospital. Decedent
succumbed to his injuries on July 11, 2015.
number of Decedent's relatives, Billy Coffey, Melissa
Coffey, and Melinda Wolfe (collectively
"Plaintiffs"), filed suit against numerous persons
and entities, including Hamblen County, Tennessee ("the
County") and EMS. At issue in this appeal is Plaintiffs'
allegation that EMS breached its service agreement with the
County by failing to timely respond after receiving
notification that Decedent attempted suicide by hanging.
moved to stay the proceeding and to compel arbitration,
arguing that Plaintiffs were bound by an arbitration
provision in the service agreement because they filed suit as
third-party beneficiaries to the contract between EMS and the
County. The provision at issue provides as follows:
ARBITRATION. Any dispute or controversy arising under, out of
or in connection with, or in relation to this Agreement, or
any amendment hereof, or the breach hereof shall be
determined and settled by arbitration in Hamblen County,
Tennessee, in accordance with the American Health Lawyers
Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Services Rules of
Procedures for Arbitration and applying the laws of the
State. Any award rendered by the arbitrator shall be final
and binding upon each of the parties, and judgment thereon
may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof. The
costs shall be borne equally by both parties. During the
pendency of any such arbitration and until final judgment
thereon has been entered, this Agreement shall remain in full
force and effect unless otherwise terminated as provided
hereunder. The provision of this Paragraph shall survive
expiration or other termination of this Agreement regardless
of cause of such termination.
and Hamblen County opposed the motion to stay, arguing that
the claims set forth in the complaint fall under the category
of a "Consumer Case" as defined by the American
Health Lawyers Association Alternative Dispute Resolution
Services Rules of Procedure for Arbitration
("AHLA"). They claim that in consumer cases, the
AHLA requires the use of a separate document conspicuously
identified as ...