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Runions v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

February 7, 2017

TIFFINNE WENDALYN GAIL RUNIONS, ET AL.
v.
JACKSON-MADISON COUNTY GENERAL HOSPITAL DISTRICT, ET AL.

          Session October 25, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Madison County No. C-14-46 Donald H. Allen, Judge

         This is an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. In this health care liability action, we must determine whether the plaintiff properly complied with the pre-suit notice requirement found in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1). The original defendants in this matter all filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment alleging that they did not provide medical treatment to the plaintiff/appellee. Subsequently, the plaintiff filed a response to the defendants' motion acknowledging that she had mistakenly identified a proper defendant in this suit. The plaintiff also filed a motion to amend her complaint attempting to remedy that mistake by substituting in the proper defendant. After both motions were heard, the trial court denied the original defendants' motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment and granted the plaintiff/appellee's motion to amend her complaint. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 9 Interlocutory Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Patrick W. Rogers, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellants, Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, West Tennessee Healthcare, Inc., and West Tennessee Healthcare Network.

          Mark Norman Geller and Russell D. Marlin, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tiffinne Wendalyn Gail Runions.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., joined. Brandon O. Gibson, J., filed a separate dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         This health care liability action arises out of the alleged wrongful death of Laileeana Scott, daughter of Plaintiff/Appellee Tiffinne Wendalyn Gail Runions ("Ms. Runions"). On November 9, 2012, Ms. Runions gave birth by cesarean section to Laileeana Scott at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. On November 14, 2012, Laileeana Scott died, allegedly as a result of negligence that occurred at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital both before and during the birthing process.

         On October 18, 2013, counsel for Ms. Runions sent pre-suit notice pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 to the following entities, among others, at the following addresses:

Bolivar General Hospital, Inc. ("BGH") d/b/a Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, Inc.
c/o Currie Higgs, Registered Agent 620 Skyline Drive Jackson, TN 38301-3923
West Tennessee Healthcare, Inc. ("WTH") d/b/a Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, Inc.
c/o Currie Higgs, Registered Agent 620 Skyline Drive Jackson, TN 38301-3923
West Tennessee Healthcare Network ("WTHN") d/b/a Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, Inc. c/o Currie Higgs, Registered Agent 620 Skyline Drive Jackson, TN 38301-3923

(collectively, the "Defendants"). Each of these pre-suit notice letters was mailed via certified mail, return receipt requested, to the same address and to the same person, Ms. Currie Higgs, who is the agent for service of process for BGH, WTH, and WTHN. Ms. Higgs is also the General Counsel for the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District (the "District").

         On October 25, 2013, Ms. Laura Zamata, "Director of Risk Management" for the District, [1] sent a letter to Ms. Runions' counsel acknowledging receipt of a pre-suit notice letter. In relevant part, Ms. Zamata's letter stated as follows:

I am in receipt of your letter dated October 18, 2013, referencing a claim on behalf of Tiffinne Wendalym [sic] Gail Runions for patient, Laileena [sic] Wendalee Scott (deceased). The District is a governmental entity and has elected to be self-insured, therefore, there is no insurance carrier.
Please be advised that as the Director of Risk Management, I am your designated contact for the above referenced claim and all correspondence and telephone inquiries should be directed to me unless you are notified otherwise.

(emphasis added).

         On March 6, 2014, Ms. Runions filed her original complaint in this lawsuit. The District was not named as a defendant. Instead, the initial complaint was filed solely against BGH, WTH, and WTHN. The dispute at hand arises because the Defendants allege that the District was the proper defendant to be sued in this matter.

         On May 27, 2014, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment. The Defendants' motion and supporting documentation, including an affidavit of Ms. Higgs, asserted that none of the named Defendants ever provided medical care or employed anyone who provided medical care to Ms. Runions or her child. According to Ms. Higgs' affidavit, WTHN is a "managed care network and subsidiary of the [District], " of which the District is the "sole member." Ms. Higgs' affidavit also identified WTH as a subsidiary of the District and stated that its "activities are limited to the ownership and leasing of real property." BGH was likewise represented as a "governmental entity and a subsidiary of the [District], " of which the District is the "sole member." The District itself was identified as a governmental entity that operates the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.

         Although Ms. Runions did not dispute that the District is a governmental entity that operates the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital or challenge Ms. Higgs' statements that WTHN, WTH, and BGH are subsidiaries of the District, she did challenge some of the asserted factual lines of division that had been drawn by the Defendants. For example, when she responded to the Defendants' Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Ms. Runions disputed that the activities of WTH are "limited to the ownership and leasing of real property." Similarly, she disputed that WTHN and WTH had never provided any hospital or nursing services in this case. With respect to this latter point, we note that Ms. Runions attached a number of her patient records when responding to the Defendants' Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. These records presented the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital as a part of, or as "[a]n affiliate of" West Tennessee Healthcare. "The District" itself was not mentioned in any of these records. We further note that in Ms. Runions' response to the Defendants' motion to dismiss, she argued that she should be able to proceed with discovery regarding the activities of WTHN and WTH as they may relate to the care provided by the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.

         As is significant to this appeal, however, Ms. Runions' response to the Defendants' motion to dismiss also asserted that she had mistakenly named BGH in her complaint instead of the District. In explaining her decision to send pre-suit notice to BGH, Ms. Runions' response stated as follows:

[A] search of the Tennessee Secretary of State's business information service for "Jackson-Madison County General Hospital" returns a listing for Bolivar General Hospital, Inc. and lists as it[s] mailing address "620 Skyline Drive, Jackson, Tennessee 38301-3923 USA" which is the physical location of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. The Secretary of State's information goes on to list Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, Inc. as the "old" name of the facility now known as Bolivar General Hospital, Inc. The Secretary of State's information lists Currie Higgs as BGH, Inc.'s registered agent for service of process and gives her address as "620 Skyline Drive, Jackson, Tennessee ...

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