JOSHLIN RENEE WOODRUFF BY AND THROUGH DOROTHY COCKRELL, ET AL.
ARMIE WALKER M.D., ET AL.
Session February 15, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Madison County No. C-13-237,
C-15-277 Kyle Atkins, Judge
plaintiffs, a mother and her child, filed this health care
liability action in September 2015. The complaint alleged
that both plaintiffs suffered permanent injuries resulting
from the defendant health care providers' negligent care
during the child's birth in June 2012. The defendants
moved to dismiss the mother's claims based on expiration
of the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code
Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(1) and to dismiss the claims
of both plaintiffs based on expiration of the three-year
statute of repose in Tennessee Code Annotated section
29-26-116(a)(3). With regard to the statute of limitations,
the plaintiffs argued that the mother's claims were
timely filed because the discovery rule delayed the accrual
of her claims until March 2015 and because she had been
"adjudicated incompetent" within the meaning of
Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 such that the
limitations period was tolled as to her claims. With regard
to the statute of repose, the plaintiffs argued that their
claims were timely filed because they were entitled to rely
on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which
extends the three-year statute of repose by 120 days when
sufficient pre-suit notice is given. Following a hearing, the
trial court concluded that neither the discovery rule nor
Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 applied to the
mother's claims and that her claims were therefore filed
after expiration of the one-year statute of limitations.
Additionally, the trial court concluded that the plaintiffs
failed to provide sufficient pre-suit notice because the
medical authorizations included in their pre-suit notice did
not permit the defendants to obtain their complete medical
records. Specifically, the trial court found the
authorizations insufficient because they did not permit the
defendants to obtain relevant medical records from prenatal
treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the
delivery. The trial court therefore concluded that the
plaintiffs were not entitled to rely on the 120-day extended
filing period and their claims were filed after expiration of
the three-year statute of repose. The trial court dismissed
all of the plaintiffs' claims, and the plaintiffs
appealed. Having reviewed the record submitted on appeal, we
hold that the trial court properly dismissed the mother's
claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of
limitations. We further hold, however, that the trial court
erred in dismissing the child's claims based on
expiration of the three-year statute of repose. Records from
prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date
of the delivery were the mother's medical records, and
the child could not have unilaterally authorized their
release. As such, his failure to do so did not render the
medical authorizations provided with his pre-suit notice
insufficient. The defendants have not asserted any other
deficiencies in the child's pre-suit notice. Because the
child provided sufficient pre-suit notice, he was entitled to
rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which
extended the filing period by 120 days. The child's
claims were therefore timely filed prior to expiration of the
extended statute of repose in October 2015. The judgment of
the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and
the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded
Bednarz, Sr. and Joe Bednarz, Jr., Hendersonville, Tennessee,
for the appellants, Beverly Woodruff and Dorothy Cockrell.
R. Phillips and Craig P. Sanders, Jackson, Tennessee, for the
appellee, Armie Walker.
E. Baker, Jr., Deborah Whitt, and M. Jason Martin, Memphis,
Tennessee, for the appellees, Timothy Hutchinson, Michael
Martindale, and Professional Anesthesia Associates, P.C.
Jennifer S. Harrison, James E. Looper, Jr., and Lauren
Dunavin Callins, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Elliott Clifton Roberts, Jr.
W. Cooper and Kaycee L. Weeter, Nashville, Tennessee, for the
appellees, Nathan John Hoeldtke and Mid-South Perinatal
Patrick W. Rogers, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellees,
West Tennessee OB-GYN Services aka West Tennessee OB-GYN
Clinic, Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District,
West Tennessee Healthcare, Inc., Anna McIntyre, Kara Carter,
Lisa L. Johnson, Jessica Perry, and Dena Etheridge.
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J.,
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
Renee Woodruff ("Mother") was approximately 17
weeks pregnant when she was first evaluated by OB-GYN
specialist Dr. Armie Walker on January 24, 2012. During the
visit, Mother disclosed to Dr. Walker that she suffered from
a neuromuscular condition known as myasthenia gravis. Because
of that condition and gestational hypertension, Dr. Walker
referred Mother to a maternal fetal specialist-Dr. Nathan
John Hoeldtke of Mid-South Perinatal Associates, P.C. Dr.
Hoeldtke met with and evaluated Mother on January 31, 2012,
March 13, 2012, April 12, 2012, May 16, 2012, and June 4,
2012. Mother also continued to receive treatment from Dr.
Walker and his partner, Dr. Elliot Clifton Roberts,
throughout her pregnancy.
31, 2012, at approximately 36 weeks gestation, Mother was
admitted to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital with
exacerbated symptoms of myasthenia gravis that included
extreme muscle weakness and shortness of breath. Dr. Hoeldtke
evaluated Mother at the hospital and made recommendations for
her labor and delivery. Dr. Hoeldtke's recommendations
included, among other things, consultation with an anesthesia
service to develop anesthesia plans in case it became
necessary to deliver the child by cesarean section.
Mother's condition improved with medication and
treatment, and she was discharged from the hospital on June
went into labor in the early morning hours of June 21, 2012.
She was admitted to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital
at 3:42 a.m. where she was evaluated initially by Dr.
Roberts. Dr. Roberts managed Mother's care until 8:00
a.m., at which time she came under the care of Dr. Walker for
the remainder of her labor and delivery.
labor progressed slowly throughout the day on June 21, 2012.
At 6:10 a.m., Dr. Michael Martindale was called to give
Mother an epidural anesthesia. Initially, Dr. Martindale
declined to administer the anesthetic in light of
Mother's myasthenia gravis condition. Later that morning,
however, Dr. Timothy Hutchinson began to administer small
doses of epidural anesthetic to help control Mother's
pain. At 3:00 p.m., Dr. Walker ordered that Mother be given a
small dose of the labor-inducing drug Pitocin. At 3:45 p.m.,
Mother called for a nurse and reported that she did not like
the way the epidural made her feel. The nurse observed that
one of Mother's eyes was swollen and drooped, and Dr.
Hutchinson was called to turn off the epidural. At 4:52 p.m.,
Dr. Hoeldtke arrived in Mother's hospital room. Dr.
Walker increased Mother's dosage of Pitocin at 5:30 p.m.
and 6:30 p.m., but it failed to augment her labor by any
day wore on, Mother began to exhibit symptoms of exacerbated
myasthenia gravis that made it unsafe to continue the labor
and deliver the child vaginally. Pulse oximeter readings
indicated low levels of oxygen in Mother's blood.
Additionally, Mother reported difficulty breathing on several
occasions. At 8:05 p.m., Dr. Martindale entered the room to
give Mother an epidural anesthetic. Although Mother expressed
difficulty breathing, Dr. Walker insisted on doing a vaginal
exam at 8:16 p.m. During the exam, Mother stopped breathing
and went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. Mother was
rushed to an operating room where an emergency caesarian
section was performed while doctors worked to revive her.
Braylon Woodruff ("Child") was delivered by
cesarean section at approximately 8:30 p.m.
and Child both suffered serious permanent injuries and brain
damage resulting from a lack of oxygen during the delivery.
On June 28, 2012, the Madison County Juvenile Court entered
an order granting temporary legal custody of Child to his
maternal grandmother, Beverly Woodruff. On November 29, 2012,
the Madison County General Sessions Court entered an order
appointing Mother's aunt, Dorothy Cockrell, as
April 17, 2015, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section
29-26-121(a), counsel for Mother and Child (together,
"Plaintiffs") sent letters to the following health
care providers notifying them of potential health care
liability claims against them: Armie Walker, M.D., Elliott
Clifton Roberts, Jr., M.D., West Tennessee OB-GYN Services
aka West Tennessee OB-GYN Clinic, Nathan John Hoeldtke, M.D.,
Mid-South Perinatal Associates, P.C., Timothy Hutchinson,
M.D., Michael Martindale, M.D., Professional Anesthesia
Associates, P.C., Jackson Madison County General Hospital,
West Tennessee Healthcare, Inc., Anna McIntyre, R.N., Kara
Carter, R.N., Lisa L. Johnson, R.N., Jessica Perry, R.N., and
Dena Etheridge, R.N. (together, "Defendants"). The
pre-suit notice letters were accompanied by medical
authorizations permitting Defendants to obtain
Plaintiffs' medical records from each other. Notably, the
authorizations only permitted the release of medical records
for three dates: January 24, 2012; June 21, 2012; and July
September 29, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a health care liability
complaint against Defendants. The complaint alleged that
Defendants caused Plaintiffs to suffer permanent injuries by
negligently failing to recognize and take appropriate action
in response to Mother's deteriorating condition during
her labor on June 21, 2012. The complaint alleged that
Plaintiffs had complied with the pre-suit notice requirements
of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a). Along with
the complaint, Plaintiffs filed a certificate of good faith
pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section
response to the complaint, Defendants filed motions to
dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure
12.02(6). Defendants asserted that the claims
advanced by Mother in the complaint were barred by the
one-year statute of limitations applicable to health care
liability actions. See Tenn. Code Ann. §
29-26-116(a). They argued that, although Mother had a
court-appointed conservator, the limitations period was not
tolled by Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 because
Mother had not been adjudicated incompetent at the time her
claims accrued. While Defendants acknowledged that the
statute of limitations was tolled as to Child's claims
because of his minority, they further asserted that all of
Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the three-year statute
of repose applicable to health care liability actions.
See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116(a)(3). They
argued that Plaintiffs could not rely on Tennessee Code
Annotated section 29-26-121(c) to extend the filing period by
120 days because they did not provide sufficient pre-suit
notice of their claims. Specifically, they argued that the
medical authorizations provided with Plaintiffs' pre-suit
notice did not afford them access to relevant medical records
for prenatal treatment that Mother received prior to the date
of the delivery.
2016, Plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their complaint to
add allegations aimed at avoiding dismissal of Mother's
claims based on expiration of the statute of limitations.
Plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint alleged that they
did not discover their claims until Dr. Walker revealed
previously unknown factual information during a deposition in
March 2015. Plaintiffs therefore asserted that the one-year
statute of limitations began to run in March 2015 and their
claims were timely filed.
also filed a separate response opposing Defendants'
motions to dismiss. In the response, Plaintiffs argued that
Mother's claims were not barred by the one-year statute
of limitations because Tennessee Code Annotated section
28-1-106 tolled the limitations period and/or because they
were not discovered until March 2015. Additionally,
Plaintiffs argued that, by permitting the release of their
medical records for June 21, 2012, their medical
authorizations afforded Defendants access to all relevant
medical records because all of the wrongful conduct alleged
in their complaint occurred on that date. Plaintiffs
therefore asserted that they were entitled to the 120-day
extended filing period provided by Tennessee Code Annotated
section 29-26-121(c) and their claims were not barred by the
three-year statute of repose.
a hearing, the trial court entered five separate orders
granting Defendants' motions to dismiss. As an initial
matter, the court held that Mother's claims were barred
by the one-year statute of limitations. The court explained
that the discovery rule did not delay the limitations period
because Plaintiffs were alerted of the need to investigate
their injuries on June 21, 2012. The court further explained
that Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 did not toll
the limitations period as to Mother's claims because she
was not adjudicated incompetent before her claims accrued.
The court therefore concluded that the statute of limitations
period expired on June 21, 2013 and Mother's claims,
asserted in the September 29, 2015 complaint, were not timely
filed. Additionally, the court held that all of
Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the three-year statute
of repose. The court explained that Plaintiffs could not rely
on the 120-day extended filing period because their pre-suit
notice did not substantially comply with Tennessee Code
Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). Specifically, the court
found that the medical authorizations provided with the
pre-suit notice did not permit Defendants to obtain all of
Plaintiffs' relevant medical records because they did not
permit the release of records for Mother's pregnancy
(including her ...