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Clary v. Miller

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 8, 2017

SANDRA KAY CLARY
v.
DEIDRA A. MILLER, et al.

          November 1, 2016 Session

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Putnam County No. 2016-CV-17 Jonathan L. Young, Judge

         This appeal concerns the dismissal of a health care liability action for noncompliance with the Health Care Liability Act, specifically Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121 (Supp. 2016). Before filing this action, the plaintiff gave timely written pre-suit notice of her health care liability claim, including the required medical authorizations, to all potential defendants. But when she filed her complaint, the plaintiff failed to provide copies of the medical authorizations as required by statute. Both defendants filed motions to dismiss based on the missing documents. The trial court determined that the plaintiff had substantially complied with the statute and that the defendants were not prejudiced by the omission. Even so, the court dismissed the complaint with prejudice after concluding that strict compliance with the statute was required when the defendant was a governmental entity. Upon review, we conclude that substantial compliance with the documentation requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(b) is sufficient even when the defendant is a governmental entity. Thus, we reverse the dismissal of the complaint.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed

          Brandon J. Cox and Sarah J. Cripps, Smithville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sandra Kay Clary.

          Cynthia A. Wilson, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Deidra A. Miller, and Cookeville Regional Medical Center Authority.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy J. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         On January 15, 2015, Sandra Kay Clary was admitted to the intensive care unit at Cookeville Regional Medical Center ("CRMC") with a diagnosis of "sepsis related to community acquired pneumonia, acute renal failure, and hyponatremia." According to Ms. Clary, a nurse at CRMC, Deidra Miller, negligently administered a Lovenox injection, causing complications that necessitated extensive medical treatment and resulted in pain and suffering and permanent disfigurement.

         On September 4, 2015, Ms. Clary provided written notice of her health care liability claim to both CRMC and Ms. Miller, along with a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization.[1] See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1) (2012). On January 20, 2016, Ms. Clary filed this health care liability action against CRMC and Ms. Miller (collectively, "Defendants") in the Circuit Court for Putnam County, Tennessee. Ms. Clary also submitted a certificate of good faith and an affidavit certifying that pre-suit notice, including HIPAA-compliant medical authorizations, was served on Defendants as required by statute. Id. §§ 29-26-121(a)(4), -122 (2012). Copies of the pre-suit notice and proof of service were attached to the affidavit. Although HIPAA-compliant medical authorizations were provided to Defendants with the pre-suit notice, copies of the authorizations were not filed with the complaint.

         Defendants challenged Ms. Clary's compliance with the pre-suit notice statute by filing Rule 12.02 motions to dismiss based on the omitted medical authorizations. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(1). Ms. Clary filed the missing authorizations on March 23, 2016.

         On April 7, 2016, the court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The court determined that Ms. Clary only substantially complied with the statute and that she failed to demonstrate extraordinary cause for her noncompliance. The court found that Defendants were not prejudiced by Ms. Clary's substantial ...


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