Assigned on Briefs July 3, 2017
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hickman County No. 14-CV-34
Deanna B. Johnson, Judge
trial court dismissed plaintiff's claim for failure to
prosecute and for failing to respond to affirmative defenses.
The trial court also denied plaintiff's motion to alter
or amend the judgment. Because disposition of litigation on
the merits is favored over procedural dismissals, we reverse.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed and Remanded
V. Smith-Howard, Cleveland, Ohio, for the appellant, State
Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.
briefs were filed on behalf of James T. Jones and Ronald J.
Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Richard H. Dinkins, and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., as subrogee of a
party injured in an automobile accident, filed suit on May
22, 2014, against James Jones and his father, Ronald Jones
("Defendants"). Over a year later, on August 31,
2015, because Defendants did not file an Answer, State Farm
filed a Motion for Default Judgment and set its motion to be
heard on September 10, 2015. One day before the hearing on
the Motion for Default Judgment, Defendants filed their
Answer, and State Farm struck the motion for default.
striking the motion for default, the law firm handling State
Farm's files separated into two entities. Litigation
regarding the law firm separation caused a major delay in the
handling of this case, and no discovery or motions were
served or filed for approximately one year. State Farm's
attorney started drafting discovery requests in August 2016
and served them on September 19 and 20, 2016. Before the
discovery requests were sent, however, Defendants filed a
Motion to Dismiss for failure to prosecute on September 15,
2016. State Farm received the Defendants'
motion on September 20, 2016, and filed a Notice of Service
of their discovery requests thereafter. On September 22,
2016, State Farm filed a response to Defendants' Motion
to Dismiss asserting the facts set forth above.
trial court heard Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on
September 28, 2016. On October 19, 2016, the trial court
signed an order granting Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss. It found that State Farm "took no
action in their lawsuit for the three hundred and seventy
(370) days that elapsed between the filing of
Defendants['] Answer and the filing of Defendants[']
Motion to Dismiss" and "Plaintiff, having made no
response or argument in opposition to Defendants[']
affirmative defenses, has thereby admitted them." Based
on those findings, the trial court dismissed the case with
prejudice and awarded Defendants attorney's fees totaling
October 17, 2016, State Farm filed a "Motion to Set
Aside Dismissal, or in the Alternative, Motion to Alter or
Amend Judgment Pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure
Rules 60.02 and 59 and Motion to Strike Award of
Attorney's Fees, " including an affidavit from the
attorney handling the case testifying to the work she did and
an exhibit entitled "Rathbone Group History Report,
" which detailed when work had been done on the case.
The trial court denied State Farm's motion, and it timely
Farm raises the following issues, as restated, on appeal:
1. Whether the trial court erred in granting Defendants'