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Caudill v. Clarksville Health System, GP

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 5, 2017

BOBBIE HARJO CAUDILL, ET AL.
v.
CLARKSVILLE HEALTH SYSTEM, GP

          Session August 22, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. CC-15-CV-1578 Ross H. Hicks, Judge.

         The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant medical provider based upon the expiration of the statute of limitations. On appeal, the appellant asserts that the statute of limitations was tolled because at the time the cause of action accrued, the decedent had been "adjudicated incompetent, " as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106. We conclude that the appellant failed to meet her burden to show that the decedent was adjudicated incompetent at the time required to toll the statute of limitations. The trial court's ruling is therefore affirmed.

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

          Christopher Kim Thompson, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Bobbie Harjo Caudill, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Austin Amos Harjo.

          Thomas A. Wiseman, III and Margaret Moore, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Clarksville Health System, GP.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

          J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.

         Background

         The facts in this case are undisputed for purposes of this appeal. On August 27, 2013, Plaintiff/Appellant Bobbie Harjo Caudill ("Appellant") and her sister filed an emergency petition for the appointment of a general guardian for their father, Austin Harjo ("Decedent"), in the District Court of Muskogee County, Oklahoma ("Oklahoma court"). The petition alleged that Decedent had dementia and mental illness and was incapable physically and mentally of caring for his own needs. Appellant and her sister appeared ex parte before the Oklahoma court. The Oklahoma court entered the emergency order on the same day that the petition was filed based on the finding that "irreparable harm [would] be done to" Decedent if the petition were not granted. The Oklahoma court also ordered a "[thirty] day review hearing, " set for September 25, 2013. Appellant, her sister, and Decedent's wife appeared before the Oklahoma court on October 2, 2013. The minutes of the October 2, 2013 hearing in the record state that "the emergency g[uardianship] will remain in full force and effect until further orders of [the] [c]ourt . . .[with a further hearing] to be set ASAP/the end of October if possible." It is undisputed that no order was ever entered from the October 2, 2013 hearing.

         Decedent eventually moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, in order to live with Appellant. Following a fall, Decedent was admitted to Clarksville Health System GP d/b/a/ Gateway Medical Center ("Gateway") on March 19, 2014. On March 24, 2014, Decedent was discharged from Gateway. Decedent's condition worsened, and he ultimately died on May 24, 2014.

         On May 15, 2015 and May 19, 2015, Appellant sent Gateway a letter notifying the hospital of a potential health care liability action against it. On August 7, 2015, Appellant, individually and as personal representative of Decedent, filed a health care liability action against Gateway.[2] Appellant alleged that Decedent developed pressure sores and ulcers during his stay at Gateway that became infected, causing injury that resulted in Decedent's death. On October 13, 2015, Gateway filed an answer generally denying that Gateway's negligence caused or contributed to Decedent's injuries and raising the expiration of the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense.

         On July 19, 2016, Gateway filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that because Appellant knew of Decedent's injuries as early as March 24, 2014, the notice letter sent on May 15, 2015, was untimely, and therefore did not have the effect of extending the statute of limitations. As such, Gateway argued that Appellant's complaint was untimely. In response to the motion for summary judgment, Appellant contended that Decedent had been adjudicated incompetent at the time of the accrual of this health care liability action and therefore the statute of limitations was tolled until his death on May 24, 2015, when "his incapacity was removed." According to Appellant, the statute of limitations therefore began to run on the date of Decedent's death; accordingly, the notice letter sent on May 15, 2015, was timely and extended the statute of limitations for another 120 days. In support, Appellant included a copy of the August 27, 2013 emergency order of guardianship entered by the Oklahoma court.

         On September 12, 2016, the trial court entered an order granting Gateway's motion for summary judgment. Therein, the trial court noted that, although it examined the Oklahoma order in search of any language that would constitute an adjudication of incompetency, the Oklahoma order contains no provision adjudicating Decedent incompetent. The trial court further found that the Oklahoma order was a temporary order; however, the trial court found nothing in the record indicating what action, if any, the Oklahoma court took at the thirty day review hearing.

         On October 7, 2016, Appellant subsequently filed a motion to alter or amend the trial court's ruling, attaching to the motion the minutes from the October 2, 2013 hearing in Oklahoma. The trial court entered an order denying Appellant's motion to alter or amend on November 15, 2016. The trial court first noted that Appellant failed to show why this document had not been presented in response to Gateway's motion for summary judgment. The trial court, however, went on to consider the merits of Appellant's argument. The trial court nevertheless concluded that the language of the minutes from the Oklahoma court merely constituted the entry of another temporary order because nothing in the record established that the Oklahoma court ever made a determination on the merits adjudicating Decedent as incompetent.

         Issues ...


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