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C.D. v. Keystone Continuum, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

January 22, 2018

C.D. et al.
v.
KEYSTONE CONTINUUM, LLC dba MOUNTAIN YOUTH ACADEMY

          Session August 8, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Johnson County No. CC-15-CV-7 Jean A. Stanley, Judge

         The plaintiff, C.D., a minor, was a resident of Mountain Youth Academy, a trauma-focused residential treatment facility, [1] when he got into a physical altercation with an employee of the defendant Keystone Continuum, LLC doing business as Mountain Youth Academy. The employee, Jacob Spencer, is described by the defendant as a "mental health associate." The plaintiffs describe him as a "third shift night guard." The minor's mother filed this action, proceeding both individually and on behalf of her son. The complaint alleges, among other things, that Spencer pulled the minor plaintiff to the ground and stomped on his foot, causing him injury. Defendant moved to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, arguing that the complaint in this case alleges health care liability claims. Defendant argued that because of plaintiffs' (1) failure to provide pre-suit notice under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (the THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 (Supp. 2017), and (2) their failure to file a certificate of good faith with the complaint, id. § 29-26-122, the lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice. The trial court held that plaintiffs' claims sounded in health care liability. It dismissed the mother's action with prejudice. The court also dismissed the minor's action, but did so without prejudice.[2] Defendant appeals, arguing that the minor's action should have been dismissed with prejudice. The plaintiffs also present issues. They argue that the trial court erred in ruling that their claims are based upon health care liability. Additionally and alternatively, plaintiffs argue that their claims fall within the "common knowledge" exception to the general requirement of expert testimony in a health care liability action. We hold that plaintiffs' claims for assault and battery are unrelated to the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services. As a consequence of this, we hold that the plaintiffs' assault and battery claims do not fall within the ambit of a "health care liability action" as defined by the statute. We further hold that plaintiffs' direct claims against the defendant, for negligent supervision and/or training of its employees, are health care liability claims but ones involving matters that ordinary laypersons will be able to assess by their common knowledge. Hence, expert medical testimony is not required. The trial court's judgment dismissing the plaintiffs' claims for assault and battery is vacated. We further hold that mother's failure to provide the defendant with pre-suit notice mandates a dismissal of her claim for negligent supervision and/or training, but that dismissal should have been without prejudice rather than with prejudice. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment on this part of mother's claim is modified to reflect that the dismissal is without prejudice. We affirm the trial court's judgment dismissing the minor's claim of negligent supervision and/or training and further affirm the trial court's judgment that this dismissal is without prejudice.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Vacated in Part and Affirmed in Part as Modified; Case Remanded

          Elizabeth M. Hutton and Stephanie E. Stuart, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellant, Keystone Continuum, LLC, dba Mountain Youth Academy.

          Thomas C. Jessee, Johnson City, Tennessee, for appellees, C.D., by and through his mother, J.D., and J.D., individually.

          Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Richard H. Dinkins, and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.

          CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE

         I.

         The minor plaintiff was twelve or thirteen years old at the time of the incident. His affidavit summarizes his allegations of what happened:

In 2013, my mother filed a [p]etition asserting that I was an unruly child. I was served with the [p]etition and a hearing was held on the [p]etition. The matter was continued to determine whether my behavior would improve.
Later, in September 2013, I become defiant towards my mother. I also pushed my mother and her boyfriend at the time. I called the police. When the police officers came, I became defiant towards the officers and spit on one of the officers. I was placed under arrest by the officers and taken to juvenile detention. Two days later, a hearing was held before the Juvenile Court for Washington County, Tennessee. . . . At the hearing, the judge ordered that my mother take me to Mountain Youth Academy. I was given one day to pack my belongings and then my mother took me to Mountain Youth Academy.
I did not know how long I would have to stay at Mountain Youth Academy, but I understood that I would be on "lock down" and that I could only have visitors on the weekend.
Jacob Spencer was a third shift night guard. It was his responsibility to take me from my room to the bathroom so I could get ready for the day (brush my teeth, etc.). Jacob Spencer never counseled me or participated in any group counseling sessions with me.
On March 18, 2014, [3] I asked Jacob if I could get my hygiene box, which contained my toothbrush. Jacob would not let me get my hygiene box and I became upset and started hitting things. Jacob then went into my room and started taking my personal items, which made me more upset. Jacob tried to put me in a hold and I accidentally tore the cuff on his sleeve. Jacob grabbed my right shoulder and pushed the back of my left shoulder, causing me [to] turn and fall to the ground. As I was lying on the ground, Jacob stomped on my right foot.

         (Footnote added; numbering in original omitted.)

         Defendant filed a "motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment." It argued that all of the plaintiffs' claims are health care liability causes of action, and that plaintiffs' failure to provide pre-suit notice and include a certificate of good faith with the complaint is fatal to their action. The trial court held that the claims are health care liability actions and dismissed the mother's action with prejudice, and the minor plaintiff's action without prejudice. Defendant timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II.

         The defendant raises the issue of whether the trial court erred in refusing to dismiss the minor plaintiff's action with prejudice. The plaintiffs raise the issue of whether the trial court erred by holding that their suit was one for health care liability.[4]

         III.

         The well-established general rule is that "[a] motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is the proper method for challenging whether a plaintiff has complied with the THCLA's pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements." Youngblood ex rel. Estate of Vaughn v. River Park Hosp., LLC, No. M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV, 2017 WL 4331042, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App., filed Sept. 28, 2017), quoting Ellithorpe v. Weismark, 479 S.W.3d 818, 823 (Tenn. 2015); Myers v. AMISUB (SFH), Inc., 382 S.W.3d 300, 307 (Tenn. 2012). Following a hearing on defendant's initial motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, the trial court entered an order stating:

upon the filings in this matter and argument of counsel the Court finds that there is insufficient evidence before the Court to make a ruling at this time. The Defendant's Motion may be reset for hearing once there has been sufficient discovery.

         After the entry of this order, the plaintiffs filed several affidavits in support of their position. Defendant had earlier filed a statement of undisputed material facts based upon two other affidavits, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. Under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02,

[i]f, on a motion asserting the defense numbered (6) to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable ...

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