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Putnam v. Leach

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

January 23, 2018

JULIA PUTNAM ET AL.
v.
JOHN W. LEACH ADMINISTRATOR AD LITEM OF THE ESTATE OF BRYANE R. LITSINBERGER

         Session November 15, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-000415-16 Mary L. Wagner, Judge

         This is a personal injury case involving a motor vehicle accident. The alleged tortfeasor died subsequent to the injury-causing accident. The plaintiffs were unaware of the decedent's death and commenced this suit naming him as a defendant. Some months later, after learning of the decedent's death, the plaintiffs sought the appointment of an administrator ad litem in the Probate Court and amended their complaint naming the administrator ad litem as a party as required by the survival statute. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the plaintiffs' complaint was not properly filed until after the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court agreed and granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs timely appealed. Having concluded that the plaintiffs did not properly commence their lawsuit within the time afforded by the applicable statute of limitations, we affirm.

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

          Louis P. Chiozza, Jr., and Christopher W. Lewis, Memphis, Tennessee, and Steven R. Walker, Oakland, Tennessee, for the appellants, Julia Putnam and Charles Putnam.

          Bradford D. Box, W. Christopher Frulla, and Dale Conder, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, John W. Leach Administrator Ad Litem of the Estate of Bryane R. Litsinberger.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Joe G. Riley, Sp. J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This appeal arises from the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss, based upon its conclusion that the one-year statute of limitations in this personal injury case expired before the suit was properly commenced against the decedent/alleged tortfeasor's personal representative. The underlying facts are as follows.

         On February 2, 2015, Julia Putnam and Bryane Litsinberger were involved in a motor vehicle accident, allegedly caused by the negligence of Mr. Litsinberger. On January 4, 2016, Mr. Litsinberger died. On February 2, 2016, unaware of Mr. Litsinberger's death, Ms. Putnam and her husband Charles Putnam (together, "Appellants") filed a Complaint against Mr. Litsinberger in connection with the accident.

         Several months after filing their original Complaint, Appellants became aware that Mr. Litsinberger had died prior to the date of the filing of the Complaint.[1] After learning of the death and that no estate had been opened for Mr. Litsinberger, Appellants petitioned the probate court to appoint an administrator ad litem to receive process.[2] On October 21, 2016, the probate court appointed attorney John W. Leach as administrator ad litem for the estate of Mr. Litsinberger.

         On October 31, 2016, the Appellants filed an "Amended Complaint" naming John W. Leach, administrator ad litem of the estate of Bryane R. Litsinberger ("Appellee, " or "Defendant") as the defendant. On December 13, 2016, the "Defendant's Motion to Dismiss" was filed by the Estate of Bryane R. Litsinberger pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), averring that the action was not properly commenced within the applicable statute of limitations period. On February 7, 2017, Appellants filed their response opposing Appellee's motion to dismiss.

         Following a hearing, by order of March 10, 2017, the trial court granted the Appellee's motion to dismiss. The trial court explained its reasoning as follows:

[T]he Court finds that Bryane R. Litsinberger died prior to Plaintiffs filing suit, and the Plaintiffs failed to file suit against the Administrator Ad Litem of The Estate of Bryane R. Litsinberger within the time prescribed by Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 28-1-110 and 20-5-103. The Court found that pursuant to [Tennessee Code Annotated] § 28-1-110, the one-year statute of limitations applicable to this suit was tolled for a period of six months following the death of Bryane R. Litsinberger. Following the six month tolling period, the statute of limitations recommenced, and Plaintiffs failed to file suit against the Administrator Ad Litem of The Estate of Bryane R. Litsinberger prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations

         Appellants timely appealed.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

Appellants raise the following issues for our review, which we restate as follows:
1. Whether the trial court erred in granting Appellee's motion to dismiss based upon the expiration of the statute of limitations when Appellants were allegedly not aware of the ...

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