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Lacy v. HCA Tristar Hendersonville Hospital

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 26, 2018

DEBORAH LACY
v.
HCA TRISTAR HENDERSONVILLE HOSPITAL ET AL.

          Session October 5, 2017

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sumner County No. 2013-CV-1319 Joe H. Thompson, Judge

         This action, which involves the plaintiff's claims of assault and battery against her former co-workers and a medical doctor at the hospital where she was previously employed, is before this Court on appeal for the second time. See Lacy v. HCA Tristar Hendersonville Hosp., No. M2015-02217-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 4497953 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 25, 2016) ("Lacy I"). The first appeal arose from an involuntary dismissal, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2), following the close of the plaintiff's proof during a bench trial. The plaintiff, proceeding without benefit of counsel, had filed a statement of the evidence, which was subsequently stricken from the record by the trial court upon an objection filed by the defendants. The first appeal came before this Court without a statement of the evidence in the record. Determining that the trial court had failed to resolve the parties' conflicts concerning the plaintiff's statement of the evidence, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24(c) and (e), and that the trial court had failed to make sufficient factual findings in its final order, this Court vacated the order of involuntary dismissal and remanded to the trial court for appropriate factual findings and a resolution of the conflicts concerning the statement of the evidence. Lacy I, 2016 WL 4497953, at *3. On remand, the defendants submitted a statement of the evidence, which, upon review, the trial court approved as accurate. The trial court then entered an order setting forth findings of fact and conclusions of law, determining that the plaintiff had failed to present proof of causation and damages during the bench trial. The trial court subsequently entered a final order dismissing the plaintiff's claims with prejudice. The plaintiff timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

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

          Deborah Lacy, Madison, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Robert E. Boston and Paul Maxwell Smith, III, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Denise Dallenbach, Jim Smallwood, Darlene Malone, Beverly Simpson, and Dr. Duane Edson Harrison.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Deborah Lacy, was employed as a phlebotomist by Hendersonville Hospital Corporation ("the Hospital"), from September 10, 2012, through February 18, 2013. On November 18, 2013, Ms. Lacy filed a complaint, naming as a defendant HCA Tristar Hendersonville Hospital d/b/a Hendersonville HCA Medical Center and Tri Hendersonville Hospital. In subsequent pleadings, the Hospital clarified its corporate name as Hendersonville Hospital Corporation. Ms. Lacy also named as defendants five individual Hospital employees: Denise Dallenbach, Jim Smallwood, Darlene Malone, Beverly Simpson, and Dr. Duane Edson Harrison (collectively, "Individual Defendants"). Ms. Lacy filed an amended complaint on November 25, 2013. Alleging that she had been "struck multiple times by co-workers during her employment" with the Hospital, Ms. Lacy sought compensatory and punitive damages. See Lacy I, 2016 WL 4497953, at *1.

         The Hospital and Individual Defendants filed an answer on February 3, 2014, denying all substantive allegations and raising several affirmative defenses. They concomitantly asserted a counterclaim against Ms. Lacy, alleging slander, libel, and defamation. Ms. Lacy filed a response and several other pleadings, including a "Motion for Settlement, " which was denied by the trial court as a pleading that failed to "request any ascertainable relief" in an order entered on February 24, 2015.

         Upon the Hospital's separate motion, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Hospital in an order entered July 17, 2015, dismissing Ms. Lacy's claims against the Hospital upon concluding that Ms. Lacy's sole means of remedy against the Hospital would have been through a workers' compensation claim. The court designated this order as final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. Although Ms. Lacy filed a "response" to the order, she did not file a timely appeal of the judgment in favor of the Hospital. Accordingly, the Hospital is not involved in the appeal currently before this Court and was not involved in the first appeal of this matter.

         In Lacy I, this Court summarized the remaining proceedings leading to the first appeal as follows:

The remaining parties proceeded to trial on November 5, 2015. Following the close of Ms. Lacy's proof, the remaining defendants [Individual Defendants] moved for involuntary dismissal of her claims. The court granted the motion, finding that Ms. Lacy "failed to present any evidence of any type to support any award of damages for her claims of assault and battery." The court's order included its conclusions of law, specifically that "Tennessee law requires proof of causation and damages through competent testimony to be considered by the Court." From this decision, Ms. Lacy filed a timely notice of appeal.

Lacy I, 2016 WL 4497953, at *1. In addition, upon Individual Defendants' motion for voluntary dismissal of their counterclaims, the trial court dismissed Individual Defendants' counterclaims against Ms. Lacy without prejudice. The court's order dismissing all claims was entered on November 12, 2015.

         On appeal, this Court vacated the trial court's order dismissing Ms. Lacy's claims against Individual Defendants upon determining that the trial court had erred by failing to (1) resolve the parties' differences presented regarding a statement of the evidence presented by Ms. Lacy and (2) make sufficient factual findings supporting its conclusions of law. Id. at *3. Concerning the disputed statement of the evidence, this Court explained in pertinent part:

Our Supreme Court interprets the trial court's role in the resolution of differences in the statement of the evidence as mandatory. Bellamy v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 302 S.W.3d 278, 281 (Tenn. 2009). Further, the Supreme Court reads subsections (c) and (e) of Rule 24 together as requiring the trial judge to, not only rule on objections, but also to "approve a single statement of the evidence. In so doing, [the trial judge] should require counsel to consolidate into one instrument all of the uncontested portions of their respective statements, together with the Court's version of any contested matter." Id. (quoting Vowell v. Vowell, Lauderdale Eq. No. 2, 1988 WL 104692, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 10, 1988)).
From the record, we can glean that Ms. Lacy filed a statement of the evidence on January 11, 2016. [Individual Defendants] filed their objections, in which they pointed out various deficiencies in the statement of the evidence. [Individual Defendants] also requested that "the Court exclude [Ms. Lacy's] Statement of the Evidence in its entirety from the record on appeal." On February 2, 2016, the trial court entered an order granting [Individual Defendants'] requested relief, and as a result, we do not have a statement of the evidence.

Id. at *2.

         In remanding on this issue, this Court directed as follows:

Under these circumstances, we remand and direct the trial court to resolve the parties' conflicts concerning Ms. Lacy's statement of the evidence, which may require ordering [Individual Defendants] to submit a competing statement of the evidence, and to certify and transmit a proper supplemental record to this Court for resolution of the issues raised in this appeal. See Tenn. R. App. P. 24(e); see also Bellamy, 302 S.W.3d at 282 (directing trial court to resolve conflicts in competing statements of the evidence and to transmit a supplemental record to the Court of Appeals). If neither party has submitted a statement of the evidence that, in the trial court's opinion, represents a fair, accurate, and complete account of what transpired in the trial court, the trial court may give the parties an opportunity to correct the accuracy of their statements or the trial court may prepare its own statement of the evidence.

Id. at *3.

         Concerning the need for factual findings, this Court determined: "Given our resolution of the issue concerning the statement of the evidence, we conclude a remand to permit the trial court to make the necessary findings required by Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2) is the appropriate remedy." Id. In the conclusion of the decision, this Court specifically noted that the trial court was to make "appropriate factual findings based on the trial court's evaluation of the evidence presented by Ms. Lacy at trial on November 5, 2015 and, if necessary, any appropriate conclusions of law." Id.; see Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.02 ("If the court grants the motion for involuntary dismissal, the court shall find the facts specially and shall state separately its conclusions of law and direct the entry of the appropriate judgment.").

         On remand, the trial court entered an order on January 23, 2017, directing Individual Defendants to "prepare and file a competing statement of the evidence within thirty (30) days." The court further directed that "[w]ithin thirty (30) days of submission of the competing statement of evidence, both parties shall submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law for consideration by the Court." Individual Defendants filed a proposed statement of the evidence, which was stamped as "received" by the trial court clerk's office on February 22, 2017. In an order entered March 3, 2017, the trial court approved Individual Defendants' statement of the evidence, and the statement of the evidence was then stamped as "filed" on the same day as the order, March 3, 2017.[1]

         The trial court subsequently entered "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law Regarding the Grant of Defendants' Motion for Involuntary Dismissal and Judgment of Dismissal, with Prejudice" on March 31, 2017. Noting that Ms. Lacy had not presented any testimony from a competent medical professional regarding the causation of her alleged injuries, the court determined that the Defendants' motion for involuntary dismissal should be granted because Ms. Lacy had failed to present proof of causation and damages. Finding that Ms. Lacy's proof presented at trial consisted entirely of her narrative testimony, the court summarized her testimony as follows:

Lacy testified at trial that she began working at Hendersonville Medical Center as a phlebotomist on September 11, 2012. The Defendants also worked at the hospital, except for ...

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