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Byrd v. Appalachian Electric Cooperative

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 25, 2018


          Session January 16, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Jefferson County No. 24, 369 Deborah C. Stevens, Judge [1]

         The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's claim of outrageous conduct/intentional infliction of emotional distress filed against his employer because the plaintiff had previously filed a workers' compensation claim against the employer, seeking compensation for injuries arising out of the same incident. The plaintiff has appealed the dismissal of his claim. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court's judgment of dismissal. We decline Appalachian's request for an award of attorney's fees, determining that Mr. Byrd's appeal was not frivolous or taken solely for delay.

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

          Carl Lester Byrd, Jr., New Market, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          W. Stuart Scott, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Appalachian Electric Cooperative.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Carl Lester Byrd, Jr., filed a complaint on June 17, 2015, in the Jefferson County Circuit Court ("trial court"), alleging that the defendant, Appalachian Electric Cooperative ("Appalachian") should be held liable for outrageous conduct and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Mr. Byrd asserted that he had been employed by Appalachian since October 14, 1996. The incident giving rise to Mr. Byrd's complaint occurred on June 23, 2014.

         In his complaint, Mr. Byrd alleged that when he reported to work on that date, he was instructed to meet with Appalachian's general manager, Gregory Williams. Upon meeting with Mr. Williams and Leslie Strader, Director of Human Resources for Appalachian, Mr. Byrd allegedly was asked about his recent marriage to Sherry Clifton, who was related to another Appalachian employee. Mr. Williams informed Mr. Byrd that his marriage violated Appalachian company policy and instructed Mr. Byrd that he needed to resign or face immediate termination. Mr. Byrd claimed that he spent the next three hours discussing the issue with Mr. Williams in the conference room and was denied the opportunity to call his wife.

         Mr. Byrd averred that after three hours of discussion, Mr. Williams spoke with Appalachian's attorney, who reviewed the policy and determined that there was no violation. Mr. Byrd was then allowed to leave the conference room and return to work. Mr. Byrd averred that because of this "interrogation" by Mr. Williams, Mr. Byrd experienced chest pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, and other symptoms the following day, which necessitated a visit to the emergency room. Mr. Byrd stated that he had since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies following this event and that he had been told by his medical providers not to return to work.

         Mr. Byrd claimed that the actions of Mr. Williams constituted outrageous conduct and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which caused Mr. Byrd injury. Mr. Byrd sought compensatory and punitive damages in the total amount of $2, 000, 000.

         On August 24, 2015, Appalachian filed a "Special Motion to Dismiss, " contesting the jurisdiction of the trial court. Appalachian asserted that Mr. Byrd had three claims pending against Appalachian, including a workers' compensation claim for injuries allegedly arising from the same June 23, 2014 incident. Appalachian contended that pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-108, Mr. Byrd was barred from filing a personal injury lawsuit based on the same injury claimed in his prior workers' compensation action. Appalachian thus posited that workers' compensation law provided Mr. Byrd's exclusive remedy for this alleged injury and that his tort action should be dismissed.

         On September 11, 2015, Judge Richard Vance entered an order recusing himself from this matter. Subsequently, on October 20, 2015, Judge Ben Hooper entered an order recusing all of the judges of the Fourth Judicial District. Thereafter, on November 9, 2015, Justice Sharon Lee of the Tennessee Supreme Court entered an order designating Judge Deborah Stevens to preside over this matter.

         On March 29, 2017, the trial court, with Judge Stevens sitting by designation, entered an order dismissing Mr. Byrd's complaint. In this order, the trial court stated in pertinent part:

The Plaintiff alleges that the meeting that gave rise to his claim occurred "immediately upon his reporting to work on June 23, 2014" and the actions occurred in the conference room of the General Manager. The meeting occurred in the presence of the General Manager and the Director of Human [Resources] of the Defendant. The Plaintiff alleges that the meeting occurred because of an alleged workplace policy violation by Plaintiff and, as a result, the General Manager was asking that he resign or face termination.
Every employer and employee subject to the state's Workers' Compensation laws, shall pay and accept compensation for injuries arising "primarily out of and in the course and scope of employment without regard to fault as a cause of the injury . . ." Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-103. An injury occurs in the course of employment, when it takes place within the period of the employment, at a place where the employee reasonably may be, and while the employee is fulfilling work duties or engaged in doing something incidental thereto. Gooden v. Coors Technical Ceramic Co., 236 S.W.3d 351 (Tenn. 2007).
While the determination of "in the course of employment" is generally a factual issue, the facts of this case are such that no reasonable minds could differ. The complaint states that Plaintiff had returned to work on that day and the complaint states that he was on the premises of his employer and he was in a workplace conference room for a meeting about his alleged violation of the defendant's workplace policy. While the Plaintiff was not engaged in the actual performance of his job duties at the time of the alleged incident, he was in a meeting incidental to his work duties which would include following company policy. As such, it is ...

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