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Prewitt v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 30, 2018

CANDES PREWITT
v.
KAMAL BROWN

         Session: February 6, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 13C2894 Kelvin D. Jones, III, Judge

         This is a personal injury action in which the plaintiff seeks to recover damages incurred in an automobile accident. Although several issues are raised, the principal issues on appeal are whether the trial court erred by ordering the plaintiff to submit to an independent medical examination, and whether the court erred by sanctioning the plaintiff for refusing to submit to the examination by prohibiting her from offering any evidence at trial regarding medical bills or medical records related to future pain and suffering, future loss of enjoyment of life, and/or permanent impairment. The case was tried before a jury with the sanctions in place, and the plaintiff was awarded damages in the amount of $500.00 for her past pain and suffering. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

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

          Candes V. Prewitt, Brentwood, Tennessee, pro se. [1]

          Jay R. McLemore and Donald R. Ferguson, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Kamal Brown.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which W. Neal McBrayer and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

         Candes Prewitt ("Plaintiff") was involved in an automobile accident with Kamal Brown ("Defendant") on Interstate 24 in Nashville, Tennessee on June 1, 2013.[2] Plaintiff commenced this action on July 19, 2013, alleging Defendant caused the crash through the negligent operation of his vehicle and that Plaintiff "suffered serious bodily injuries in the collision . . . as a direct and proximate result of the negligent, reckless, wanton, and unlawful conduct of [Defendant]. . . ." Plaintiff sought damages for her past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, severe mental distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.[3] Defendant filed an amended answer in which he accepted fault for the accident but disputed the nature and extent of Plaintiff's injuries.

         On September 4, 2015, following the initial phase of discovery, Defendant filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 35 motion for an Independent Medical Examination ("IME") of Plaintiff. When the court granted the motion, Defendant made several attempts to schedule the IME at a time convenient to Plaintiff but received no response. Thereafter, Defendant scheduled the IME on December 1, 2015, and provided notice of the IME to Plaintiff on October 22, 2015. Plaintiff never responded, and more importantly, failed to appear. As a consequence, Defendant was forced to pay a $750 "no-show" fee to the physician.

         On December 7, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to compel Plaintiff to submit to the IME. Plaintiff responded by filing a motion for protective order in which she sought a different method of discovery. The trial court denied Plaintiff's motion for protective order and granted Defendant's motion to compel. The trial court did not specify a date for the IME, stating instead that the IME was "to be scheduled by the parties." Following the denial of her motion for protective order, Plaintiff sought interlocutory relief under Tenn. R. App. P. 9, which the trial court denied. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an application pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 10 for permission to appeal on May 5, 2016, which this court denied on May 16, 2016.

         Armed with the trial court's order compelling Plaintiff to submit to the IME, Defendant again attempted to coordinate the IME with Plaintiff's schedule, and again, Plaintiff refused to cooperate. Fearing another $750 "no-show" fee, Defendant elected not to unilaterally schedule another IME. Instead, Defendant sent Plaintiff four letters, listing the physician's availability and requesting that Plaintiff choose one of the available dates and times.[4] Plaintiff never responded.

         Following Plaintiff's refusal to cooperate in scheduling the IME, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. After a hearing on July 22, 2016, the trial court ruled that Plaintiff was in willful violation of its March 2 order. However, instead of dismissing the complaint, the trial court imposed discovery sanctions by prohibiting Plaintiff from offering any testimony or evidence at trial regarding medical damages, medical bills, or medical records related to future pain and suffering, future loss of enjoyment of life and/or permanent impairment.

         Following a two-day jury trial held on February 28 and March 1, 2017, the jury awarded Plaintiff $500.00 for past pain and suffering. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion challenging, inter alia, the denial of her pre-trial motion to delay the trial as well as the jury instructions. She also asked for a new trial and asked that the trial judge be recused from the case. When the trial court denied relief, this appeal followed.

         Issues

         Plaintiff raises nine issues on appeal.[5] We have rephrased the issues as follows:

1. Whether the trial court erred by compelling an IME of Plaintiff?
2. Whether the trial court erred by imposing sanctions due to Plaintiff's refusal to submit to an IME?
3. Whether the trial court erred by denying Plaintiff's pre-trial motion for a continuance of the trial?
4. Whether the court erred in admitting certain evidence over Plaintiff's objections?
5. Whether the trial court erred in its jury instruction?
6. Whether the trial court erred by denying Plaintiff's motion for recusal?

         Standard of Review

         All issues, except with respect to the jury instructions, involve discretionary decisions that are reviewed pursuant to the "abuse of discretion" standard of review. Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher, 312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010). The abuse of discretion standard does not permit reviewing courts to substitute their discretion for that of the trial court. Id. Nevertheless, the abuse of discretion standard of review does not immunize a lower court's decision from any meaningful appellate scrutiny. Id.

Discretionary decisions must take the applicable law and the relevant facts into account. An abuse of discretion occurs when a court strays beyond the applicable legal standards or when it fails to properly consider the factors customarily used to guide the particular discretionary decision. A court abuses its discretion when it causes an injustice to the party challenging the decision by (1) applying an incorrect legal standard, (2) reaching an illogical or unreasonable decision, or (3) basing its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.
… [R]eviewing courts should review a [trial] court's discretionary decision to determine (1) whether the factual basis for the decision is properly supported by evidence in the record, (2) whether the [trial] court properly identified and applied the most appropriate legal principles applicable to the decision, and (3) whether the [trial] court's decision was within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions. When called upon to review a lower court's discretionary decision, the reviewing court should review the underlying factual findings using the preponderance of the evidence standard contained in Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d) and should review the [trial] court's legal determinations de novo without any presumption of correctness.

Id. at 524-25 (internal citations omitted).

         Therefore, we shall review each of the trial court's decisions to determine, where applicable, whether there is a factual basis for the decision in the record, whether the court properly identified and applied the relevant legal principles, and whether the decision is within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions. Id. at 524.

         As for Plaintiff's challenge to the jury instructions, whether a jury instruction is erroneous is a question of law, which is subject to de novo review with no presumption of correctness. Nye v. Bayer Cropscience, Inc., 347 S.W.3d 686, 699 (Tenn. 2011).

         Analysis

         I. Independent Medical Examination

         Plaintiff contends the trial court erred by compelling an IME of Plaintiff. She also contends the trial court erred by imposing sanctions due to Plaintiff's refusal to submit ...


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