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Young v. Dickson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

September 3, 2019

STEPHNY YOUNG ET AL.
v.
PAXTON V. DICKSON M.D.

          Assigned on Briefs August 13, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-005549-18 Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge

         A Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B petition for recusal appeal was filed in this Court after the trial court denied a motion for recusal. For the reasons stated herein, we reverse the trial court's denial of the motion and remand the case for reassignment to a different judge.

         Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B Interlocutory Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded

          Jodi Black, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Stephny Denise Young.

          Margaret Cooper Roney and R. Kent Francis, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Paxton V. Dickson.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.

         Background and Procedural History

         This case involves a health care liability action brought by the plaintiff Stephny Young ("Ms. Young") following the death of her daughter. Ms. Young is represented by counsel at the Morgan and Morgan law firm. After her action was filed in the Shelby County Circuit Court, it was assigned to the Honorable Judge Rhynette N. Hurd. At issue in this appeal is whether Judge Hurd was required to recuse herself from the case following a motion by Ms. Young to do so.

         Ms. Young's request for recusal has its genesis in a prior health care liability case where an individual represented by the Morgan and Morgan firm sued Judge Hurd's husband and his professional corporation ("the Flowers case"). At one time, Judge Hurd had been the secretary of that corporation. As it turns out, the Flowers case was assigned to Judge Hurd's court division, and she recused herself from hearing it. Moreover, in the wake of the Flowers case, she also subsequently recused herself from several other cases in which plaintiffs were represented by counsel at the Morgan and Morgan firm. One recent case, McKay v. Christian Care of Memphis, No. CT-001643-18, is particularly noteworthy. In that case, which also involved a health care liability case brought by the Morgan and Morgan firm, the defense contested the plaintiff's motion seeking Judge Hurd's recusal. Notwithstanding the opposition from the defense, Judge Hurd recused herself as she had in previous cases involving Morgan and Morgan, specifically entering an order on June 26, 2019 finding "good cause" existed to grant the recusal motion. As revealed in a transcript from a hearing on that motion, Judge Hurd specifically commented that, notwithstanding her personal belief that she could rule fairly in the case, she also believed that "even a person of ordinary prudence might have a reasonable basis for thinking that a judge whose husband was sued by the person representing that client might not be able to rule fairly." According to her, she was concerned that "any time [the court] was considering a motion or making any ruling on an objection or anything, that if it was unfavorable to this plaintiff, the plaintiff might say, uh-huh, I knew, you know, that kind of thing."

         Shortly after the ruling in the McKay case, on July 2, 2019, Ms. Young filed her motion for recusal in the present case. In addition to highlighting the Flowers case, the motion also referenced McKay and other instances in which Judge Hurd had recused herself from health care liability cases involving the Morgan and Morgan firm. In relevant part, the motion argued as follows:

A person of ordinary prudence - hearing that the judge's husband was sued by Morgan and Morgan, that the judge was an officer of a corporation that was also sued in that case, that the case was settled, and that the Court has recused itself in the past from health care liability cases from this firm - would find a reasonable basis to question the judge's impartiality in this case.

         Somewhat inexplicably, notwithstanding Judge Hurd's recent comments in McKay and her previous recusals in health care liability cases involving Morgan and Morgan, Judge Hurd concluded that recusal was not required in the present case. In an order entered on July 24, 2019, Judge Hurd denied Ms. Young's recusal motion. In denying the motion, Judge Hurd made clear that her denial was "not based ...


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