STEPHNY YOUNG ET AL.
PAXTON V. DICKSON M.D.
Assigned on Briefs August 13, 2019
from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-005549-18
Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge
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.
Sup. Ct. R. 10B Interlocutory Appeal as of Right; Judgment of
the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded
Black, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Stephny Denise
Margaret Cooper Roney and R. Kent Francis, Memphis,
Tennessee, for the appellee, Paxton V. Dickson.
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J.,
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
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.
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."
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.
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