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Hamilton v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

September 6, 2019

DIANNE HAMILTON ET AL.
v.
METHODIST HEALTHCARE MEMPHIS HOSPITALS

          Assigned on Briefs August 21, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-0531-19 Mary L. Wagner, Judge

         This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, from the trial court's denial of a motion for recusal. The plaintiff contends the trial judge should be disqualified because a lawyer with the Lewis Thomason law firm, which represents the defendant in this action, provided a letter of recommendation on behalf of the trial judge in support of the judge's application for appointment to a vacancy on the Court of Appeals of Tennessee. Plaintiff also contends the trial judge should be disqualified because the judge failed to disclose "the extrajudicial relationship." Having reviewed the petition for recusal appeal, pursuant to the de novo standard as required under Rule 10B § 2.01, we find that the lawyer who provided the letter of recommendation has no involvement in this case, and that lawyer merely has a de minimis interest in the outcome of this case because the law firm representing the defendant is one of the larger multi-city firms in this state. Based on these facts and the relevant legal principles, we find no basis to conclude that the trial judge's impartiality might be reasonably questioned. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's decision to deny the motion for recusal.

         Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B Accelerated Interlocutory Appeal; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Robert L. J. Spence, Jr., Regina Guy, and Andrew M. Horvath, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Diane Hamilton.

          Kevin Baskette and Laura Deakins, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S. delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas R. Frierson, II, and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

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

         The underlying action is brought under the Health Care Liability Act. The plaintiff Dianne Hamilton ("Plaintiff"), as Conservator on behalf of her ward, Cassie McGill, alleges that Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals d/b/a Methodist LeBonheur Hospital ("Defendant") is liable for injuries and damages her ward sustained while receiving health care services from Defendant.

         This appeal arises from the trial judge's decision to deny Plaintiff's motion to recuse. Pursuant to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.01, a party is entitled to an "accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right" from an order denying a motion for disqualification or recusal. The appeal is perfected by filing a "petition for recusal appeal" with the appropriate appellate court. Id. § 2.02. The only issue we may consider in a Rule 10B appeal is whether the trial judge should have granted Plaintiff's motion to recuse. Duke v. Duke, 398 S.W.3d 665, 668 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012).

         Our standard of review in a Rule 10B appeal is de novo.[1] See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.01. "De novo" is defined as "anew, afresh, a second time." Simms Elec., Inc. v. Roberson Assocs., Inc., No. 01-A-01-9011CV00407, 1991 WL 44279, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 3, 1991) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 392 (5th ed. 1979)). In an "appeal de novo," "the appellate court uses the trial court's record but reviews the evidence and law without deference to the trial court's rulings." Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Therefore, we examine the factual record anew, with no presumption of correctness, and reach our own conclusion.[2]

         If we determine, after reviewing the petition and supporting documents, that no answer is needed, we may act summarily on the appeal. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B, § 2.05. Otherwise, this court must order an answer be filed and may order further briefing by the parties. Id. Section 2.06 of Rule 10B grants this court the discretion to decide the appeal without oral argument.

         Based upon our review of the petition and supporting documents, we have determined that neither an answer, additional briefing, nor oral argument is necessary, and we elect to act summarily on the ...


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