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Lee v. Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 7, 2019

LYTONIONA LEE et al.
v.
QUINCE NURSING AND REHABILITATION,

          Assigned on Briefs October 1, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-004363-18 Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge

         Nearly three years after the court dismissed the plaintiff's healthcare liability action against the defendant, Plaintiff filed this breach of contract action based on the same underlying facts and circumstances. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's breach of contract claim as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. We affirm.

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

          Terrell L. Tooten, Cordova, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lytoniona Lee.

          S. Keenan Carter, Memphis, Tennessee, and W. Davis Frye, Ridgeland, Mississippi, for the appellee, Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC.

          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.

         On January 27, 2014, Lytoniona Lee ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint as the personal representative of Pearline Small's estate against Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC ("Defendant") in Shelby County Circuit Court for wrongful death, violations of the Tennessee Healthcare Liability Act, violations of the Adult Protection Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and negligence per se ("Small I"). Pearline Small ("Ms. Small") was Plaintiff's aunt and resided at Defendant's nursing facility just prior to her death. Plaintiff alleged that in September 2012, medical staff employed by Defendant dropped Ms. Small while attempting to dress her for a dialysis appointment, and as a result of the fall, Ms. Small suffered severe injuries and died.

         Defendant responded to Plaintiff's complaint by filing a motion to compel arbitration and to stay all proceedings, contending Plaintiff signed an enforceable contract on behalf of Ms. Small to arbitrate any and all disputes. Thereafter, Plaintiff agreed to submit the case to arbitration, and the court entered a consent order, referring the case to arbitration. Shortly following, Defendant filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02 motion to dismiss, arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff filed her complaint outside of the applicable statute of limitations. The arbitrator granted the motion, determining that the Tennessee Healthcare Liability Act provided Plaintiff with an exclusive remedy, and her healthcare liability claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations for healthcare liability actions. The arbitrator also determined that Plaintiff lacked standing to bring a healthcare liability action on behalf of her aunt's estate. On October 30, 2015, the trial court adopted the arbitrator's order and dismissed Plaintiff's claims with prejudice. Plaintiff did not appeal the trial court's decision.

         Nearly three years later, on September 25, 2018, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendant in Shelby County Circuit Court, alleging the same underlying facts as alleged in Small I but claiming Defendant breached its contract with Plaintiff to provide Ms. Small with proper medical care. On December 14, the trial court entered an order dismissing Plaintiff's breach of contract claim based on the doctrine of res judicata[1], and Plaintiff appealed. [2]

         Analysis

         The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in dismissing Plaintiff's breach of contract claim as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. This is a question of law, which we review de novo without a presumption of correctness. Jackson v. Smith, 387 S.W.3d 486, 491 (Tenn. 2012).

         "The doctrine of res judicata or claim preclusion bars a second suit between the same parties or their privies on the same claim with respect to all issues which were, or could have been, litigated in the former suit." Id. Res judicata applies if (1) the judgment in the first suit was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (2) the first suit involved the same parties or their privies, (3) the plaintiff ...


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