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Moore-Pitts v. Bradley

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 9, 2019

JENNIFER MOORE-PITTS ET AL.
v.
CARL A BRADLEY, DDS, MAGD

          Session October 15, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Knox County No. 1-167-18 Kristi M. Davis, Judge

         This appeal concerns a healthcare liability action filed by Jennifer Moore-Pitts and David Pitts ("Plaintiffs") in the Knox County Circuit Court ("Trial Court") against Carl A. Bradley, DDS, MAGD ("Defendant"). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' action on the basis of noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), which requires that pre-suit notice include a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization allowing the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is sent a notice.[1] Approximately forty healthcare providers, including Defendant, received pre-suit notice from Plaintiffs. On the medical authorization provided to Defendant, Plaintiffs left blank the name of the individual or entity authorized to make the disclosure of medical records to Defendant but provided an attachment of the names and addresses of the other providers receiving notice. The Trial Court found that Plaintiffs' medical authorization provided to Defendant was not sufficient to allow Defendant to obtain Ms. Moore-Pitts's medical records from the other providers who received the pre-suit notice. As such, the Trial Court found that Plaintiffs could not rely on Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(c) to extend the statute of limitations for 120 days. Because Plaintiffs' action was filed one year and 118 days after the cause of action accrued, the Trial Court determined that Plaintiffs' action was untimely. The Trial Court, therefore, granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

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

          Arthur F. Knight, III; Jonathan Swann Taylor; and Caitlin C. Burchette, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Jennifer Moore-Pitts and David Pitts.

          Mark A. Castleberry and Caitlyn Luedtke Elam, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Carl A. Bradley.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         On January 13, 2017, Jennifer Moore-Pitts allegedly experienced complications resulting from a surgical wisdom teeth extraction performed by Defendant. Plaintiffs provided Defendant with pre-suit notice on January 5, 2018, which included a letter to Defendant informing him of Plaintiffs' intent to initiate legal action and a medical authorization that Plaintiffs contend was HIPAA compliant. It is undisputed that Defendant received the letter and attachments.

         The medical authorization provided to Defendant sufficiently includes Ms. Moore-Pitts information and the dates of treatment. The authorization also contains a space for the name of the person or entity authorized to provide records to Defendant. Plaintiffs did not fill in this blank on the authorization but provided Defendant with an attached document containing a list of forty healthcare providers that had received notice of the potential lawsuit. The medical authorization states that the purpose of the disclosure is "[t]o supply to treating providers and/or for formal litigation." The expiration of the medical authorization is identified as one year from the date the authorization was signed. Ms. Moore-Pitts signed and dated the medical authorization on January 3, 2018.

         In May 2018, approximately one year and 118 days following accrual of Plaintiffs' cause of action, Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant in the Trial Court, alleging negligence by Defendant as to the dental surgery he performed on Ms. Moore-Pitts. Plaintiffs attached a certificate of good faith to the complaint, as well as the provided pre-suit notice. In June 2018, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss and an accompanying memorandum of law in support of his motion. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a response to the motion to dismiss.

         The Trial Court conducted a hearing in August 2018 with oral arguments by counsel. Following the hearing, the Trial Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss, determining that Plaintiffs had not substantially complied with the pre-suit notice requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) to provide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization because the "medical authorization attached to Plaintiffs' pre-suit notice of intent letter to Defendant did not permit Defendant to obtain complete medical records from the other forty (40) providers who also received notice . . . ." The Trial Court further found that because Plaintiffs had not substantially complied with the pre-suit notice requirement, they were not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations. Finding Plaintiffs' action to be time barred, the Trial Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs timely appealed.

         Discussion

         Although not stated exactly as such, Plaintiffs raise the following issues for our review: (1) whether the Trial Court erred by determining that Plaintiffs failed to substantially comply with the pre-suit notice requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), (2) whether the Trial Court erred by determining that Defendant was prejudiced by Plaintiffs' failure to substantially comply with the pre-suit notice requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), (3) whether the Trial Court erred by determining that Plaintiffs were required to comply with the pre-suit notice requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) when the lawsuit actually filed included only one defendant, Defendant, who was the sole custodian of the medical records at issue, and (4) whether the Trial Court erred by finding that Plaintiffs were unable to utilize the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(c).

         This case was resolved on a motion to dismiss. Our standard of review is de novo with no presumption of correctness. J. A. C. by and through Carter v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hosps.,542 S.W.3d 502, 509 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2016). Our Supreme ...


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