Session November 6, 2019
from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 16C3200 Thomas
W. Brothers, Judge.
a health care liability action. The trial court determined
that Plaintiff's evidence did not establish that any act
or omission of Defendant caused Plaintiff to suffer an injury
that would not have otherwise occurred. The trial court
awarded summary judgment to Defendant physician. We affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
M. Wade, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Linda
L. Stewart, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Lifford
L. Lancaster, M.D.
Dennis McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.
DENNIS MCGEE, JUDGE
Facts & Procedural History
appeal arises from an award of summary judgment to Defendant
Lifford L. Lancaster, M.D., ("Dr. Lancaster") in a
health care liability action. The background facts relevant
to our disposition of this appeal are not disputed. In
December 2018, Linda Bridges ("Plaintiff") filed a
complaint for medical malpractice against Dr. Lancaster and
HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation, d/b/a Tristar Skyline
Medical Center ("Tristar"; collectively,
"Defendants"), in the Circuit Court for Davidson
County. In her complaint, Plaintiff stated that on October 5,
2015, she underwent surgery performed by Dr. Lancaster at
Tristar to install an arteriovenous graft in her upper left
arm for future dialysis treatment. She alleged that she
complained to the nurses in the recovery room of severe and
increasing pain in her left hand. She was discharged on the
night of October 5, but returned to the Emergency Room
("ER") several hours later complaining of
"excruciating pain in her left hand." The ER
physician noted that she had no radial pulse in her left
forearm and wrist. The ER physician informed Dr. Lancaster,
who instructed that Plaintiff follow-up in his office in one
to two days. Plaintiff called Dr. Lancaster on October 7, and
Dr. Lancaster performed a second surgery to remove the graft
on October 8. Plaintiff continued to complain of severe pain
in her left hand and the record establishes that a Venous
Doppler was performed on October 12. On October 14, a
consulting physician documented that Plaintiff had no ulnar
pulse in her left arm. Neither an arteriogram nor CT
angiogram imaging was performed. Due to ischemia in her hand,
on October 29 Plaintiff underwent surgery to remove two
fingers and part of a third finger. In her complaint,
Plaintiff stated that she also lost most of the function and
feeling in her left hand.
alleged in her complaint that either Tristar's employees
and agents or Dr. Lancaster breached the applicable standard
of care by discharging her from the hospital on October 5
despite her complaints of severe and increasing pain in her
hand. She further alleged that Dr. Lancaster breached the
standard of care by instructing her to follow-up in his
office in one to two days and by failing to perform an
arteriogram or other imaging study to determine why she
"progressed from lacking a radial pulse to lacking an
ulnar pulse." She asserted that, but for the
Defendants' acts and omissions, she would have full use
of and sensation in her left hand, and that
Defendants' breach of the standard of care constituted
the proximate cause of her injury. Plaintiff prayed for a
trial by jury, compensatory damages to be determined by the
jury, interest, and costs.
answered on January 18, 2017, denying allegations of
negligence against it and asserting the doctrine of
comparative fault against Dr. Lancaster. Dr. Lancaster
answered on March 2, 2017. Dr. Lancaster denied all
allegations of negligence and "affirmatively state[d]
that nothing he allegedly did or failed to do caused the
condition, injuries and damages alleged in [Plaintiff's]
complaint." He also asserted the doctrine of comparative
fault against Tristar.
2018, Plaintiff filed a notice of expert disclosures. In her
notice, Plaintiff stated that she expected to call Carl
Maltese, M.D. ("Dr. Maltese"), as an expert
witness; asserted that Defendants had failed to provide
information requested in discovery; and summarized Dr.
Maltese's conclusions regarding her allegations of
negligence and causation. Following a case management
conference in September 2018, the trial court set the matter
for a trial by jury in February 2019 and ordered the parties
to complete discovery on or before December 30, 2018. On
November 2, 2018, Dr. Lancaster filed a motion to compel
deposition of Dr. Maltese. The trial court granted the motion
on November 29 and ordered Plaintiff to make her expert
available before December 30, 2018.
December 7, Dr. Lancaster filed a motion for summary judgment
supported by a statement of undisputed facts, memorandum of
law, and his own affidavit attesting to compliance with the
standard of care and lack of causation. In his statement of
undisputed facts, Dr. Lancaster asserted that Plaintiff had
been unable to produce Dr. Maltese for deposition and that it
was unlikely that Dr. Maltese could be deposed before the
December 30 deadline. He further asserted that the undisputed
facts therefore demonstrated that no allegedly negligent act
or omission on his part caused Plaintiff an injury that would
not have otherwise occurred. Dr. Lancaster filed a motion to
exclude Plaintiff's expert on December 21, 2018. In his
motion, Dr. Lancaster stated that, on December 19, he was
informed that Dr. Maltese would be available on December 28
at 3:00 p.m., and that defense counsel agreed to the December
28 date provided the deposition started by 2:00 p.m. at the
moved for summary judgment in December 2018, and the parties
filed an agreed order awarding summary judgment to Tristar on
the issue of breach of care on January 18, 2019. The agreed
order was made final pursuant to Rule 54.02 of the Tennessee
Rules of Civil Procedure.
Maltese was deposed on December 28, 2018, beginning at 2:30
p.m., and Dr. Lancaster filed a motion to strike his motion
to exclude. On January 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed a response
to Dr. Lancaster's motion for summary judgment. In her
response, Plaintiff pointed to Dr. Maltese's deposition
to establish a genuine issue of material fact with respect to
breach of care and causation. Dr. Lancaster filed a reply to
Plaintiff's response on January 16. In his reply, Dr.
Lancaster renewed his assertion that Plaintiff could not
establish that any act or omission on his part caused
Plaintiff to suffer any injury that she would not otherwise
have suffered. Dr. Lancaster attached a portion of Dr.
Maltese's deposition in support of his argument.
Maltese's deposition was filed in the trial court on
January 18, 2019, and the trial court heard Dr.
Lancaster's motion for summary judgment the same day. The
trial court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to
demonstrate that any act or omission by Dr. Lancaster caused
her any injury that would not have otherwise occurred and
that, accordingly, no genuine issue of material fact remained
with respect to causation. The trial court awarded summary
judgment in favor of Dr. Lancaster by order entered January
30, 2019, and Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal to
presents one issue for our review:
Did the Appellant offer sufficient expert proof of causation
to sustain a Healthcare Liability Action under Tennessee Law?
Standard of Review
review of a lower court's disposition of a motion for
summary judgment is de novo upon the record with no
presumption of correctness. Kershaw v. Levy, 583
S.W.3d 544, 547 (Tenn. 2019) (citation omitted). Summary
judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Tenn. R.
Civ. P. 56.04. If the party moving for summary judgment
"does not bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving
party may satisfy its burden of production either (1) by
affirmatively negating an essential element of the nonmoving
party's claim or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving
party's evidence at the summary judgment stage
is insufficient to establish the nonmoving party's claim
or defense." Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of
Memphis, MPLLC, 477 S.W.3d 235, 264 (Tenn. 2015)
(emphasis in original). The party opposing a properly
supported motion for summary judgment "'may not rest
upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading,'
but must respond, and by affidavits or one of the other means
provided in Tennessee Rule 56, 'set forth specific
facts' at the summary judgment stage
'showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.'" Id. at 265 (emphasis in original)
(quoting Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.06). "The nonmoving party
'must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'"
Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.,
475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986)). Rather, "[t]he
nonmoving party must demonstrate the existence of specific
facts in the record which could lead a rational trier of fact
to find in favor of the nonmoving party." Id.
party moving for summary judgment is not required to negate
every element of the Plaintiff's claim. Cotten v.
Wilson, 576 S.W.3d 626, 637 (Tenn. 2019) (citing
Shipley v. Williams, 350 S.W.3d 527, 567 (Tenn.
2011)). If the moving party negates one required element of
the Plaintiff's claim, summary judgment may still be
granted notwithstanding the existence of other elements of
the claim. Id. It is well-settled that we must view
the evidence "'in a light most favorable to the
claims of the nonmoving party, with all reasonable inferences
drawn in favor of those claims.'" Id.
(quoting Rye, 477 S.W.3d at 286).