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Bridges v. Lancaster

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 27, 2019

LINDA BRIDGES
v.
LIFFORD L. LANCASTER, M.D., ET AL.

          Session November 6, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 16C3200 Thomas W. Brothers, Judge.

         This is 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.

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

          Bill M. Wade, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Linda Bridges.

          Renee L. Stewart, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Lifford L. Lancaster, M.D.

          Carma Dennis McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          CARMA DENNIS MCGEE, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         This 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Tristar 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.

         In June 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.

         On 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 latest.

         Tristar 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.

         Dr. 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.

         Dr. 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 this Court.

         II. Issue Presented

         Plaintiff presents one issue for our review:

Did the Appellant offer sufficient expert proof of causation to sustain a Healthcare Liability Action under Tennessee Law?

         III. Standard of Review

         Appellate 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.

         The 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).

         IV.Discus ...


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