In its opinion filed on October 19, 2016, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson (“Appellate Court”) ruled that the trial court had improperly dismissed the plaintiffs’ Tennessee medical malpractice case when it erroneously determined that the parties to the plaintiffs’ second Tennessee medical malpractice action were not identical to the parties to their first Tennessee medical malpractice action that the plaintiffs had voluntarily dismissed. The Appellate Court also held that the trial court erroneously determined that the second Tennessee medical malpractice action was barred for failure to file within the applicable statute of limitations.
The plaintiffs had filed their original Tennessee medical malpractice complaint pro se in which they identified the defendant as “Edward Todd Robbins, MD, PC,” although they further stated that the defendant “is a doctor licensed by the State of Tennessee to practice medicine … ” In the defendant’s answer to the plaintiffs’ Tennessee medical malpractice lawsuit, the defendant identified “Dr. E. Todd Robbins, P.C. as the proper party for the above named Edward Todd Robbins, M.D., PC.”
The plaintiffs later hired a Tennessee medical malpractice lawyer who filed several amended complaints, each of which identified the defendant in the caption as “Edward Todd Robbins, MD, PC.” The plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to clarify their intent to seek recovery from the defendant as an individual.
The trial court found that the defendant gave notice to the plaintiffs in his first responsive pleading that the complaint had been lodged against him in his corporate capacity. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their Tennessee medical malpractice action before the trial court entered an order dismissing the action (an order of voluntary dismissal was entered on October 22, 2013).
On October 21, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a pre-suit notice of a potential suit against the defendant pursuant to the Tennessee health care liability statutes. The plaintiffs subsequently filed a Tennessee medical malpractice complaint on February 18, 2015, with an attached certificate of good faith, that identified the defendant as “Edward Todd Robbins, M.D.” The defendant sought dismissal, arguing, in part, that the complaint was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and that the saving statute did not apply because the initial complaint was lodged against him in his corporate capacity.
The plaintiffs responded by asserting that dismissal was not warranted when there was an identity of parties between the two actions and that the identity of the proper party must be determined from the allegations of the complaint: they never alleged the existence of a corporate entity in the initial complaint, the body of the initial complaint clearly identified the defendant in his individual capacity, and the summons was served upon the defendant in his individual capacity. Furthermore, there is no corporate entity known as “Edward Todd Robbins, MD, PC.”
The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ Tennessee medical malpractice action, finding that the parties to the second action were not identical to the parties to the first action. The trial court further held that the second action was barred for failure to file within the applicable statute of limitations. The plaintiffs appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal, stating that when the allegations within the initial complaint clearly identify the defendant in his individual capacity as the proper party, the defendant was also personally served with a summons in the first action and filed an answer, and other than attempting to identify himself as a corporation by another name, the defendant never raised any issue concerning his identity by motion or specific negative averment, the saving statute applies to the second action, which was timely filed.
Source Robinson v. Robbins, M.D., No. W2016-00381-COA-R3-CV.
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