Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Employee Must Exhaust Benefit Review Process Before Filing Suit

September 21, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that in a workers’ compensation case, the employee must exhaust the benefit review conference process before filing suit as required by state law.

On June 3, 2010, Lacey Chapman, an employee of DaVita, Inc., fell and injured her elbow as she entered DaVita’s building. Her lawyer filed a request for assistance with the Tennessee Department of Labor (TDOL) on Sept. 21, 2010. On Jan. 28, 2011, Chapman’s lawyer wrote to TDOL to inquire about the status of the claim. On March 17, 2011, after waiting approximately six months on TDOL to act, Chapman filed a workers’ compensation complaint against DaVita, Inc. in Marshall County Circuit Court. DaVita, Inc. filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming Chapman had failed to exhaust the benefit review conference process before filing suit. The trial judge did not dismiss the complaint but ordered the case to be held in abeyance pending further orders of the court.

On extraordinary appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Justice Sharon G. Lee, in an opinion written for the Court, ruled that state law requires an employee to exhaust the benefit review conference process before filing suit. The trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because Chapman failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. The Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and dismissed Chapman’s complaint without prejudice.

To read the Lacey Chapman v. DaVita, Inc. opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/chapmanlaceyopn.pdf.