Tennessee Supreme Court Rules on Malicious Prosecution Case

August 28, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme has ruled in favor of a patient in a lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution of a medical malpractice suit that the patient voluntarily dismissed.

In April 2005, Tracy Allain was admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) for a procedure. After the procedure, the VUMC physician informed her that a guide wire had been left in Allain’s body during a previous procedure performed at Williamson Medical Center in 2004.

Allain filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Williamson County against Williamson Medical Center, Dr. Elliot Himmelfarb and Dr. Douglas York alleging that the hospital was negligent in leaving a guide wire in her vein. Both Drs. Himmelfarb and York answered the complaint denying liability.

In June 2006, a VUMC physician informed Allain that VUMC was responsible for the presence of the guide wire. A month later, Allain filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of the complaint against Williamson County Medical Center and Drs. Himmelfarb and York. The trial court dismissed Allain’s case without prejudice.

A year later, Drs. Himmelfarb and York filed a complaint against Allain alleging that Allain’s prior lawsuit against them constituted malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Allain denied the allegations and filed a motion for summary judgment claiming Drs. Himmelfarb and York could not prove the essential elements of their malicious prosecution claim. The trial court denied Allains’ motion and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a voluntary dismissal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41 is not a favorable termination on the merits for purposes of a malicious prosecution claim. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for entry of summary judgment in favor of the patient on the malicious prosecution claim and for further proceedings regarding the abuse of process claim.

To read Elliot Himmelfarb, M.D., ET AL v. Tracy R. Allain opinion authored by Justice Janice M. Holder, visit https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/himmelfarbehopn.pdf.