Tennessee Supreme Court To Livestream Video Conference Oral Arguments January 6

January 5, 2021

The Tennessee Supreme Court has two cases set for its January 6, 2020 docket. The cases will be heard using livestream video conferencing. Cases will be livestreamed to the TNCourts YouTube page at: https://www.youtube.com/user/TNCourts/featured. The first case is set to begin at 9 a.m. CST, and the second case will be heard at 10:30 CST. The details of the cases are as follows:

  • Regions Bank v. Nathan I. Prager – Regions Bank (“Regions”) instituted a breach of contract action against Nathan Prager in May of 2014 (“suit one”). On August 11, 2016, the trial court dismissed suit one for failure to prosecute. According to Regions, neither party received notice of the dismissal until June 29, 2017. Once received, the parties agreed that the trial court’s August 2016 dismissal order did not state whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice. Regions filed motions to set aside and to reconsider the dismissal. The trial court denied the motions. In an August 4, 2017 order memorializing its oral ruling, the trial court explained that, unless the August 2016 dismissal order designated that it was “with prejudice,” the dismissal was “neither with nor without prejudice” and Regions was “welcome to refile” the suit. As a result of that language, Regions claimed that it refiled suit (“suit two”) against Mr. Prager because it believed that suit one was dismissed without prejudice. Mr. Prager filed a motion to dismiss suit two, arguing that the claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata because the same claim in suit one was dismissed on the merits. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and Regions filed a motion to reconsider. The trial court denied the motion to reconsider and clarified that its comment directing Regions to refile suit was merely a “side bar comment,” not meant to be interpreted as a ruling on whether res judicata would bar a second suit. Regions appealed the dismissal of suit two, and a majority of the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal. The majority held that the August 2016 order constituted a dismissal of suit one on the merits. Therefore, despite the trial court’s statements in its August 2017 order, Tennessee’s procedural rules dictated that the doctrine of res judicata barred litigating the same claim against Mr. Prager in suit two.  The dissenting judge reasoned that the final judgment in suit one was the August 2017 order denying Regions’ first motion to reconsider, not the August 2016 dismissal order. Therefore, although the language in the August 2017 order was imprecise, it indicated that the dismissal was without prejudice and res judicata should not apply. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Regions argues that the trial court’s August 2017 order should be considered the “operative order” for purposes of the res judicata analysis. Additionally, Regions contends that, because a party should be able to rely on statements made by the trial court in its own orders, the trial court should be bound by the language in the August 2017 order that Regions’ second suit is not barred. In response, Mr. Prager argues that the August 2016 order is controlling and because that order failed to specify whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice, Tennessee’s procedural rules require that the dismissal be interpreted as a dismissal with prejudice.
  • Cynthia E. Yebuah et al. v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC.– This healthcare liability action arose after Cynthia Yebuah discovered that part of a medical device had been left inside her body in error after she underwent surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. Mrs. Yebuah and her husband (the “plaintiffs”) brought suit against two doctors and their respective employers, Center for Urological Treatment, PLC (“Center”) and Radiology Alliance, P.C. The doctors were dropped from the suit, and the case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury determined Center was liable and awarded a total of $4.5 million dollars in noneconomic damages to the plaintiffs, $4 million dollars to Mrs. Yebuah for physical pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and $500,000 to Mr. Yebuah for loss of consortium. The trial court applied Tennessee’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages to the total damages award and revised the amount to $750,000 in favor of both plaintiffs. The plaintiffs filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that the statutory cap was unconstitutional or, in the alternative, that the statutory cap should be applied to each plaintiff’s award separately. Center moved for a new trial or for remittitur. The trial court denied Center’s motion for a new trial and declined to order a remittitur. Ultimately, the trial court revised the total damages award to $1.25 million, $750,000 to Mrs. Yebuah and $500,000 to Mr. Yebuah, applying the statutory cap separately to each plaintiff’s award. The trial court deemed the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges waived and declined to address them. Both parties appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The court held that, while the trial court erred in determining that the plaintiffs waived their constitutional challenges, the court was bound by recent Tennessee law that determined the statutory cap is constitutional. The court rejected Center’s argument that the statutory cap should be applied to the total damages award rather than each plaintiff’s award separately as incongruous with the language and meaning of the statute as a whole. Additionally, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Center’s motion for new trial or remittitur, determined that the jury award was reasonable, and concluded that there were no other reversible errors at trial. The Tennessee Supreme Court accepted Center’s application for permission to appeal to address whether Tennessee’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages should be applied to the total damages award, aggregating the plaintiff’s claim and the plaintiff’s derivative consortium claim, or whether it should be applied to each of those claims separately.

Media members planning to attend oral arguments virtually should review Supreme Court Rule 30 and file any required request.