Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of Health Care Liability Lawsuit in Governmental Tort Liability Action

In an opinion released today, the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously held that a trial court’s voluntary dismissal order in a governmental tort liability action could not be altered or amended because an amended complaint filed by the plaintiff rendered it of no legal effect.

Plaintiff George Gary Ingram filed a lawsuit against a physician, a hospital, and two other defendants after suffering from complications following a medical procedure.  Before any responsive pleading was filed by the defendants, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint that named only the physician, Dr. Michael Gallagher, as a defendant. The plaintiff subsequently filed a notice of voluntary dismissal that dismissed all of the defendants except the physician, and the trial court entered an order of voluntary dismissal the following day.  In his answer to the amended complaint, the physician argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed under the Governmental Tort Liability Act because the hospital, which was his employer and a governmental entity, was not a defendant but was required to be.  The plaintiff sought to set aside the trial court’s order of voluntary dismissal by filing a motion to alter or amend the order.  The trial court denied the motion.  The trial court later dismissed the hospital from the action with prejudice and granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the physician.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court, holding that the trial court erred in denying the motion to alter or amend the order of voluntary dismissal.

The physician and the hospital sought permission to appeal in the Tennessee Supreme Court, which the Court granted. Upon review, the Court unanimously held that the amended complaint filed by the plaintiff removed the hospital from the lawsuit and rendered the plaintiff’s subsequently filed notice of voluntary dismissal and the trial court’s order of voluntary dismissal of no legal effect.   The Court concluded that, because the order of voluntary dismissal was of no legal effect, there was no valid order of voluntary dismissal to alter or amend.  As a result, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to address several issues that the Court of Appeals had deemed pretermitted as moot.

To read the unanimous opinion in George Gary Ingram v. Dr. Michael Gallagher, et al., authored by Justice Jeff Bivins, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.