Kyle E. Hedrick, Judge

Biography

Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion.

Scroll down for important information.

 

 

Schmeeckle v. Dekreek, No. E2023-01297-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 8, 2024).  This is an appeal from a final order entered on July 19, 2023. The Notice of Appeal was not filed with the Appellate Court Clerk until September 7, 2023, more than thirty days from the date of entry of the order from which the appellant is seeking to appeal. Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

 

Flexibility Capital, Inc. v. Cupelli, No. E2023-00335-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2024).  This is a breach of contract case involving the defendants’ purported failure to pay amounts owed under a Future Receivables Sale and Purchase Agreement. Due to Appellant’s failure to file a timely notice of appeal, we do not reach the substantive issues and dismiss the appeal.

Tenn. Mutual Farmers Ins. v. Riden, No. E2023-00932-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 22, 2023).  The notice of appeal filed by the appellant, William Max Riden, stated that appellants were appealing the judgment entered on May 24, 2023. As the order appealed from does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

 

Benjamin L. Folkins, Et Al. v. Healthcare Group (Hong Kong) Co., Limited, No. E2022-00264-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2023).  The defendants appeal a jury verdict rendered after several days of trial. The parties are former business associates, individuals and entities, who worked together in the manufacturing, importing, distribution, and sale of memory foam mattresses. When one of the plaintiffs withdrew from the business in 2016, he invoked a buyout provision in the parties’ operating agreement. The defendants disputed, among other things, the validity of the operating agreement and refused to pay the buyout. A protracted dispute followed, with both the plaintiffs and the defendants alleging several causes of action against one another. Following cross-motions for summary judgment in 2020, the trial court ruled that the operating agreement was not invalid for fraud or unconscionability. The case proceeded to trial on August 3, 2021. The trial lasted several days, and the jury returned a verdict largely in favor of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were awarded compensatory and punitive damages, as well as almost a million dollars in attorney’s fees. The defendants appealed to this Court, raising a host of issues. We conclude, however, that the trial court erred in refusing to grant the defendants a mistrial on the first day of trial. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s judgment entered in this matter and remand the case for a new trial.

Higgins v. CoreCivic, Inc., No. E2022-01101-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2023). This appeal concerns an inmate’s lawsuit over injuries he sustained from falling off a top bunk bed in prison. Jody Higgins (“Plaintiff”) was an inmate at Silverdale Detention Facility (“Silverdale”). CoreCivic, Inc. operated Silverdale through a contract with Hamilton County. CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC (the two CoreCivic entities together, “CoreCivic”) employed security at Silverdale. Correct Care Solutions, LLC (“CCS”) provided medical treatment to Silverdale inmates through a contract with CoreCivic. Plaintiff sued CoreCivic, CCS, and Hamilton County (“Defendants,” collectively) in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”) asserting health care liability and other claims. Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted based in part on a lack of expert proof. Plaintiff appeals. He argues among other things that it is common knowledge that Plaintiff, who suffers from seizures, should have been given a bottom bunk pass and anti-seizure medication. We hold, inter alia, that Plaintiff failed to present competent, admissible expert proof in support of his health care liability claim at the summary judgment stage, and that the issues of this case do not fallunder the common knowledge exception. Plaintiff’s other claims are barred by the statute of limitations. We affirm.

 

Hampton v. Hawker Powersource, Inc., No. E2022-00258-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 19, 2023). In this action for breach of an employment contract filed by a plaintiff/employee against the defendant company/employer and two individual defendants, the trial court entered an order granting a motion to dismiss filed by the individual defendants. Upon a subsequent motion filed by the defendant company, the trial court entered an order granting summary judgment in favor of the company and dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice. The plaintiff has appealed, raising an issue regarding the dismissal of the individual defendants from the case. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

 

Heisig v. Heisig, No. E2021-00925-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2022).  This appeal requires interpretation of a clause in the parties’ marital dissolution agreement. The final decree, entered in January 2018, incorporated the parties’ agreement awarding the wife $130,000 from the husband’s 401(k). After several rounds of qualified domestic relation orders and other court orders, the trial court ultimately held that the wife was entitled to $130,000 plus approximately four months of statutory interest. The wife appealed, seeking earnings on the $130,000 in addition to interest. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Parker ex rel Parker, No. E2021-01402-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2022).  This appeal involves a healthcare liability action. The plaintiff sued a physician who had interpreted the results of her fetal ultrasound. The physician was employed by a Tennessee state university as a professor. Her job duties included both educational responsibilities and clinical care to patients in the residency clinics. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the physician, finding that she had received no personal gain by her act of interpreting the ultrasound. Therefore, the physician possessed absolute immunity under the Tennessee Claims Commission Act for her actions within the scope of her state employment. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Howell v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority D/B/A Erlanger Hospital, No. E2021-01197-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 7, 2022). This appeal involves a healthcare liability action. The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendant hospital, which is a governmental entity, alleging negligence by physicians practicing medicine within the hospital emergency department. The supervising physician was not an employee of the defendant hospital but an employee of a company contracting with the defendant hospital. The medical resident physician and medical student treating the patient in the emergency department also were not employees of the defendant hospital. During summary judgment proceedings, the plaintiffs presented no evidence of direct liability by the defendant hospital or of negligence by the nursing staff at the defendant hospital. Plaintiffs presented such evidence only as to physicians not directly employed by the defendant hospital. Determining that the physicians were not employees of the defendant hospital, the trial court held that the defendant hospital could not be held vicariously liable for the actions of these non-employee physicians under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). As such, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.

 

Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.

 

Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.

 

For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.

 

Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.

 

In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.

 

Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.

 

So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.

 

You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”

 

Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).

 

Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.

 

Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.

 

So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.

 

The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.

 

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