In Matthews v. Story, No. E2002-00517-COA-R3-CV, 2003 WL 179978, at *1 (Tenn.Ct.App. Jan. 28, 2003), the Court considered the timeliness of an amendment to add a defendant pursuant to Tennessee Annotated section 20-1-119(a).Summary of this case from Austin v. State
Filed January 28, 2003.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hawkins County; No. 10381/5300J; John K. Wilson, Judge
Affirmed; Case Remanded.
Phillip L. Boyd, Rogersville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael D. Matthews.
Patrick Ledford and Tausha M. Carmack, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the appellees, Natasha Story and Tammy Y. Morelock.
Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Houston M. Goddard, P.J., and D. Michael Swiney, J., joined.
This case arises out of an automobile accident in which the plaintiff, Michael D. Matthews, was injured. The plaintiff sued Tammy Y. Morelock ("Morelock"), alleging that Morelock was a passenger in the vehicle the plaintiff was driving and that Morelock's negligence had caused his injuries. When the plaintiff later learned that Natasha Story ("Story") was the passenger in the vehicle and not Morelock, the plaintiff attempted to amend his complaint to add Story as a defendant. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's claim against Story, holding the statute of limitations barred such an amendment. The trial court also granted Morelock's motion for summary judgment, finding the family purpose doctrine inapplicable. We affirm.
On February 21, 2000, the plaintiff and a friend were joined by Story and another friend at Jim's Game Room in Rogersville. The group of four left the game room in Story's automobile; the plaintiff was driving and Story was in the backseat. After stopping for gas, the four proceeded toward Morristown, with the plaintiff still driving. While en route to Morristown, the plaintiff alleges that Story leaned over the front seat of the vehicle and partially across the plaintiff in order to turn on the vehicle's dome light. The plaintiff claims that this action by Story obstructed his vision, causing him to run off the roadway and into a culvert. As a result, the plaintiff was injured.
On February 7, 2001, the plaintiff filed suit against Morelock in general sessions court, alleging that Morelock's negligent conduct caused his injuries. Morelock was served with process on April 20, 2001. One week later, on April 27, Morelock's attorney contacted counsel for the plaintiff, advising him that, while Morelock was the registered owner of the vehicle, she was not a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Morelock's attorney told plaintiff's counsel that he would speak with Morelock and "he would get back with Plaintiff's counsel once he talked with [Morelock]." On May 1, 2001, counsel for Morelock again contacted the plaintiff's attorney and informed him that Morelock's daughter, Story, was a passenger in the vehicle driven by the plaintiff the night of the accident and that the plaintiff had sued the wrong person.
The plaintiff filed an amended civil warrant in general sessions court on May 15, 2001, adding Story as a defendant. While the one-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injuries actions had expired, the plaintiff claims that his amendment was timely pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 (Supp. 2002). This statute gives a plaintiff 90 days from the date the defendant files an answer alleging that another person "caused or contributed to the injury or damage for which the plaintiff seeks recovery" in which to amend the complaint to add the other person as a defendant.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104 (2000) provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
(a) The following actions shall be commenced within one
(1) year after the cause of action accrued:
(1) Actions for . . . injuries to the person, . . . .
Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119(a) provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
In civil actions where comparative fault is or becomes an issue, if a defendant named in an original complaint initiating a suit filed within the applicable statute of limitations, or named in an amended complaint filed within the applicable statute of limitations, alleges in an answer or amended answer to the original or amended complaint that a person not a party to the suit caused or contributed to the injury or damage for which the plaintiff seeks recovery, and if the plaintiff's cause or causes of action against such person would be barred by any applicable statute of limitations but for the operation of this section, the plaintiff may, within ninety (90) days of the filing of the first answer or first amended answer alleging such person's fault, either:
(1) Amend the complaint to add such person as a defendant pursuant to Rule 15 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and cause process to be issued for that person; . . . .
Subsequently, the general sessions court dismissed the plaintiff's claim against Story on the grounds that said claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations. The court also dismissed the plaintiff's claim against Morelock. The plaintiff then appealed his claim to the circuit court.
Thereafter, Morelock and Story (collectively "the defendants") filed a motion for summary judgment with supporting affidavits. On January 4, 2002, the trial court heard the motions and arguments of the parties. The plaintiff made an oral motion to amend his complaint to add Story as a defendant pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119, which motion was denied by the trial court. The court then granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, in which the defendants essentially asserted that the vehicle at issue was not being used for a family purpose at the time of the accident. From this judgment, the plaintiff appeals.
In deciding whether a grant of summary judgment is appropriate, courts are to determine "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Tenn. R.Civ.P. 56.04. Courts "must take the strongest legitimate view of the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, allow all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and discard all countervailing evidence." Byrd v. Hall , 847 S.W.2d 208, 210-11 (Tenn. 1993).
The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Byrd , 847 S.W.2d at 215. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact requiring submission of the case to a trier of fact. Id.
Since summary judgment presents a pure question of law, our review is de novo with no presumption of correctness as to the trial court's judgment. Gonzales v. Alman Constr. Co. , 857 S.W.2d 42, 44-45 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1993).
The plaintiff raises two issues for our consideration. First, the plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in denying the plaintiff's motion to add Story as a defendant pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119. Second, the plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in finding that the vehicle owned by Morelock and in Story's possession on the night in question was not being used for a family purpose.
The statute at issue in the instant case, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119, has its genesis in the landmark case of McIntyre v. Balentine , 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992), in which the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted modified comparative fault. The Court in McIntyre anticipated, however, that it would be required to resolve future cases involving nonparties. See Brown v. Wal-Mart Discount Cities , 12 S.W.3d 785, 787 (Tenn. 2000). Quoting from McIntyre , the Court in Brown stated as follows:
[F]airness and efficiency require that defendants called upon to answer allegations in negligence be permitted to allege, as an affirmative defense, that a nonparty caused or contributed to the injury or damage for which recovery is sought. . . . However, in order for a plaintiff to recover a judgment against such additional person, the plaintiff must have made a timely amendment to his complaint and caused process to be served on such additional person. Thereafter, the additional party will be required to answer the amended complaint.
The Brown Court pointed out that the legislature responded to one aspect of McIntyre by enacting Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119, which "enable[s] a plaintiff to plead and serve nonparties alleged in a defendant's answer as potential tortfeasors . . . [if] a defendant raises comparative fault as an affirmative defense and the statute of limitations would otherwise bar the plaintiff's cause of action against the comparative tortfeasor alleged in defendant's answer." Brown , 12 S.W.3d at 788 (emphasis added). Thus, when determining the applicability of the statute, the question becomes whether or not a named defendant asserted, as an affirmative defense, the fault of another.
In the instant case, Morelock never raised the defense of comparative fault, nor did she allege that Story was potentially at fault. To the contrary, the stipulations of fact contained in the record state that Morelock's attorney informed counsel for the plaintiff that "Morelock was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident, but her daughter, Natasha Story, was using the car owned by the defendant Morelock, and was a passenger in the car being driven by the plaintiff; therefore, the wrong person had been sued." (Emphasis added). As the plaintiff has stipulated, Morelock was simply informing him that he had sued the wrong person; she was not raising the comparative fault of Story. These two concepts are separate and distinct, as illustrated through this court's decision in Hodge v. Jones Holding Co. , No. M1998-00955-COA-R3-CV, 2001 WL 873458, 2001 Tenn. App. LEXIS 567 (Tenn.Ct.App. M.S., filed Aug. 3, 2001).
In Hodge , the plaintiff argued that the defendant construction company should not have been allowed to assert that the plaintiff sued the wrong company since the defendant failed to affirmatively plead the defense of comparative fault, as required by Tenn. R.Civ.P. 8.03. Id. at *1, 2001 Tenn. App. LEXIS 567, at *2. Finding no error in the defendant's argument, this court stated as follows:
[The defendant] was not asserting the comparative fault affirmative defense in this case. Rather than seeking to lay off all or a part of the fault for [the plaintiff's] injuries on another tortfeasor, it was simply asserting that it was not the construction company responsible for the road construction where [the plaintiff] was injured.
Id. at *5, 2001 Tenn. App. LEXIS 567, at *15. Similarly, in the instant case, Morelock was not raising the defense of comparative fault when she informed the plaintiff that he had sued the wrong person. Because Morelock never raised comparative fault as an affirmative defense, the 90-day extension provided in Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 is not applicable in this case and the plaintiff's attempt to add Story as a defendant is barred by the statute of limitations. Therefore, we find no error in the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiff's action against Story.
The family purpose doctrine, which has been "firmly established in this state," Stephens v. Jones , 710 S.W.2d 38, 42 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1984), has been described by our Supreme Court as follows:
[T]he head of a household who maintains a motor vehicle for the general use and convenience of the family is liable for the negligence of any member of the family driving the vehicle, provided the driver received express or implied consent.
The family purpose doctrine is applicable when two requirements have been satisfied. First, the head of the household must maintain an automobile for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort for his or her family. . . . Second, the family purpose driver must have been using the motor vehicle at the time of the injury "in furtherance of that purpose with the permission, either expressed or implied, of the owner."
* * *
In other words, the actions of the driver are imputed to the head of the household as a matter of public policy; and the plaintiff does not have to prove negligence on the part of the head of the household in order to recover from him or her when the plaintiff is injured by the tortious conduct of the driver. . . .
Camper v. Minor , 915 S.W.2d 437, 447, 448 (Tenn. 1996) (citations omitted) (emphasis added).
In the instant case, the plaintiff contends that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Story's "use" of the vehicle in question constituted a family purpose. However, the plaintiff's reliance on the family purpose doctrine is misplaced. As the Supreme Court clearly stated in Camper , the family purpose doctrine is applicable only when the family member is driving the vehicle. It is undisputed that the plaintiff, and not Story, was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. As Camper in no way contemplates the liability of the head of the household for the negligent, non-driving actions of the family member, the family purpose doctrine is not implicated by the facts of the instant case. Accordingly, we find no error in the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed. This case is remanded to the trial court for the collection of costs assessed below, pursuant to applicable law. Costs on appeal are taxed to the appellant, Michael D. Matthews.