Martin v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLCAnnotate this Case
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiffs' health care liability action as time-barred, holding that Plaintiffs were not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations due to their noncompliance with Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121 (section 121).
Before Plaintiffs filed a health care liability action Plaintiffs attempted to comply with section 121 by notifying Defendants of their intent to file suit. Plaintiffs subsequently voluntarily nonsuited their lawsuit. Less than one year later, Plaintiffs filed a second lawsuit alleging the same health care liability claims against Defendants. To establish the timeliness of the second lawsuit, Plaintiffs relied on the savings statute. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs' pre-suit notice was not substantially compliant with section 121, and therefore, Plaintiffs were not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations so that their first lawsuit was not timely filed. Therefore, Defendants argued, Plaintiffs' second lawsuit was untimely. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, holding (1) Plaintiffs failed to establish either substantial compliance or extraordinary cause to excuse their noncompliance with section 121; and (2) therefore, Plaintiffs could not rely on the one-year savings statute to establish the timeliness of their lawsuit.
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley
We granted permission to appeal to clarify the role of prejudice in a court’s determination
of whether a plaintiff in a health care liability action substantially complied with the
statutory pre-suit notice requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121
(Supp. 2019) ( Section 121 ) and to clarify the burdens each party bears when seeking to
establish, or to challenge, compliance with Section 121. We hold that prejudice is
relevant to the determination of whether a plaintiff substantially complied with Section
121, but it is not a separate and independent analytical element. We also hold that a
plaintiff bears the initial burden of either attaching documents to her health care liability
complaint demonstrating compliance with Section 121 or of alleging facts in the
complaint demonstrating extraordinary cause sufficient to excuse any noncompliance
with Section 121. A defendant seeking to challenge a plaintiff’s compliance with Section
121 must file a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure
to state a claim. See Myers v. AMISUB (SFH), Inc., 382 S.W.3d 300, 307 (Tenn. 2012).
A defendant’s Rule 12.02(6) motion must include allegations that identify the plaintiff’s
noncompliance and explain the extent and significance of the plaintiff’s errors and
omissions and whether the defendant was prejudiced by the plaintiff’s noncompliance.
Stevens ex rel. Stevens v. Hickman Cmty. Health Care Servs., Inc., 418 S.W.3d 547, 556
(Tenn. 2013). One means of satisfying this burden is to allege that a plaintiff’s Section
121(a)(2)(E) medical authorization lacks one or more of the six core elements federal law
requires for compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of
1996 ( HIPAA ). See Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (1996) (codified as amended
in scattered sections of 18, 26, 29, and 42 of the United States Code). Once a defendant
files a Rule 12.02 motion that satisfies this prima facie showing, the burden then shifts to
the plaintiff either to establish substantial compliance with Section 121—which includes
the burden of demonstrating that the noncompliance did not prejudice the defense—or to
demonstrate extraordinary cause that excuses any noncompliance. In this case, the
defendants met their burden by showing that the plaintiffs’ medical authorizations lacked
three of the six core elements federal law requires for HIPAA compliance. This showing
shifted the burden to the plaintiffs, and they failed to establish either substantial
compliance or extraordinary cause to excuse their noncompliance. As a result of this
noncompliance with Section 121(a)(2)(E), the plaintiffs were not entitled to the 120-day
extension of the statute of limitations. Therefore, their first lawsuit, filed after the oneyear
statute of limitations expired, was not commenced within the time limited by a rule
or statute of limitation, Tenn. Code Ann. 28-1-105(a) (2017), so the plaintiffs cannot
rely on the one-year savings statute to establish the timeliness of this lawsuit.
Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial
court’s judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ health care liability action as time-barred.