Civil Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023
Style: Brittany Borngne Ex Rel Miyona Hyter v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority et al.
TSC Docket Number: E2020-00158-SC-R11-CV
Date of TSC Opinion: May 23, 2023
TSC Summary of the Opinion:
This appeal primarily concerns the compulsion of a physician’s deposition testimony in a health care liability action. In 2014, a child was born via cesarean section and suffered permanent brain damage and severely debilitating injuries. By and through her next friend and mother Brittany Borngne (“Plaintiff”), the child sued the doctor who delivered her and the certified nurse midwife who was initially in charge of the birthing process, among other defendants. The trial court dismissed all claims of direct negligence against the defendant physician but allowed the plaintiff to proceed against the physician on a vicarious liability theory as the midwife’s supervising physician. However, during his deposition prior to trial, the physician refused to opine on the midwife’s performance outside of his presence. The trial court declined to require the physician to do so, and after a trial, the jury found in favor of the defendants. The Court of Appeals, in a divided opinion, partially reversed the judgment. The intermediate court concluded, among other things, that the trial court committed reversible error in declining to order the physician to answer the questions at issue in his deposition and remanded for a new trial. After review, we hold that a defendant healthcare provider cannot be compelled to provide expert opinion testimony about another defendant provider’s standard of care or deviation from that standard. We therefore conclude that the trial court here properly declined to compel the defendant physician’s testimony. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s judgment.
Concurring Opinion by Lee
I concur fully in the majority opinion. I write separately to highlight the flawed and impractical analysis in the concurring in judgment opinion, authored by Justice Campbell and joined by Justice Kirby.
Concurring Opinion by Campbell
I agree with the Court’s decision to reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. But my agreement with the majority ends there. I would not adopt a new evidentiary privilege for expert witnesses because that privilege is not grounded in the Constitution, Tennessee’s statutes, the common law, or this Court’s Rules—the only permissible sources of a privilege under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 501. Although the trial court erred by excluding the expert opinions at issue in this case, that error was harmless and did not warrant reversal of the judgment below or a new trial. For that reason, I join in the Court’s judgment.
Concurring Opinion by Kirby
I am pleased to concur in Justice Campbell’s separate concurring opinion, concurring in the result of the majority opinion but not the reasoning. I write separately on particular problems with the majority’s reasoning, as well as far-reaching unintended consequences of this ill-defined new common-law privilege.
Link to Court of Appeals Opinion: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/e2020158_borngne_v._chattanooga.pdf
Summary by the Court of Appeals:
This health care liability action arises from injuries suffered by a minor, Miyona Hyter, during her birth. Miyona Hyter, a minor by and through her next friend and mother, Brittany Borngne (“Plaintiff”) sued, among others, Dr. Michael Seeber who delivered the child via cesarean section and certified nurse midwife Jennifer Mercer who assisted with the birthing process. Plaintiff alleged that Nurse Mercer was negligent by failing to recognize concerning signs on the fetal monitoring strip and by failing to call Dr. Seeber for assistance sooner than she did. The Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”), by agreed order, granted Dr. Seeber partial summary judgment on all claims of direct negligence against him; he remained in the case as a defendant only upon Plaintiff’s theory that he was vicariously liable for Nurse Mercer’s actions as her supervising physician. During his deposition, Dr. Seeber declined to answer questions that he argued required him to render an expert opinion regarding Nurse Mercer’s care during times that Dr. Seeber was not present and had no involvement in Plaintiff’s care. The Trial Court declined to require Dr. Seeber to answer questions that “call for an opinion by Dr. Seeber that asks him to comment on the actions of other healthcare providers and does not involve his own actions, as required by Lewis v. Brooks,” 66 S.W.3d 883, 887-88 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). After Nurse Mercer’s deposition, she submitted an errata sheet that substantively altered her answers to some of the questions. Plaintiff moved to suppress the errata sheet, arguing that Tenn. R. Civ. P. 30.05 does not allow a witness to make substantive changes to her deposition testimony. The Trial Court denied the motion but allowed Plaintiff the opportunity to reopen Nurse Mercer’s deposition and to fully cross-examine her at trial about the changes. The case proceeded to trial before a jury, which returned a verdict in Defendants’ favor. We hold that the Trial Court erred by refusing to order Dr. Seeber to answer the questions at issue in his deposition. Deeming this case distinguishable from Lewis v. Brooks, we reverse the Trial Court in its declining to compel Dr. Seeber to testify concerning the conduct of his supervisee, Nurse Mercer, and remand for a new trial. We 07/01/2021 2 also reverse the Trial Court in its decision to exclude proof of Miyona Hyter’s pre-majority medical expenses. We affirm the Trial Court as to the remaining issues.
Permission to Appeal Granted: October 13, 2021
Appellants’ Briefs Filed: December 10, 2021
Appellees’ Briefs Filed: February 11, 2022
Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed: February 25, 2022 ; March 14, 2022
Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:
Amicus Briefs Permitted: None
Oral Argument Date: May 3, 2022
Link to Oral Argument Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwaTzULrvd8