Court Cases Court Cases
AL  AK  AZ  AR  CA  CO  CT  DE  FL  GA  HI  ID  IL  IN  IA  KS  KY  LA  ME  MD  MA  MI  MN  MS  MO  MT  NE  NV 
NH  NJ  NM  NY  NC  ND  OH  OK  OR  PA  RI  SC  SD  TN  TX  UT  VT  VA  WA  WV  WI  WY  EO  NR  PR  DC  US 
 
View Case Details
 
RALPH EAGLE JR. Plaintiff-Appellant
vs.
WENDELL L. PAYNE and J. L. BAILEY JR. Defendants-Appellees
 
Case:
CA No. 03A01-9205-CV-00158
 
Location:
COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE
 
Date:
October 2 1992 Filed
 
Attorneys:
For APPELLANT: WILLIAM G. SCHWALL OF CHATTANOOGA TENNESSEE. FOR WENDELL L. PAYNE APPELLEE: RICHARD A. SMITH and JIM K. PETTY WITH ROBINSON SMITH & WELLS OF CHATTANOOGA TENNESSEE. For J. L. BAILEY JR. APPELLEE: CARLOS C. SMITH and J. ROBIN ROGERS WITH STRANG FLETCHER CARRIGER WALKER HODGE & SMITH OF CHATTANOOGA TENNESSEE.
 
Court:
Sanders Goddard McMurray
 
Author:
The Hon. Justice Clifford E. Sanders
 

The Plaintiff appeals from a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12.03 T.R.C.P. dismissing his suit for legal malpractice.

The gravamen of the complaint in this legal malpractice suit is that because Plaintiff's Counsel failed to "prepare him for a deposition he testified truthfully about a matter that resulted in dismissal of his lawsuit.

In 1986 the Plaintiff-Appellant, Ralph Eagle, Jr., was an over-the-road truck driver employed by Consolidated Freightways Corporation (Consolidated). In December, when he reported late for work, he was unexpectedly required to take an alcohol/drug test. As a result of the test, he was terminated from his employment by Consolidated. After his termination, he filed a grievance against Consolidated, contending he had been wrongfully discharged.

The grievance was submitted to arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between Consolidated and the labor union. Mr. Eagle was represented in the arbitration proceedings by the Truck Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 728. The grievance was ultimately decided in favor of Consolidated and Mr. Eagle was not reinstated in his employment.

After a resolution of the grievance proceedings, Mr. Eagle employed the Defendant-Appellant, Wendell L. Payne, to represent him in a suit for wrongful discharge. Pursuant to his employment, Mr. Payne filed suit in the U.S. district court on behalf of Plaintiff Eagle against Consolidated and Truck Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 728. In the complaint he alleged Consolidated wrongfully discharged the Plaintiff and breached its employment contract with him. He also alleged the union failed to properly represent the Plaintiff in his grievance proceeding against Consolidated. The complaint asked for compensatory and punitive damages against both Consolidated and the union and asked that Consolidated be mandatorily enjoined to reinstate Plaintiff in his employment.

Here it should be observed that Plaintiff's suit for wrongful discharge was brought pursuant to Sec. 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 185, and for Plaintiff to prevail against either the company or the union petitioners must show not only that their discharge was contrary to the contract but must also carry the burden of demonstrating breach of duty by the union" to properly represent the Plaintiff in his grievance proceeding. See Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight Inc. 424 U.S. 554 96 S.Ct. 1048 47 L.Ed.2d 231 (1976).

In his pretrial deposition the Plaintiff completely exonerated the union from any breach of duty to properly represent him in his grievance against Consolidated. As a result of that testimony the Plaintiff's Counsel with Plaintiff's consent dismissed the suit and that precipitated this litigation.

In his complaint in the case at bar the Plaintiff alleged most of the factual matters set forth above and then alleged as follows: "After issues were joined on the said action the defendant's Counsels requested depositions. Prior to the date of the taking of these depositions plaintiff requested that Defendant Payne meet with him and prepare him for the deposition. Defendant Payne declined to do so. Plaintiff has an eighth grade education and was in no way prepared for what befell him. The above cited Labor Relations Act required that before the relief requested in the Federal Court Action be granted that not only must Consolidated be found to have violated the Labor Relations Contract but the Union must be found to have breached its duty to represent plaintiff.

"Plaintiff was totally unaware of this fact. When his deposition was taken he was asked if the Union had appropriately represented him or he had an grievance against the Union. Plaintiff misunderstood this question. When plaintiff responded to that question Defendant Payne demanded a recess. Defendant Payne then went out in the hall with plaintiff and told plaintiff that he had lost the case and they had to dismiss it. They then returned to the deposition and agreed to dismiss the lawsuit against the Union. In fact the testimony at the deposition would not have resulted in a loss of the case but could easily have been explained. Had plaintiff been prepared for the deposition he would have made an accurate response to this question and no problem would have arisen.

"A stipulation of dismissal of the Defendant Union with prejudice was made on November 23 1988. Unknown to plaintiff this dismissal also mandated a dismissal of Defendant Consolidated because it was no longer possible to prove the requirement that both the employer and the Union breached their duties to plaintiff."

The complaint also alleged that Medical Express Laboratories Inc. a Tennessee corporation and Drug Scan Inc. a Pennsylvania corporation were the companies which conducted the test on the alcohol/drug samples taken from the Plaintiff at the behest of Consolidated. It alleged Medical Express and Drug Scan improperly handled the samples; they issued false medical reports and were in collusion with Consolidated to terminate Plaintiff's employment. He alleged that as a result of Defendant Payne's dismissing his suit against Consolidated he lost his cause of action against these two companies. His complaint stated: "The effect of this Stipulation [the dismissal] was to impose a legal bar of res judicata against the filing of any other complaint or cause of action against Defendant Consolidated arising out of the same facts. There were numerous other causes of action which could have and should have been filed at the same time of the original complaint. Defendant Consolidated should have been also sued for breaching its contractual relationship with plaintiff and for intentional misconduct in having its representatives alter and open the samples. Medical Express and Drug Scan should have been sued for breach of contract negligence and libel with regard to the handling of the blood samples and their erroneous reports.

"Due to the legal consequences of a dismissal of the action against Consolidated with prejudice and the lapse of time which occurred the causes of action as stated above are no longer viable." The complaint also asked for both compensatory and punitive damages.

The Defendants filed separate answers to the complaint. Defendant Bailey denied he and Defendant Payne were partners in the practice of law. He joined issue on all other allegations and as an affirmative defense relied on the one-year statute of limitations.

Defendant Payne for answer joined issue on all allegations and denied he had been guilty of any acts of legal malpractice. As an affirmative defense he alleged that after Plaintiff testified the union had not breached its duty to represent him in the grievance proceeding there remained no viable cause of action against Consolidated and Consolidated was legally entitled to have the complaint dismissed. The Defendant also relied on the one-year statute of limitations.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12.03 T.R.C.P. They relied upon T.C.A. Sec. 28-3-104 the one-year statute of limitations and Rule 9.02 T.R.C.P. for failure to plead with particularity allegations of fraud.

After that the Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint to allege fraudulent concealment by the Defendant of acts constituting legal malpractice.

Upon the hearing Court sustained Defendants' Rule 12.03 T.R.A.P. motion to dismiss and denied Plaintiff's motion to amend.

The Plaintiff has appealed saying Court was in error in dismissing his complaint based on the one-year statute of limitations and in denying his motion to amend his complaint.

We cannot agree and affirm for the reasons hereinafter stated. T.C.A. Sec. 28-3-104 as pertinent here provides "actions . . . and suits against Counsels for malpractice whether said actions are grounded or based in contract or tort . . . shall be commenced within one (1) year after cause of action accrued." Since the statute of limitations runs from the time a "cause of action accrued we must determine the date on which the cause of action accrued in the case at bar. Our courts have consistently held that the statute begins to run when the injured party knew or should have known of his injuries and when the negligence causing the injuries became irremediable. See Ameraccount Club, Inc. v. Hill, 617 S.W.2d 876, 215 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 562 (Tenn. 1981). Our courts have also held a plaintiff cannot be permitted to wait until he knows all of the injurious effects as consequences of an actionable wrong" before commencing his action. See Chambers v. Dillow 713 S.W.2d 896 898 (Tenn. 1986).

The Plaintiff in his complaint alleged the testimony he gave which resulted in the dismissal of his complaint occurred on November 23 1988 and the order of dismissal of the complaint against the union was entered on the same date. In the case of Bland v. Smith 197 Tenn. 683 277 S.W.2d 377 (1955) our supreme court held a cause of action against an Counsel for the negligent handling of a divorce suit accrued from the entry of a final decree. Id. 381. Also see Chambers v. Dillow supra. We hold that the statute of limitations in the case at bar began running on November 23 1988. Since suit was not filed until February 4 1991 it was time-barred.

This brings us to Plaintiff's insistence that Court erred in denying his motion to amend his complaint to allege fraudulent concealment. Since the Plaintiff agreed to and was aware of the entry of the dismissal of his complaint on November 23 1988 there could have been no fraudulent concealment which would have tolled the statute. Therefore any error Court may have made in denying the amendment would be harmless.

The issues are found in favor of the Appellees. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed and the case is remanded to the trial court with cost taxed to the Appellant.

Clifford E. Sanders P.J. (E.S.)

CONCUR: Houston M. Goddard J. Don T. McMurray J.