Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC

Decision Date26 October 2015
Citation477 S.W.3d 235
Parties Michelle Rye et al. v. Women's Care Center of Memphis, MPLLC et al.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

William H. Haltom, Jr., Margaret F. Cooper, and James D. Duckworth, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellants, Women's Care Center of Memphis, MPLLC, d/b/a Ruch Clinic, and Diane Long, M.D.

Gary K. Smith and C. Philip M. Campbell, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellees, Michelle Rye and Ronald Rye.

W. Bryan Smith, Memphis, Tennessee, John Vail, Washington, D.C., and Brian G. Brooks, Greenbrier, Arkansas, for the amicus curiae, Tennessee Association for Justice.

Cornelia A. Clark, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Sharon G. Lee, C.J., and Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., joined. Sharon G. Lee, C.J., and Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., each filed separate concurring opinions. Gary R. Wade, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Holly Kirby, J., not participating.


Cornelia A. Clark, J.

We granted permission to appeal in this healthcare liability action to reconsider the summary judgment standard adopted in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008). The Court of Appeals concluded that the Hannan standard requires reversal of the trial court's decision granting summary judgment to the defendants on certain of the plaintiffs' claims. We hereby overrule Hannan and return to a summary judgment standard consistent with Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We hold, therefore, that a moving party may satisfy its initial burden of production and shift the burden of production to the nonmoving party by demonstrating that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient as a matter of law at the summary judgment stage to establish the nonmoving party's claim or defense. Applying our holding to the record in this case, we conclude that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all the plaintiffs' claims at issue in this appeal. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this matter to the trial court for entry of summary judgment on these issues and for any other proceedings that may be necessary.

I. Factual and Procedural History

On February 24, 2009, Michelle Rye and her husband Ronald Rye (collectively "the Ryes" and individually "Mrs. Rye" and "Mr. Rye") filed this health care liability action against Women's Care Center of Memphis, MPLLC d/b/a Ruch Clinic ("Ruch Clinic") and Diane Long, M.D., (collectively "Defendants"). The Ryes' lawsuit arises out of obstetrical services Dr. Long and employees of Ruch Clinic rendered to Michelle Rye in 2007 and 2008, during her pregnancy with her third child, born in early January 2008.

It is undisputed that Mrs. Rye has Rh negative blood and that, as a result, she should have received a RhoGAM injection at or near the twenty-eighth week of her third pregnancy to avoid possible medical complications and risks in future pregnancies.1 It is also undisputed that the Defendants' failure to administer a RhoGAM injection to Mrs. Rye was a deviation from the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice and that this deviation has resulted in Mrs. Rye becoming Rh-sensitized. This condition, Rh-sensitization, is irreversible and means that Mrs. Rye's blood now contains antibodies to Rh positive blood. It is undisputed that if Mrs. Rye becomes pregnant in the future and if the fetus's blood is Rh positive, it is possible that the antibodies to Rh positive blood now present in Mrs. Rye's blood will cross the placenta and attack the fetus's red blood cells. If all these contingencies occur together—a future pregnancy, an Rh positive fetus, and antibodies crossing the placenta—it is undisputed that the unborn fetus would face a number of risks, ranging from mild to severe.

In their complaint the Ryes alleged that they are "practicing Roman Catholics," and prior to learning of Mrs. Rye's Rh-sensitization and the potential risks it entails, they "had intended to have additional children." After learning of Mrs. Rye's Rh-sensitization, the Ryes inquired "about the possibility of a dispensation from the Catholic Church's traditional prohibition on sterilization procedures" but were "advised that a dispensation would not be given unless Mrs. Rye's life were in danger." Although the Ryes have since "leaned toward taking steps to prevent future pregnancies," their religious beliefs have prevented them from undergoing voluntary sterilization procedures or using other artificial means of birth control. The Ryes alleged that they have been placed in a state of emotional distress due to Mrs. Rye's Rh-sensitization and the severe risks it presents for any future pregnancies. The Ryes requested compensatory damages for (1) physical injuries to Mrs. Rye, such as the "disruption of the normal functioning of [Mrs. Rye's] capability to conceive unimpaired, healthy children, free from an abnormally high risk of birth defects or premature fetal death"; (2) the disruption of their family plans; (3) the infliction of emotional distress; and (4) medical expenses that may become necessary in the future to treat complications resulting from Mrs. Rye's Rh-sensitization.

As already noted, the Defendants admitted that their failure to administer a RhoGAM injection at the appropriate time during Mrs. Rye's third pregnancy amounted to a deviation from the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice and that this deviation has resulted in Mrs. Rye becoming Rh-sensitized. Nevertheless, the Defendants asserted in their answer to the Ryes' complaint, and continue to contend in this Court, that the Ryes have no existing actual injuries or damages resulting from this deviation.

On July 13, 2010, after the Ryes and Dr. Long were deposed, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Ryes' complaint, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. Specifically, the Defendants alleged that the Ryes have failed to establish any existing injuries, have failed to allege future injuries to a reasonable medical certainty, have alleged future damages that are "mere possibilities and speculative," have failed to allege an actual injury sufficient to support a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED"), and have failed to allege or to provide expert medical or scientific proof of a serious or severe emotional injury sufficient to support a "stand-alone" NIED claim.

As support for their motion, and in the statement of undisputed material facts filed along with their motion as required by Rule 56.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, the Defendants relied upon the Ryes' deposition testimony admitting that Mrs. Rye "has had no medical complications as a result of not receiving a RhoGAM injection," that she "has not seen any doctor or healthcare provider or received any medical treatment whatsoever as a result of not receiving a RhoGAM injection," that although the Ryes "have been advised that there are possible complications that could occur because she did not receive a RhoGAM injection [ ], none of these complications have occurred at this time," that although the Ryes "are concerned about possible complications that might develop, they have had no emotional or psychiatric problems because of this that required any counseling or treatment."

The Defendants also relied upon the affidavit of their expert, Dr. Thomas G. Stovall, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, to support their motion. Dr. Stovall, who has over twenty-five-years' experience in his specialty, opined that the health risks to an Rh-sensitized woman are "extremely remote." Dr. Stovall thus opined "within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that it is more likely than not that an Rh-sensitized individual will never sustain any injuries or damages whatsoever." Dr. Stovall also opined that "the risks to a child in a future pregnancy of an Rh-sensitized mother are remote" and that "it cannot be said with any reasonable degree of medical certainty that if an Rh-sensitized woman conceives a child, there will be any injury to the child." Additionally, Dr. Stovall opined, "within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that while Mrs. Rye [has become] Rh-sensitized, she has incurred no physical injuries." Dr. Stovall additionally opined that "[t]he risks of any future injuries to [Mrs. Rye] or to a child in a future pregnancy, if such a child is conceived, are so remote that it cannot be stated with any reasonable degree of medical certainty that such injuries would in fact occur."

In a memorandum of law filed on September 2, 2010, in response to the Defendants' motion, the Ryes stated that the Defendants' negligence had injured them by causing Mrs. Rye to become Rh-sensitized, which disrupted their family plans, increased the risks to any future children they may conceive, increased the risk to Mrs. Rye should she need a blood transfusion in the future, and caused them emotional distress, which need not be proven by expert testimony because it results from Mrs. Rye's physical injury—Rh-sensitization. Along with their legal response, the Ryes submitted the affidavit of Dr. Joseph Bruner, a specialist in perinatology, which is "a subspecialty of obstetrics," involving "maternal-fetal" care in "complicated, high-risk pregnancies." Dr. Bruner opined that the Defendants' failure to administer a RhoGAM injection to Mrs. Rye amounted to a deviation from the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice and caused Mrs. Rye to become Rh-sensitized. Dr. Bruner characterized Rh-sensitization as an injury, explaining that, "[b]iologically, [Mrs. Rye] is not the same person she was before she became Rh-sensitized." According to Dr. Bruner, "[w]hen [Mrs. Rye] began her third pregnancy, she had normal blood, without the antibodies she now has in her system for life." Dr. Bruner stated that Mrs. Rye "now possesses diseased blood with antibodies introduced into her bloodstream through no fault of her...

To continue reading

Request your trial
659 cases
  • Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • August 2, 2021
    ... ... " and said it had "always bent over backwards to take care of [Milan], to meet [its] needs." 8 In early 2011, Milan ... Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis , 477 S.W.3d 235, 250 (Tenn. 2015). As for ... ...
  • Highlands Physicians, Inc. v. Wellmont Health Sys.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Appeals
    • September 25, 2020
    ... ... consists of about 1,500 physicians and other health care practitioners. The organization was formed to represent the ... See Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC , 477 S.W.3d 235, 250 (Tenn. 2015) ; ... ...
  • Cotten v. Wilson
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • June 19, 2019
    ... ... as she once was, and on certain days she did not take care of herself. In late 2013, Christina informed the Defendant ... Rye v. Womens Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC , 477 S.W.3d 235, 250 (Tenn ... ...
  • Hca Health Servs. of Tenn., Inc. v. Bluecross Blueshield of Tenn., Inc.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Appeals
    • June 9, 2016
    ... ... that are required to be included in any health care plan. BlueCross/BlueShield's request for partial summary ... Women's Care Ctr ... of Memphis , MPLLC , [477] S.W.3d [235], No ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT