Vaughn v. DMC-Memphis, LLC, No. W2019-00886-COA-R3-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJ. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
Decision Date27 January 2021
Docket NumberNo. W2019-00886-COA-R3-CV


No. W2019-00886-COA-R3-CV


November 17, 2020 Session
January 27, 2021

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County
Valerie L Smith, Judge

Plaintiff filed a claim in general sessions court for injuries she allegedly received when she fell in standing water on the defendant's premises. Judgment was rendered in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed to circuit court. The defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it owed no duty to the plaintiff and that she was at least 50% at fault for her injuries. In support, the defendant relied on plaintiff's testimony from the trial in general sessions court. The circuit court granted the motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff again appealed. We vacate the judgment of the trial court.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Vacated and Remanded

J. STEVEN STAFFORD, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., P.J., M.S., and CARMA DENNIS MCGEE, J., joined.

Tina Vaughn, Memphis Tennessee, Pro se.

Julia M. Kavanagh and Kyler S. Garmen, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, DMC-Memphis, LLC.



Plaintiff/Appellant Tina Vaughn filed this action in Shelby County General Sessions Court ("the general session court") alleging that Defendant/Appellee DMC-Memphis, LLC ("DMC") "failed to warn and timely clean a wet and slippery floor in the lobby and restroom" of DMC's building housing the Delta Medical Center. A trial was held on

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October 4, 2017. Ms. Vaughn was represented by counsel and was the only witness. Ms. Vaughn testified that she was injured when she attempted to use a restroom of the medical center. Following redirect, the general sessions court judge questioned Ms. Vaughn about the sequence of events leading to the fall, without objection. Judgment was thereafter rendered for DMC. Ms. Vaughn timely appealed to Shelby County Circuit Court ("the trial court").

On December 12, 2018, DMC filed a motion for summary judgment and memorandum, arguing that Ms. Vaughn could not establish the element of duty because Ms. Vaughn had actual notice of the wet floor before she attempted to traverse it or, in the alternative, that Ms. Vaughn's fault was equal to or greater than any fault on the part of DMC. In support of the motion, DMC filed a statement of undisputed material facts that relied heavily on Ms. Vaughn's testimony in the general sessions trial. In particular, DMC submitted the following facts as undisputed:

4. At trial, Ms. Vaughn testified that she was at Delta Medical Center on December 21, 2015, to attend two medical appointments.
5. Upon arriving at Delta Medical Center, Ms. Vaughn first visited a restroom on the first floor.
6. Ms. Vaughn testified that, when she opened the door and entered the restroom, she immediately saw that "[t]here was a lot of water" and that the restroom "was pretty much almost flooded."
7. Ms. Vaughn repeatedly confirmed that she saw the water as soon as she entered the restroom.
8. After seeing the water, Ms. Vaughn proceeded to walk into the restroom where she then "slipped and fell."
9. After falling, Ms. Vaughn got up and walked into the restroom again and walked further into a restroom stall.
10. Ms. Vaughn was familiar with Delta Medical Center and was aware that another restroom was located down the hallway on the same floor that she could have used instead.

(Record citations omitted). Each fact was supported with a citation to Ms. Vaughn's own trial testimony from general sessions court, which was attached as an exhibit to the statement.

On January 2, 2019, Ms. Vaughn, now acting pro se, responded in opposition to DMC's motion. Therein, Ms. Vaughn asserted that additional discovery was necessary before she could respond to the motion for summary judgment. In particular, Ms. Vaughn asserted that she needed time to subpoena various records and staff from DMC that would show the length of time that the allegedly dangerous condition had existed, as well as doctors and therapists who had been involved in her treatment. Ms. Vaughn therefore asked for a continuance of the summary judgment hearing. Ms. Vaughn's response did not

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address the substantive merits of DMC's motion.

DMC responded in opposition to Ms. Vaughn's request for a continuance on March 5, 2019. Therein, DMC argued that the discovery requested by Ms. Vaughn was irrelevant to its argument that Ms. Vaughn had actual notice of the wet floor, Ms. Vaughn had previously agreed that she would seek no further continuances beyond one that had been agreed to, and Ms. Vaughn was given ample time to respond to the motion for summary judgment.

On March 8, 2019, Ms. Vaughn filed a response and a memorandum of law in opposition to DMC's motion. Therein, Ms. Vaughn argued that there were genuine disputes of material fact that made summary judgment inappropriate. Specifically, Ms. Vaughn cited to photographs attached to her memorandum that she asserted showed that wet floor signs were not being properly used to notify Ms. Vaughn of the dangerous condition, while such signs were being used to warn of a dangerous condition in another location of the building used only by maintenance workers. According to Ms. Vaughn, "[s]urely, something so small and so very easily placed, such as A WARNING/CAUTION/WET FLOOR SIGN, most certainly could have and would have saved Plaintiff from years of pain, suffering, expense and emotional anguish." Ms. Vaughn further alleged that she could not wait to find another restroom and that she was not responsible for her injuries. Moreover, Ms. Vaughn argued that DMC improperly destroyed evidence concerning maintenance on the building related to her fall.

Ms. Vaughn did not assert in this response that a continuance was necessary in order to obtain additional discovery. Ms. Vaughn did, however, file a response to DMC's statement of undisputed material facts, in which she disputed facts six through ten, with citations to her trial testimony. Ms. Vaughn did not provide any detail as to specifically what she disputed as to each fact, but simply noted that the facts were disputed. Ms. Vaughn attached to her filing photographs of the area, her prehospital care report, a report from an outpatient radiology clinic, records from an orthopedic doctor, a patient questionnaire from an imaging center, a physical therapy report, and correspondence with DMC's attorneys.1

On March 20, 2019, the trial court entered an order setting the motion for summary judgment for hearing on April 5, 2019. The order noted that no further continuances would be granted.

On March 29, 2019, Ms. Vaughn filed a motion "to supplement [the] summary judgment record." Therein, Ms. Vaughn asserted that supplementation should be allowed for "newly discovered evidence or information" or materials that "were not known to

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exist." Ms. Vaughn therefore asked "to admit" four additional photographs, as well as a cell phone to indicate the date and time the photos were taken. Ms. Vaughn further asserted that she was awaiting additional records that would provide evidence of her fall, contrary to DMC's line of questioning in the general sessions trial that she did not report the fall to the proper medical providers. Finally, Ms. Vaughn produced records which she asserted demonstrated that she was treated for the injuries she claimed to have suffered in this lawsuit. Ms. Vaughn attached several documents to this filing, some of which had previously been submitted.

On April 3, 2019, DMC filed a reply to Ms. Vaughn's response in opposition to summary judgment. Therein, DMC again asserted that the multitude of documents and photographs presented by Ms. Vaughn were both irrelevant and insufficient to defeat their motion for summary judgment. Rather, DMC argued that Ms. Vaughn's trial testimony demonstrated that she "had clearly seen the standing water on the restroom floor and appreciated the condition before deciding to proceed into the restroom[.]" According to DMC, Ms. Vaughn failed in any way to negate this proof. DMC therefore argued that this evidence meant that Ms. Vaughn could not establish the essential element of duty and that her claim should be dismissed.

The trial court heard DMC's motion as scheduled on April 5, 2019. The trial court later entered a written order on April 23, 2019. Therein, the trial court ruled that Ms. Vaughn could not show the essential element of duty and, in the alternative, that she was as least 50% at fault for her injuries. Ms. Vaughn thereafter appealed. Disputes continued in the trial court over the preparation of the record, with the trial court granting DMC's objection to Ms. Vaughn's statement of the evidence. This order designated certain documents that would be included in the appellate record.


The issues designated by Ms. Vaughn are somewhat difficult to discern. DMC frames Ms. Vaughn's issues in the following manner, which we reorder:

1. Whether the trial court erred in utilizing the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law prepared by DMC's counsel at the trial court's request.

2. Whether the record on appeal was properly prepared/contains sufficient documents.

3. Whether the trial court erred in granting DMC's motion for summary judgment.


This case was dismissed at the summary judgment stage. "Summary judgment is appropriate only when the moving party establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04."

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Woodruff v. Walker, 542 S.W.3d 486, 493-94 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017). In other words, "[a] grant of summary judgment is appropriate only when the facts and the reasonable inferences from those facts would permit a reasonable person to reach only one conclusion." Dick Broad. Co. of Tennessee v. Oak Ridge FM, Inc....

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