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Posted by: Chandra Williams on Aug 21, 2015

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

James R. Vandergriff and Samantha J. Vandergriff, Pro se.

Attorneys 2:

H. Dean Clements and Brie Allaman Stewart, Chattanooga, Tennessee for the appellees, ParkRidge East Hospital. F. Laurens Brock, Rocklan W. King III, and Donna L. Boyce, Nashville, Tennessee for the appellees, Richard J. Bowers, M.D., Elizabeth M. Bowers, M.D., and Chattanooga Women’s Specialist, P.C. Arthur P. Brock and Drew H. Reynolds, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees, Shawn P. Stallings, M.D. and Regional Obstetrical Consultants, P.C.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

The parents of a minor child filed a pro se complaint asserting claims on behalf of their daughter and individual claims by each parent. The complaint alleges that the daughter was born with brain injuries and remains severely disabled due to the failure of health care providers to treat her mother for a severe womb infection during two hospitalizations preceding birth. Plaintiffs also allege that the complaint was filed timely, although it was filed ten years after birth, because the defendants fraudulently concealed the fact that the mother was not treated for the infection. The complaint states that the parents learned of the infection in 2012 when they obtained medical records that included a previously- undisclosed placenta pathology report. The defendants responded to the complaint by filing Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motions to dismiss the parents’ individual claims pursuant to the one-year statute of limitations, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116(a)(1)-(2), and the daughter’s claims based upon the three-year statute of repose, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116(a)(3). The trial court dismissed the parents’ individual claims because the complaint established that the parents learned of the infection no later than December 31, 2012, yet another eighteen months passed before the complaint was filed. As for the daughter’s claims, the trial court concluded that her claims were barred by the statute of repose. Plaintiffs appealed, contending that it was error to dismiss their individual claims based upon the statute of limitations and the daughter’s claims on the statute of repose. We affirm the dismissal of the parents’ claims as barred by the statute of limitations because the complaint indicates that in 2012 the plaintiffs had sufficient facts to put a reasonable person on notice that they had been injured by the defendants’ negligence, and they failed to file their claims in a timely manner thereafter. As for the minor child’s separate claims, they were asserted in a pro se complaint filed by her parents, and neither of her parents is a licensed attorney. Although a parent “may sue or defend” on behalf of their minor child, see Tenn. R. Civ. P. 17, a parent who is not “duly licensed” may not engage in the “practice of law” on behalf of their minor child. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 7, § 1.01; Tenn. Code Ann. § 23-3-103(a). A claim asserted in a pleading by a person who is not entitled to practice law is a nullity. Bivins v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 910 S.W.2d 441, 447 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995); see Investors Grp., I Ltd. v. Knoxville's Cmty. Dev. Corp., ?? No. E1999-00395-COA-R3-CV, 2001 WL 839837, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 25, 2001). Because the parents’ attempt to assert claims on behalf of their daughter was a nullity, see Gentry v. Gentry, 924 S.W.2d 678, 680 (Tenn. 1996), the trial court’s judgment on the merits of the minor’s purported claims is vacated.