By Jared S. Renfroe

Filed July 27, 2016

Summary:

In this case, the trial court unilaterally set hearings without the parties requesting them, and the Appeals Board obliged, noting rules do not preclude this from taking place, although they do not provide for it either. The Appeals Board noted that the trial court’s actions were proper, and its decision was affirmed.

Details:

Employee filed two Petitions for Benefit Determination, one against Specialty Services, LLC in which he alleged that he sustained injuries to his left arm, low back and body when he slipped and fell on gravel on October 2, 2014 during his employment with Specialty Services. The other petition was against Transco Products, Inc., asserting the he slipped and fell in the rain on November 5, 2014 while in employment with them, which he claimed caused injuries to his right leg, left shoulder and body. Employee did not seek or receive treatment after the first injury but sought treatment with Dr. Hutcheson, whom he chose from a panel, for the second injury. However, after seeing Dr. Hutcheson on two occasions, he quit and requested to see another doctor. Since then, he has received unauthorized medical treatment.

Because the claimant did not file a Request for Hearing within 60 days after the issuance of the Dispute Certification Notice, the trial court gave him additional time to file a Request for Expedited Hearing, advising the parties that if no request for expedited hearing was filed by the deadline, the Court would set a compensation hearing. The claimant did not file that request, and the clerk of court issued docketing notices setting an initial hearing. More than 30 days after the entry of the status conference order, the Second Injury Fund filed a motion asserting that the trial court has no authority to set an initial hearing since no request had been filed. There were various motions to dismiss filed.

The trial court held that even though Transco’s motion to dismiss was unopposed, the lack of opposition to a motion does not require the court to automatically grant the requested relief. Additionally, although Transco argued that the claimant should not be allowed to argue in response to its Motion to Dismiss because it did not file anything in response, the trial court allowed the claimant’s counsel to argue his position at the hearing. It was noted that neither Rule 4.01(B) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure or any other applicable rule prohibits a trial court from deciding motions on their merits, and the Board’s regulations do not prohibit a trial court from considering the merits of an unopposed motion.

The Appeals Board held that, under the circumstances presented, there was no error in the trial court’s allowing the claimant to orally express his opposition to the motion to dismiss at the hearing, and the Appeals Board did not find any error with the trial court’s decision to consider the merits of the motion despite the lack of written response.  With regard to the appeal filed by the Second Injury Fund, the Appeals Board held that although Rule 0800-02-21-.12 does not explicitly authorize trial courts to schedule initial hearings where no party has requested a hearing, nothing in the regulations precludes a trial court from doing so. Additionally, the Appeals Board noted that no audio recordings of some of the hearings were presented on appeal, so the Appeals Board could not know what the totality of the circumstances might have been.

The Appeals Board held unanimously that consistent with well-established law, the trial court has the necessary discretion to control the pace of litigation through the use of case supervision and docket management but that such discretion is not without limits. However, in this case, the trial court’s actions were proper, and the decision was affirmed.

 

Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. His concentrates primarily in premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense and workers’ compensation.

 

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