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Wright v. Harris

Supreme Court of Alabama

February 15, 2019

Clifford Goodman Wright, as administrator of the Estate of Mary Evelyn Wright, deceased
v.
Phyllis Harris et al.

          Appeal from Cleburne Circuit Court (CV-13-900053)

          BRYAN, JUSTICE.

         Clifford Goodman Wright ("Wright"), the administrator of the estate of Mary Evelyn Wright ("Mary"), deceased, appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Cleburne Circuit Court ("the trial court") in favor of Dawn Reid, Phyllis Harris, and Tuwanda Worrills (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the nurses"), who, during all relevant times, were employed by the Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home ("the Hospital Board"). For the reasons set forth herein, we dismiss the appeal as being from a nonfinal judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         This is the second appeal to this Court involving this litigation. In Wright v. Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., 255 So.3d 186, 189 (Ala. 2017), a plurality of this Court summarized the pertinent procedural history:

"In October 2013, [Mary] commenced a personal-injury action against 'Cleburne County Hospital and Nursing Home, Inc.' Mary asserted in her complaint that she had suffered injuries from a fall while she was a resident of a nursing home allegedly operated by the defendant ('the nursing home'). Mary died, allegedly from her injuries, the day after the complaint was filed. Wright was appointed the administrator of Mary's estate and was substituted as the plaintiff.
"In response to the complaint, the Hospital Board filed an answer indicating that it operated the nursing home where the incident occurred and that it was the proper defendant in the action. Thereafter, Wright amended the complaint to correctly identify the Hospital Board as the defendant. Wright also amended the complaint to add the nurses as defendants and to assert wrongful-death claims against the nurses and the Hospital Board."

         As amended, Wright's complaint asserted claims against the nurses, the Hospital Board, and various fictitiously named parties under the Alabama Medical Liability Act, § 6-5-540 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. Wright's claim against the Hospital Board included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Wright's claims against each of the nurses included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Regarding each claim, Wright alleged:

"The said Defendants, separately and severally, violated the applicable standard of care as stated above which combined and concurred with the negligent conduct of the other Defendants in this action to proximately cause the injuries to [Mary] from October 4 - 25 and the death of [Mary] on October 25, 2013."

         Additionally, Wright alleged that the Hospital Board was vicariously liable for the actions of its agents, specifically, the actions of the nurses.

         The Hospital Board and the nurses subsequently sought an order from the trial court declaring that the damages cap set out in § 11-93-2, Ala. Code 1975, applied to Wright's claims, and the trial court entered an order so providing. 255 So.3d at 190. Pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., this Court granted Wright permission to appeal from the trial court's interlocutory order regarding the applicability of § 11-93-2 to his claims. 255 So.3d at 188. After holding that § 11-93-2 did not apply to Wright's claims against the nurses insofar as those claims were asserted against the nurses in their "individual capacities," this Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded the cause for further proceedings. 255 So.3d at 196.

         On remand, the nurses moved for a summary judgment, arguing that Wright had failed to present sufficient evidence regarding any duty of care owed by the nurses individually to Mary, a breach of such a duty, or a causal relationship between a breach of such a duty and Mary's injuries and subsequent death. Wright filed a response, opposing the nurses' motion. Both the nurses' motion and Wright's response were supported by evidence. On July 9, 2018, the trial court entered an order providing, in relevant part:

"Based upon the undisputed evidence, the submissions of the parties, and the oral arguments of the parties, the court finds that the motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of the [nurses] is well taken and due to be granted. [Wright] failed to establish a duty owed by the [nurses] to [Mary] that would make them individually liable to [Wright]. Additionally, [Wright] has failed to establish a causal connection between any alleged breach in the standard of care and [Mary]'s injury and death. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact, the [nurses] are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
"WHEREFORE, said motion is granted and the [nurses] are dismissed with prejudice. The Court further finds that there is no just reason for delay under [Rule] 54(b)[, Ala. R. Civ. P., ] and hereby directs entry of judgment in favor of [the nurses]."

         That same day, the Hospital Board filed a motion "partial[ly]" joining the nurses' summary-judgment motion. Among other things, the Hospital Board asserted:

"Specifically, the [nurses] argued that [Wright] failed to establish a causal connection between any alleged breach of duty and the injury and death of [Mary], a failure which is fatal to [Wright]'s claims. ... [Wright]'s claims against [the Hospital Board] should be dismissed for the same reason: lack of a causal ...

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