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Cyrus v. Lake Regional Health System

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

November 10, 2016

BRENDA K. CYRUS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Maxine Cyrus, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LAKE REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEM, LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL MANAGEMENT, INC., and JAMES J. JUNGELS, D.O., Defendants-Respondents.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CAMDEN COUNTY, Honorable Stan Moore. AFFIRMED

          OPINION

          DON E. BURRELL, J.

         Brenda K. Cyrus ("Plaintiff") appeals the dismissal of her negligence claims against Lake Regional Health System, Lake Regional Medical Management, Inc., and James J. Jungels, D.O. (collectively, "Defendants").[1] Plaintiff, as personal representative of the estate of Maxine Cyrus ("Patient"), filed her petition ("the petition") nearly five years after Defendants' allegedly negligent conduct, and the trial court dismissed it based upon an application of the two-year statute of limitations set forth in section 516.105.[2]

Plaintiff's sole point on appeal claims that the acts alleged in the petition are subject to a five-year statute of limitation instead of the two-year limit under section 516.105.[3] Finding no merit in this argument, we affirm.

         Finality of the Judgment

         In every appeal, this court must determine, sua sponte, whether a final judgment exists. Ndegwa v. KSSO, LLC, 371 S.W.3d 798, 801 (Mo. banc 2012). Here, the trial court dismissed the petition without prejudice. Ordinarily, such a dismissal would not constitute a final judgment from which an appeal may be taken. Basye v. Fayette R-III Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 150 S.W.3d 111, 114 (Mo. App. W.D. 2004). However, where the dismissal effectively dismisses the cause of action, and not merely the petition, such that any attempt to refile would be a futile act, then the dismissal constitutes a final, appealable judgment. Id. Thus, our first task is to determine "whether the dismissal is merely the dismissal of the petition or whether it dismissed the action itself." Id.

         Dismissal of Plaintiff's claims under a two-year statute of limitation effectively bars Plaintiff's claims against Defendants and does not merely challenge the sufficiency of the petition to properly plead those causes of action. Because any attempt to refile Plaintiff's negligence claims against Defendants would be a futile act, see id., the dismissal here constitutes a final, appealable judgment, and we will proceed to a review of the merits of Plaintiff's appeal.

          Standard of Review

         "The proper standard of review for a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss a petition is de novo." In re Estate of Austin, 389 S.W.3d 168, 171 (Mo. banc 2013). The determination of which statute of limitation applies in a particular case is also a question of law that we review de novo. D.A.N. Joint Venture, III v. Clark, 218 S.W.3d 455, 457 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006). "In reviewing the dismissal of a petition, reviewing courts must allow the pleading its broadest intendment, treating all facts alleged as true and construing the petition's allegations favorably to the plaintiff." H.R.B. v. J.L.G., 913 S.W.2d 92, 96 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995). When an affirmative defense is raised, such as a bar based on the expiration of the applicable statute of limitation, a petition cannot be dismissed unless the face of the petition clearly establishes, without exception, that the petition is time-barred. Sheehan v. Sheehan, 901 S.W.2d 57, 59 (Mo. banc 1995). "When, as in this case, the circuit court does not specify reasons for dismissing a petition, an appellate court presumes that the circuit court's judgment is based on one of the reasons stated in the motion to dismiss." Avery Contracting, LLC v. Niehaus, 492 S.W.3d 159, 162 (Mo. banc 2016).

         Plaintiff's Petition and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Plaintiff filed the petition on July 24, 2015. It alleged, based upon the same set of facts, one count of negligence against each of the Defendants. The petition contained the following averments. Defendants owned, maintained, and operated Lake Regional Clinic ("the Clinic") in Camden County. This ownership included medical equipment inside the Clinic, including examination tables. On or about August 26, 2010, Defendants "provided medical treatment" to Patient at the Clinic. Patient was being treated in one of Defendant's examination rooms when she leaned against an examination table that "unexpectedly slid and/or rolled away from her and caused her to lose her balance and violently fall to the ground." Patient sustained a fractured left hip, left hip pain, left hip swelling, left hip rotation, and severe pain and trauma. Patient was injured due to Defendants' negligent failure to lock the wheels on the examination table or warn Patient that the examination table was not secured. Defendants "knew or should have known that patients commonly lean on, support themselves, or [lie] on examination tables and that an examination table with unlocked wheels would likely move and pose a substantial risk of injury to patients[.]"

         Defendants' motion to dismiss the petition argued that Plaintiff's claims were time-barred by the two-year statute of limitation set forth in section 516.105. Defendants calculated that the two-year statute ran on or about August 26, 2012, and the petition was not filed until July 24, 2015. After the trial court sustained Defendants' motion, this appeal timely followed.

         Analysis

         Plaintiff claims the trial court erred in granting Defendants' motion to dismiss because the petition "created a valid cause of action for negligence which was not related to health care and therefore should not be time barred[.]" We disagree. ...


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