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Sofia v. Dodson

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

March 27, 2019

LONDA L. SOFIA, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
ROBERT W. DODSON, M.D., et al., Defendants-Respondents.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JASPER COUNTY Honorable David B. Mouton

          OPINION

          MARY W. SHEFFIELD, J.

         Londa Sofia, Gayla Woodcock, and Robin Frazier (collectively "Appellants"), surviving daughters of Gladys Walker ("Walker"), appeal the trial court's judgment granting Mercy Hospital Joplin's ("Mercy Hospital") motion for summary judgment ("the motion"). In the motion, Mercy Hospital argued that the underlying wrongful death action against it was barred by the statute of limitations and that the savings clause found in § 537.100[1] was inapplicable. The trial court granted the motion. Appellants argue that the trial court erred as a matter of law by granting summary judgment in that the lawsuit against Mercy Hospital was timely filed and re-filed within the one-year savings period contained in § 537.100. We agree. The trial court's judgment is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Standard of Review

         This Court reviews an appeal of a motion for summary judgment on an "essentially de novo" basis. Custer v. Wal-Mart Stores East I, LP, 492 S.W.3d 212, 214 (Mo. App. S.D. 2016) citing ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Whether a summary judgment motion was properly granted is a question of law, and this Court "need not defer to the trial court's order granting summary judgment." Id. "The application of a statute of limitations is a question of law that this court reviews de novo." Mackey v. Smith, 438 S.W.3d 465, 471 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014).

         Background and Timeline

         Appellants' mother died on April 10, 2011, four days after undergoing gallbladder removal surgery. Appellants filed an action against Dr. Robert W. Dodson ("Dr. Dodson"), who performed the surgery, and his presumed employer Mercy Hospital, on March 1, 2013. Appellants later learned that Dr. Dodson's employer was actually Mercy Clinic Joplin ("Mercy Clinic"), not Mercy Hospital.[2] On July 11, 2016, Appellants were granted leave to file and filed an amended petition ("First Amended Petition") substituting Mercy Clinic in place of Mercy Hospital.[3] Appellants voluntarily dismissed Mercy Hospital on July 14, 2016, without prejudice. Appellants then sought, and were granted, leave to file a second amended petition ("Second Amended Petition") on January 4, 2017. This Second Amended Petition named three defendants: Dr. Dodson, Mercy Clinic, and Mercy Hospital.

         The following timeline describes the sequence of events:

DATE:

ACTION:

4/10/11

Death of Walker.

3/1/13

Plaintiffs file Petition for Damages ("Original Petition") against Dr. Dodson and Mercy Hospital.

4/10/14

Three-year anniversary of Walker's death.

7/11/16

Trial court grants Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Petition "so as to substitute Mercy Clinic . . . in place and instead of Mercy Hospital Joplin" pursuant to Rule 55.33(c).[4]

First Amended Petition filed against Dr. Dodson and Mercy Clinic.

7/14/16

Plaintiffs file Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice of Defendant Mercy Hospital.

11/14/16

Plaintiffs file Motion for Leave to file Second Amended Petition naming defendants Dr. Dodson, Mercy Clinic, and Mercy Hospital.

1/4/17

Court sustains Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend. Court orders Second Amended Petition filed.

4/2/18

Court grants Mercy Hospital's Motion for Summary Judgment.[5]

         In the motion, Mercy Hospital argued that Appellants' Second Amended Petition was filed outside of the statute of limitations and that the savings clause of § 537.100 did not apply. Mercy Hospital also argued that neither § 537.100 nor Rule 67.02, addressing the effect of voluntary dismissals, could apply to "re-join the dropped entity to the case later on." The trial court granted the motion. This appeal follows.

         Discussion

         This appeal does not address the merits of the underlying dispute, but rather, whether Appellants' claim against Mercy Hospital is time-barred by the statute of limitations. The applicable statute of limitations for wrongful death actions based on § 537-o8o is three years. § 537.100.1. The statute of limitations in this case began running at the moment of Walker's death. See State ex rel. Goldsivorthy v. Kanatzar, 543 S.W.3d, 582, 585 (Mo. banc 2018) ("A wrongful death cause of action accrues at the moment of death.").

         Missouri law provides for an additional one-year extension of the statute of limitations by § 537.100's savings clause. This savings clause provides in relevant part:

[P]rovided, that if any such action shall have been commenced within the time prescribed in this section, and the plaintiff therein take or suffer a nonsuit, or after a verdict for him the judgment be arrested, or after a judgment for him the same be reversed on appeal or error, such plaintiff may commence a new action from time to time within one year after such nonsuit suffered or such judgment arrested or reversed; and in determining whether such new action has been begun within the period so limited, the time during which ...

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