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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Ann L. Miller and Richard A. Miller v. Glenn L. Dobbs, D.O. and Partners in Health, a 5-0, 6-page opinion, Justice Massa writes:

In this case, the parties have spent five years disputing an issue which boils down to a seven-dollar fee paid three days late. The trial court found this delinquency fatal to the plaintiffs’ claim. We reverse.

On April 3, 2006, two weeks after her obstetrician, Dr. Glenn Dobbs, performed a cesarean section and tubal ligation on her, Ann Miller suffered a massive stroke that left her with permanent injuries. Nearly two years later, on March 18, 2008, the Millers’ attorney sent a proposed medical malpractice complaint to the Indiana Department of Insurance by certified mail. The $7.00 in statutory filing and processing fees were omitted from this mailing, but the proposed complaint was nevertheless file-stamped March 18. On March 31, 2008, the Millers filed their complaint against Dr. Dobbs and his medical group in the Dearborn Superior Court.

The DOI discovered the fee omission and sent the Millers’ attorney a letter on March 31 stating that the mandatory fees needed to be sent within 30 days and that the complaint would “not be considered filed with the Department until the filing fees . . . [were] received.” * * * The Millers’ attorney received the letter on Friday, April 4, 20082 and sent a check to the Department by first-class mail that same day. On Monday, April 7, the Department received the check and re-file-stamped the proposed complaint April 7. * * *

The defendants subsequently raised an affirmative defense of the statute of limitations and moved for summary judgment on that basis. In May 2011, the Millers moved to strike that motion, arguing the defendants waived it by failing to raise it before the Medical Review Panel issued its opinion. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and denied the Millers’ motion to strike. On appeal, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed [ILB - with 3 separate opinions], finding the Millers’ proposed complaint was timely filed. Miller v. Dobbs, 976 N.E.2d 91, 99 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). We granted transfer. * * *

The defendants contend the Millers’ proposed complaint was untimely because, although the Department received the complaint itself before the end of the statutory period, it did not receive the requisite filing and processing fees until April 7, three days after the statutory period ended. Our reading of the relevant statute, however, leads us to the opposite conclusion.

According to the “Statute of Limitations” chapter of our Medical Malpractice Act, “a proposed complaint under IC 34-18-8 is considered filed when a copy of the proposed complaint is delivered or mailed by registered or certified mail to the commissioner.” Ind. Code § 34-18-7-3(b). The Millers’ proposed complaint was mailed by certified mail on March 18, 2008. According to the statute, it is considered filed on that date. The statutory period did not expire until April 4, 2008. Thus, the Millers’ proposed complaint was timely filed with the Department.

Both the overall structure of the MMA and public policy considerations support our conclusion today. * * *

Ultimately, as we read the statute, it does not mandate that the Millers’ claim is lost for want of this seven-dollar horse-shoe nail. We therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 30, 2013 03:59 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions