A medical malpractice plaintiff can’t use Bush v. Shabahang and MCL 600.2301 to amend his notice of intent (NOI) to add a party to the lawsuit, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled.
In the majority decision of Driver v. Cardiovascular Clinic, Justice Mary Beth Kelly wrote that the NOI only applies to the person upon which it was served. Therefore it didn’t toll the statute of limitations for any non-parties.
Further, she wrote, Bush is inapplicable to the case because it requires the case be pending, which this one was not, at least against the non-party.
By its plain language, MCL 600.2301 only applies to actions or proceedings that are pending. Here, plaintiff failed to commence an action against CCA before the six-month discovery period expired, and his claim was therefore barred by the statute of limitations. “An action is not ‘pending’ if it cannot be ‘commenced’ . . . .” In Bush,
however, this Court explained that an NOI is part of a medical malpractice “proceeding.” The Court explained that, “[s]ince an NOI must be given before a medical malpractice claim can be filed, the service of an NOI is a part of a medical malpractice ‘proceeding.’ As a result, [MCL 600.2301] applies to the NOI ‘process.’”
Although plaintiff gave CCA an NOI, he could not file a medical malpractice claim against CCA because the six-month discovery period had already expired. Service of the NOI on CCA could not, then, have been part of any “proceeding” against CCA because plaintiff’s claim was already time-barred when he sent the NOI. A proceeding cannot be pending if it was time-barred at the outset. Therefore, MCL 600.2301 is inapplicable because there was no action or proceeding pending against CCA in this case.
She also said that allowing the plaintiff to amend the NOI would alter the substantial rights of the non-party.
Every defendant in a medical malpractice suit is entitled to a timely NOI. The legislative purpose behind the notice requirement “was to provide a mechanism for ‘promoting settlement without the need for formal litigation, reducing the cost of medical malpractice litigation, and providing compensation for meritorious medical malpractice claims that would otherwise be precluded from recovery because of litigation costs . . . .’” Applying MCL 600.2301 in the present case would deprive CCA of its statutory right to a timely NOI followed by the appropriate notice waiting period, and CCA would be denied an opportunity to consider settlement. CCA would also be denied its right to a statute-of-limitations defense. These outcomes are plainly contrary to, and would not be in furtherance of, the Legislature’s intent in enacting MCL 600.2912b.
Finally, the court held that Burton v. Reed City Hosp. is still alive, even under Bush.
Nothing in Bush altered our holding in Burton. The central issue in Bush involved the effect an NOI had on tolling when the NOI failed to comply with the content requirements of MCL 600.2912b(4). The central issue in Burton involved the effect the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the notice-waiting-period requirements had on tolling. Indeed, the Bush Court repeatedly emphasized that the focus of MCL 600.5856(c) is compliance with the notice waiting period set forth in MCL 600.2912b.67 In contrast to placing doubt on the viability of Burton, this aspect of Bush aligned with Burton’s holding that a plaintiff must comply with the notice waiting period to ensure the complaint tolls the statute of limitations.
Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. concurred, incorporating by reference his dissent from Potter v. McCleary regarding the service of an NOI on a professional corporation.
Justice Diane M. Hathaway dissented, arguing that the plaintiff should have been allowed to amend the notice of non-party statute.
The majority erroneously asserts that plaintiff cannot use the NNPF 91-day window because plaintiff did not provide an NOI to CCA six months before filing the original action. However, the majority errs in this analysis. Under this reasoning, no plaintiff who brings a malpractice lawsuit under the discovery rule can ever use the NNPF statute to bring a claim against an identified nonparty at fault because no plaintiff will ever have provided an NOI to a nonparty at fault six months before filing the original suit. This reasoning renders an entire provision of the NNPF statute, the provision
allowing plaintiffs to file claims against nonparties at fault, nugatory. This clearly was not the intent of the Legislature and violates the basic tenets of statutory construction.
The majority fails to recognize that the NNPF statute creates it own 91-day window in which to bring claims against identified nonparties at fault. If the majority’s reasoning were correct, and a plaintiff were not afforded the opportunity to start his or her claim by providing an NOI to the nonparty at fault during the 91-day window, the NNPF and NOI statutes would be in irreconcilable conflict.
She wrote that, in this instance, the plaintiff tried to meet the requirements of the statute, and therefore, Bushshould have allowed him to amend the NOI.
Justice Michael F. Cavanagh said he would concur with the result of Hathaway’s dissent.