MSC: Affidavit of merit not a pleading, can’t be amended retroactively

Since it was decided in 2009, the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Shabahang has been used by the Court of Appeals to allow plaintiffs to fix several different types of defects in medical malpractice-specific pleadings.

But the court’s decision in Ligons v. Crittendon Hospital denied a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a defective affidavit of merit (AOM) and dismissing the case.

Writing for the majority, Justice Brian Zahra said the AOM isn’t a “pleading” under the court rules, so any rule allowing an amended “pleading” doesn’t apply.

An AOM, even if required to be appended to a complaint, is not included in this restrictive definition of a “pleading.” Plaintiff relies heavily on a statement in Barnett v Hidalgo, which described an AOM as “part of the pleadings” in determining that an AOM is “generally admissible as an adoptive admission[.]” But plaintiff fails to appreciate the context in which the statement was made: describing a document as “part” of the pleadings when addressing an evidentiary issue does not turn the document into a pleading for purposes of MCR 2.118(D) if it does not meet the definition in MCR 2.110(A).60 Indeed, elsewhere Barnett clearly referred to the AOM as distinct from the complaint, stating that AOMs “are required to accompany a complaint . . . .” Id. at 160. Under MCR 2.110(A)(1), for purposes of the court rules it is the “complaint” itself that constitutes a “pleading,” not the complaint and any document accompanying it. Barnett neither held nor relied on the premise that an AOM is a pleading for purposes of the rule permitting amendment of pleadings, MCR 2.118

Zahra also wrote that Bush doesn’t apply to AOMs either.

The Bush Court’s application of MCL 600.2301 to a medical malpractice NOI was rooted in the Legislature’s 2004 amendment of MCL 600.5856(c), the notice-tolling statute, and does not apply to AOMs. Unlike NOIs, which give notice to defendants, AOMs are meant to weed out frivolous cases before they are ever filed. Applying Bush beyond the scope of the 2004 amendment of MCL 600.5856(c) and NOIs to AOMs would be an unwarranted expansion of its focus on the notice-tolling statute, would free the opinion from its statutory moorings, would frustrate the purpose of the AOM requirement, and would create unnecessary conflict with existing caselaw, such as Kirkaldy, which Bush did not overrule. We therefore decline to apply the rationale of Bush beyond its limited statutory focus.

The majority said dismissal with prejudice is required in such circumstances.

Justice Michael Cavanagh dissented, arguing that the AOM in the case wasn’t defective because the statute doesn’t require specificity, and even if it was, the statutes don’t require that the case be dismissed with prejudice.

Nevertheless, assuming arguendo that the AOM in this case was deficient, I believe that MCL 600.23013 should apply to allow a cure of the alleged deficiency within the AOM. To begin with, applying MCL 600.2301 would not conflict with MCL 600.2912d, when the latter is read as a whole. Indeed, as recognized by Justice HATHAWAY, the AOM statute does not expressly provide a penalty for deficiencies within the contents of an AOM. And, notably, the allowances of additional time to file an AOM in MCL 600.2912d(2) and (3) do not explicitly preclude amending or disregarding defects within the contents of an AOM. Instead, those provisions merely provide a plaintiff additional time in which to file the initial AOM and, thus, do not address curing an arguably defective AOM. And while I continue to adhere to my position in Kirkaldy v Rim, 478 Mich 581, 586-587; 734 NW2d 201 (2007) (CAVANAGH, J., concurring), as Justice HATHAWAY suggests, allowing a defect within an AOM to be cured under MCL 600.2301 would simply provide an alternative remedy to that of Kirkaldy, in which the majority opined  that the remedy for a successful challenge to a deficient AOM is dismissal without prejudice, id. at 586 (majority opinion). Accordingly, I believe that MCL 600.2301 should apply.

Justice Diane Hathaway also argued that the statute doesn’t require the specificity the majority is requiring.

The Legislature chose not to incorporate any of these phrases heightening the level of specificity in the AOM statute. If the Legislature had chosen to incorporate such qualifying language in MCL 600.2912d(1), then the majority might have a basis for its conclusion. However, MCL 600.2912d(1) is silent concerning the level of specificity with which the information in an AOM must be conveyed. Nothing in the plain language of this statute mandates the heightened level of specificity that the majority demands, and this Court is not free to add words or phrases to a statute. Thus, the requirement that the AOM “shall contain a statement of each of the following” simply means what it says. The statute requires that “a statement” must be made, not a “detailed statement,” “a complete statement,” or a “full explanatory statement.”

One of the other two MSC decisions that are supposed to be out today, Driver v. Cardiovascular Clinic, will also deal with application of Bush v. Shabahang and Burton v. Reed City Hospital. Stay tuned.

Advertisements

Last call for MSC’s 2010-2011 term

Robert P. Young Jr.

Next Sunday is the official end of the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2010-2011 term. According to the court’s public information office, only eight cases on leave are due by that day. The eight, and what’s at stake [Summaries and briefs from Michigan Supreme Court public information office available at links provided]:

People v. Kowalski: This case deals with several issues related to the state’s evidence against a defendant charged with “accosting, enticing, or soliciting a minor for immoral purposes” and using a computer to commit said acts.”

Krohn v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co.: First-party no-fault auto case involving a plaintiff who sought experimental surgery in Portugal. Defendant said it would pay for physical therapy and testing for the surgery, but not the surgery itself because it was experimental. According to the briefs, the surgery greatly improved the plaintiff’s condition.

Previous MILW coverage:Defining what’s reasonable: Plaintiff argues that Portugal procedure was reasonably necessary; insurer says no,” April 4, 2011

Driver v. Cardiovascular Clinic: This case deals with the applicability of Burton v. Reed City Hospital Corp. in light of Bush v. Shabahang. Burton said that a complaint filed before the 180-day post-Notice-of-Intent period expires is nullified, and doesn’t  toll the limitations period. Bush said courts can allow plaintiffs to amend a defective Notice-of-Intent “in the furtherance of justice.”

Previous MILW coverage:Courts struggle with application of Bush,” March 15, 2010

A matter of timing: MSC considers malpractice case stuck in waiting period limbo,” March 21, 2011

People v. Huston: Sentence scoring issue concerning the vulnerability of the victim and whether it was sufficient to increase the defendant’s sentence.

Ligons v. Crittendon Hospital: Plaintiff’s medical malpractice action was dismissed by Court of Appeals, which ruled that the two affidavits of merit served on defendant lacked a “meaningful statement of causation.” Can plaintiff amend the affidavit of merit under Bush v. Shabahang?

Duffy v. Department of Natural Resources: Plaintiff was injured riding an ATV on Little Manistee Trail, which is on state land. Is the trail a highway under the Governmental Tort Liability Act?

Previous MILW coverage:A road by any other name,” March 14, 2011.

Hamed v. Wayne County: Plaintiff was raped by a Wayne Count Sheriff’s deputy while in Wayne County Jail. Is the jail a “public accommodation” under the Michigan Eliott-Larson Civil Rights Act?

Previous MILW coverage:County liable for deputy’s sexual assault on detainee,” July 20, 2009

People v. Bonilla-Machado: OV 13 sentence scoring is at issue here, along with ineffective assistance of counsel.

We’ll provide in-depth coverage and analysis of these opinions and others throughout August at Michigan Lawyers Weekly.