Jean Ho-Rath et al.
Rhode Island Hospital et al
Providence County Superior Court. (PC 10-4186).
For Plaintiffs: Amato A. DeLuca, Esq.
For Defendants: Scott D. Levesque, Esq., Robert P. Landau, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ. Justice Goldberg did not participate. Justice Flaherty, dissenting.
Paul A. Suttell, Chief Justice.
This case requires us to answer two questions of first impression relating to G.L. 1956 § 9-1-14.1(1), which contains the statute of limitations for the medical malpractice claims of minors. The plaintiffs, Jean and Bunsan Ho-Rath, initiated a medical malpractice suit in 2010, twelve years after their daughter, Yendee, was born with a genetic disorder. The plaintiffs brought suit on behalf of Yendee against numerous medical organizations and professionals, alleging negligence in the diagnosis and treatment relating to Yendee's genetic disorder. The plaintiffs also asserted their own claims for loss of consortium.
Certain defendants filed motions to dismiss, on the basis that plaintiffs' claims were untimely pursuant to the applicable statute of limitations. The Superior Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss, finding that all of plaintiffs' claims were barred by the statute of limitations set forth in § 9-1-14.1 because they were filed more than three years after the incident that gave rise to the cause of action. In light of Yendee's status as a minor, the
hearing justice found that the tolling provision in § 9-1-14.1(1) would allow Yendee to file suit in the future on her own behalf upon reaching the age of majority. The hearing justice also concluded, however, that Yendee's parents would not be permitted to attach their loss-of-consortium claims to Yendee's future suit. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court granting defendants' motions to dismiss. As explained below, however, we disagree with the hearing justice's conclusion regarding the future loss-of-consortium claims of Yendee's parents.
Facts and Procedural History
This Court is familiar with the facts of this case, as pleaded in plaintiffs' amended complaint, from our recent decision, Ho-Rath v. Rhode Island Hospital, 89 A.3d 806 (R.I. 2014) (Ho-Rath I). Jean and Bunsan Ho-Rath are the parents of Yendee Ho-Rath, who was born on January 9, 1998. Yendee was born with alpha thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder. On July 16, 2010, when Yendee was twelve years old, Jean and Bunsan filed suit, per proxima amica Yendee, against numerous parties, including Rhode Island Hospital, Miriam Hospital, Women & Infants' Hospital of Rhode Island, and various associated medical professionals. The plaintiffs alleged negligence, lack of informed consent, corporate liability, and vicarious liability for injuries sustained by Yendee in connection with her genetic disorder. Jean and Bunsan also asserted individual claims against each of the defendants for the loss of consortium of Yendee. The plaintiffs alleged that, although genetic testing for thalassemia was conducted on Jean, Bunsan, and Yendee's older brother as early as 1993, defendants had failed to correctly test, diagnose, and treat plaintiffs, resulting in Yendee being born with a debilitating genetic disorder. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on September 17, 2010, in which they added additional defendants, including Corning Incorporated (Corning) and Quest Diagnostics, LLC (Quest).
On February 8, 2011, Rhode Island Hospital, Miriam Hospital, and four associated medical professionals (collectively, RIH defendants) moved pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss Jean's and Bunsan's individual claims, on the ground that these claims were untimely according to the applicable statute of limitations set forth in § 9-1-14.1. On February 28, 2011, Women & Infants' Hospital of Rhode Island and three associated medical professionals (collectively, W& I defendants) moved to dismiss plaintiffs' individual claims as well as those brought on behalf of Yendee, also on the ground that these claims were barred by § 9-1-14.1. Quest and Corning also filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs' claims, supported by the same reasoning.
The various motions to dismiss were heard together on June 27, 2011. The plaintiffs argued that, pursuant to § 9-1-14.1(1), Yendee's claims could be brought at any time until three years after she reached the age of majority. The plaintiffs further argued that their individual loss-of-consortium claims were derivative of Yendee's claims and that, therefore, they too were tolled pursuant to § 9-1-14.1(1). Regarding Corning and Quest,
plaintiffs argued that the applicable statute of limitations for these claims was set forth in § 9-1-19 rather than § 9-1-14.1.
On July 7, 2011, the hearing justice issued a bench decision granting the motions to dismiss. The hearing justice first found that all of plaintiffs' claims sounded in medical malpractice and were thus subject to the applicable statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims set forth in § 9-1-14.1. The hearing justice determined that § 9-1-14.1(1) affords two options regarding the medical malpractice claims of injured minors. First, " an action may be commenced on behalf of the minor's interest by next of friend within three years of the injury or reasonable discovery of the injury." Alternatively, " the injured minor may commence an action on his or her own behalf within three years after reaching the [age of] majority." The hearing justice found that, because plaintiffs had brought their claims more than three years after the most recent occurrence of alleged malpractice, these claims were time-barred by § 9-1-14.1(1). The hearing justice also found, however, that because no action had been commenced on behalf of Yendee within three years of the incident that gave rise to the claims, Yendee retained the right to file suit on her own behalf after reaching the age of majority.
Final judgments were subsequently entered in favor of the W& I defendants, the RIH defendants, Corning, and Quest. The plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal; the W& I defendants, Quest, and Corning filed notices of cross-appeal. The four appeals were consolidated, and the matter was assigned to this Court's show-cause calendar. We issued an opinion on May 2, 2014, vacating the judgments entered in favor of Corning and Quest and assigning the remaining claims to this Court's plenary calendar for full briefing and argument. See Ho-Rath I, 89 A.3d at 812. These remaining issues, concerning plaintiffs' direct and derivative claims against the W& I defendants and the RIH defendants, form the substance of the instant opinion.
Standard of Review
" In reviewing the grant of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), this Court applies the same standard as the hearing justice." Woonsocket School Committee v. Chafee, 89 A.3d 778, 787 (R.I. 2014) (quoting Mendes v. Factor, 41 A.3d 994, 1000 (R.I. 2012)). " Because the sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, our review is confined to the four corners of that pleading." Id. (quoting Mendes, 41 A.3d at 1000). " We will 'assume[ ] the allegations contained in the complaint to be true and view[ ] the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs.'" Id. (quoting Rhode Island Employment Security Alliance, Local 401, S.E.I.U., AFL--CIO v. State, Department of Employment and Training, 788 A.2d 465, 467 (R.I. 2002)). " A motion to dismiss is properly granted when it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief from the defendant under any set of facts that could be proven in support of the plaintiff's claim." Id. (quoting Mendes, 41 A.3d at 1000).
" The question of whether a statute of limitations has run against a plaintiff's claim is * * * a question of law,"
which this Court reviews de novo. Balletta v. McHale, 823 A.2d 292, 294 (R.I. 2003) (quoting Hall v. Insurance Company of North America, 727 A.2d 667, 669-70 (R.I. 1999)). Additionally, " [t]his Court reviews questions of statutory construction and interpretation de novo." National Refrigeration, Inc. v. Capital Properties, Inc., 88 A.3d 1150, 1156 (R.I. 2014) (quoting Morel v. Napolitano, 64 A.3d 1176, 1179 (R.I. 2013)). It is well established that, " [w]hen the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we give the words their plain and ordinary meaning." Id. (quoting Morel, 64 A.3d at 1179). " The plain meaning approach, however, is not the equivalent of myopic literalism, and it is entirely proper for us to look to the sense and meaning fairly deducible from the context." Id. (quoting Peloquin v. Haven Health Center of Greenville, LLC, 61 A.3d 419, 425 (R.I. 2013)). We shall " consider the entire statute as a whole; individual sections must be considered in the context of the entire statutory scheme, not as if each section were independent of all other sections." Id. (quoting Peloquin, 61 A.3d at 425). Ultimately, our goal " is to give effect to the purpose of the act as intended by the Legislature." Mendes, 41 A.3d at 1002 (quoting Generation Realty, LLC v. Catanzaro, 21 A.3d 253, 259 (R.I. 2011)). " [U]nder no circumstances will this Court construe a statute to reach an absurd result." National Refrigeration, Inc., 88 A.3d at 1156 (quoting Peloquin, 61 A.3d at 425).
In Ho-Rath I, we identified the two issues of first impression that are currently before this Court for decision:
" [W]hether, in accordance with § 9-1-14.1(1), medical malpractice claims may be brought on a child's behalf at any time before the minor reaches the age of majority, and thereafter by the child within three years after attaining the age of majority, or--as the lower court ruled--medical malpractice claims must be brought on behalf of a minor within three years of the incident giving rise to the cause of action, or within three years after attaining the age of majority--but at no time in between. The second question presented * * * is whether parents may bring their derivative claims at whatever time the minor's medical negligence claims are pursued, or whether--as the trial justice concluded--parents must file all derivative claims within three years of the incident giving rise to the cause of action, even if the child's claims are not brought until sometime thereafter." Ho-Rath I, 89 A.3d at 811.
We shall address each of these ...