Arnold v. Grigsby

Decision Date29 December 2009
Docket NumberNo. 20080255.,20080255.
Citation225 P.3d 192,2009 UT 88
PartiesGina M. ARNOLD and Charlie S. Arnold, Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. David GRIGSBY, M.D., Gary B. White, M.D., and Uintah Basin Medical Center, Defendants and Petitioner.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Roger P. Christensen, Karra J. Porter, Sarah E. Spencer, Salt Lake City, for plaintiffs.

Larry R. White, Paul D. Van Komen, Daniel R. Harper, Salt Lake City, for defendant.

On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

WILKINS, Justice:

¶ 1 Petitioner David Grigsby, M.D. seeks our review of the decision of the Utah Court of Appeals reversing the district court's ruling that the two-year statute of limitations in the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act (the Malpractice Act), Utah Code Ann. § 78-14-4 (2002), was not tolled under Utah Code section 78-12-35 while Dr. Grigsby was residing out of state. We agree with the district court and reverse the court of appeals.

BACKGROUND

¶ 2 On December 4, 2001, Respondent Gina M. Arnold and her husband brought this medical malpractice action against defendants Gary White, M.D., David Grigsby, M.D., and the Uintah Basin Medical Center in connection with the perforation of Mrs. Arnold's colon and subsequent treatment occurring in July and August 1999.1

¶ 3 Following discovery, briefing, and oral argument by the parties, the district court granted a motion by Dr. Grigsby for summary judgment, concluding that the Arnolds' claim was barred as a matter of law by the two-year statute of limitations imposed on claims of medical malpractice under Utah Code section 78-14-4 (2002).2 The district court found that the statute of limitations on the Arnolds' claim began to run in November 1999 when Mrs. Arnold first became aware of her injury, more than two years prior to the Arnolds' filing of their complaint on December 4, 2001. Further, the court concluded that although, in general, tolling statutes do apply to the Malpractice Act, the out-of-state tolling provision of Utah Code section 78-14-4 did not apply to Dr. Grigsby in this case because he remained amenable to service under Utah's long-arm statute, Utah Code sections 78-27-24 to -25,3 while he was out of state.4

¶ 4 The Arnolds appealed the district court's order to the court of appeals.5 With regard to tolling, and based on our ruling in Olseth v. Larson, 2007 UT 29, 158 P.3d 532, the court of appeals reversed, holding that the out-of-state tolling provision of Utah Code section 78-12-356 did apply to the Malpractice Act's statute of limitations in this case, because the out-of-state defendant, Dr. Grigsby, did not designate an in-state agent to receive service of process in his absence. Arnold v. Grigsby, 2008 UT App 58, ¶¶ 23-24, 180 P.3d 188. The court of appeals did not reach the Arnolds' claim that the district court improperly resolved issues of fact as to when the statute of limitations began to run. Id.

¶ 5 Dr. Grigsby sought a writ of certiorari, which we granted. The specific question on which we granted review was whether the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act statute of limitations, Utah Code section 78-14-4 (2002), is subject to tolling under Utah Code section 78-12-35 (2002) when a defendant is out of state. After oral argument, we expanded our review to include the question of what application the tolling statute, section 78-12-35, has on the limitation contained in section 78-14-4, and invited the parties to submit supplemental briefs on that question. Both parties submitted additional briefing, and we have reviewed and taken into account those authorities and arguments.

¶ 6 This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(a) (2008), which grants the supreme court appellate jurisdiction over a decision of the court of appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 7 On a writ of certiorari, this court reviews the decision of the court of appeals, not that of the district court. John Holmes Constr., Inc. v. R.A. McKell Excavating, Inc., 2005 UT 83, ¶ 6, 131 P.3d 199. The application of a statute of limitations is a question of law. In re Hoopiiaina Trust, 2006 UT 53, ¶ 19, 144 P.3d 1129. Statutory interpretation is also a question of law. Sill v. Hart, 2007 UT 45, ¶ 5, 162 P.3d 1099. We review conclusions of law for correctness, granting the court of appeals' decision no deference. State v. Casey, 2003 UT 55, ¶ 10, 82 P.3d 1106.

ANALYSIS

¶ 8 Our analysis requires consideration of both the tolling statute in Utah Code section 78-12-35, and the provisions of the Malpractice Act, particularly the statute of limitations in section 78-14-4. We begin with the tolling statute, because if it does not apply to the limitation in the Malpractice Act, the district court, and subsequently the court of appeals, was incorrect in its consideration of tolling, notwithstanding that the result it reached may have been correct. If it does not apply, we would not be required to reach the terms of the statute of limitations itself, since no tolling would intervene to extend the limitation period. The remaining question of whether or not the filing by the Arnolds was otherwise beyond the limitation period and therefore barred is not now before us.

¶ 9 If, on the other hand, the tolling statute does apply to the Malpractice Act statute of limitations, the language of the malpractice limitation itself becomes critical and the result may be dictated by the legislature's apparent effort to specifically remove the Malpractice Act from the broad sweep of the tolling statute.7 Consequently, we begin with the applicability of the tolling statute to the health care Malpractice Act statute of limitations.

¶ 10 Initially, we note that the tolling statute appears as part of Title 78, Chapter 12 of the Utah Code. The general provisions relating to statutes of limitations for various categories of actions also appear as part of the same title and chapter. The language of the tolling statute makes specific reference to the chapter within which it is placed, and reads:

Where a cause of action accrues against a person when he is out of the state, the action may be commenced within the term as limited by this chapter after his return to the state. If after a cause of action accrues he departs from the state, the time of his absence is not part of the time limited for the commencement of the action.

Utah Code Ann. § 78-12-35 (2002) (emphasis added).

¶ 11 In this case, Dr. Grigsby was absent from the state of Utah for a period of time sufficient to allow the Arnolds' filing to be timely if the Malpractice Act statute of limitations was tolled during his absence. The district court concluded that the cause of action against Dr. Grigsby accrued prior to his departure from the state. The Arnolds challenge that conclusion on appeal, but the issue was not reached by the court of appeals because it reversed the district court on other grounds. The question may still need to be reviewed, and addressed, based upon our reversal of the court of appeals on the applicability of the statute of limitations.

¶ 12 If we accept the language of section 78-12-35's first sentence at face value, it certainly appears that the tolling provisions apply only to limitation periods set forth in chapter 12. The phrase "as limited by this chapter" appears to limit the application of the tolling provision to limitations contained in chapter 12 of title 78, so long as the cause of action arose after the defendant left the state. If this analysis is applied, the statute of limitations contained in the Malpractice Act, wholly contained in chapter 14 of title 78, falls outside of the identified field of application for tolling. No tolling would apply if the cause of action arises after the defendant leaves the state.

¶ 13 However, the second sentence of the statute, which sets forth tolling for a cause of action that arises prior to the defendant's departure from the state, makes no mention of any confinement to chapter 12. If the cause of action in this case arose, as a matter of law, prior to Dr. Grigsby's departure from Utah, does the absence of the "as limited by this chapter" phrase in the second sentence of section 78-12-35 mean it is not confined to chapter 12 statutes of limitations, or merely that in calculating a limitation imposed by chapter 12 the tolling simply stops the clock from running during the absence?

¶ 14 A more expansive application of the tolling statute if the cause arises after the defendant departs the state, as contrasted with a cause that arises before departure, requires justification that is not advanced by the parties or the language of the statute. No reasonable difference exists between a cause of action that arises the day before and one that arises the day after, — a potential defendant departs the state. To specifically allow extended tolling of the statute of limitations for one, and not the other, defies any reasonable explanation. As such, the suggestion that only the first sentence of section 78-12-35 was intended by the legislature to be confined to terms of limitation set forth in chapter 12, and not the second, is not reasonable.

¶ 15 A stopped(-)clock analysis, on the other hand, provides a simple, reasonable, and non-contradictory explanation for the language employed by the legislature in the second sentence. Under the stopped(-)clock approach, only the unexpired term of the statute of limitations remains within which to file the claim after the return of the defendant to the state. That portion of the total term of the limitation that passed prior to the defendant's departure from Utah is not allowed to pass a second time in the overall calculation of the limitation term. The second sentence of section 78-12-35 serves only to make plain that the calculation of any remaining term of limitation is somewhat different for claims arising before the interposition of the toll, and those arising after. This interpretation is consistent with the plain language and the overall...

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8 cases
  • State v. Johnson
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • October 3, 2017
    ...after oral argument on whether to overrule precedent relied on by the parties), interpreting the law that the parties rely on, Arnold v. Grigsby, 2009 UT 88, ¶¶ 5, 22-23, 225 P.3d 192 (ordering supplemental briefing onthe "purely legal" interpretation and application of two statutes), deter......
  • State v. Johnson
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    • Utah Supreme Court
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    ...after oral argument on whether to overrule precedent relied on by the parties), interpreting the law that the parties rely on, Arnold v. Grigsby , 2009 UT 88, ¶¶ 5, 22–23, 225 P.3d 192 (ordering supplemental briefing on the "purely legal" interpretation and application of two statutes), det......
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    ...1226.4 There were also a number of defects in the articles of incorporation that could potentially render the articles invalid.5 Arnold v. Grigsby , 2009 UT 88, ¶ 7, 225 P.3d 192.6 St. Benedict’s Dev. Co. v. St. Benedict’s Hosp. , 811 P.2d 194, 196 (Utah 1991).7 Oakwood Vill. LLC v. Alberts......
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    ...changes to that determination. 5.State v. Harker, 2010 UT 56, ¶ 8, 240 P.3d 780 (internal quotation marks omitted). 6.SeeUtah Code § 78B–2–311. 7.Arnold v. Grigsby, 2009 UT 88, ¶ 7, 225 P.3d 192. 8.Nolan v. Hoopiiaina (In re Hoopiiaina Trust), 2006 UT 53, ¶ 19, 144 P.3d 1129 (internal quota......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Utah Standards of Appellate Review - Third Edition
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 23-5, October 2010
    • Invalid date
    ...City, 2005 UT App 202, ¶ 5, 113 P.3d 1024. (26) The application of a statute of limitations is a question of law. See Arnold v. Grigsby, 2009 UT 88, ¶ 7, 225 P.3d 192; Call v. Keiter, 2010 UT App 55, ¶¶ 14-15, 230 P.3d 128. (27) Whether the trial court's refusal to give a jury instruction i......
  • Utah Standards of Appellate Review - Third Edition
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 24-1, February 2011
    • Invalid date
    ...correctness, and its conclusions of law are afforded no deference. See State v. Harker, 2010 UT 56, ¶ 8, 240 P.3d 780; Arnold v. Grigsby, 2009 UT 88, ¶ 7, 225 P.3d 192; State v. Casey, 2003 UT 55, ¶ 10, 82 P.3d 1106. When a question has been certified to the supreme court by the federal dis......

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