Bedford Health Prop. v. Estate of Williams, 2005-IA-01274-SCT.

Decision Date02 November 2006
Docket NumberNo. 2005-IA-01274-SCT.,2005-IA-01274-SCT.
Citation946 So.2d 335
PartiesBEDFORD HEALTH PROPERTIES, LLC, Hattiesburg Medical Park, Inc., Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation, Michael E. McElroy, Sr., M.E. McElroy, Jr., M.E. McElroy, Inc., Bedford Care Center-Monroe Hall, LLC, Bedford Care Center-Warren Hall, LLC, Robert Perry and Gina Simonetti v. The ESTATE OF Clifton WILLIAMS by and through Grace HAWTHORNE, Administratrix of the Estate of Clifton Williams, for the use and benefit of the Estate of Clifton Williams, and for the use and benefit of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Clifton Williams.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Benjamin Connell Heinz, William R. Lancaster, Andrew Christopher Clausen, attorneys for appellants.

Douglas Bryant Chaffin, Hattiesburg, Anthony Lance Reins, Kenneth Luke Connor, Susan Nichols Estes, attorneys for appellee.

EN BANC.

EASLEY, Justice, for the Court.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 1. Grace Hawthorne (Hawthorne), the administratrix of the Estate of Clifton Williams (the Estate), filed suit against numerous defendants on December 13, 2002, in the Circuit Court of Forrest County, Mississippi. The complaint alleged various claims: negligence; medical malpractice; malice and/or gross negligence; fraud; breach of fiduciary duty; statutory survival claim; and statutory wrongful death. The named defendants in the original complaint were Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg, L.L.C.; Bedford Health Properties, L.L.C.; Hattiesburg Medical Park, Inc.; Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation; Nicole M. Bevon; Michael E. McElroy, Sr.; Frances Griffin; Brenda J. Leone; Mike Hatten; John Does 1 through 10; and Unidentified Entities 1 through 10 (as to Conva-Rest of Hattiesburg), (collectively "Original Defendants").

¶ 2. Clifton Williams (Williams) had resided in a nursing home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from 1993 until December 16, 2001. In their answers to the complaint, the Original Defendants claimed that Williams had not resided at Conva-Rest of Hattiesburg, but instead he had resided at Conva-Rest of Northgate located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.1 All Original Defendants filed their answers by February 14, 2003.

¶ 3. On July 16, 2003, the Estate filed a motion to substitute parties and leave to amend the complaint. The motion also dismissed the incorrect Original Defendants. On August 4, 2003, the trial court dismissed without prejudice Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg, L.L.C.; Nicole M. Bevon; Frances Griffin; Brenda J. Leone; and Mike Hatten, as defendants. On May 26, 2004, and July 27, 2004, the court docket indicated that a notice of hearing was scheduled for July 30, 2004. On August 10, 2004, more than a year after the motion was filed, the trial court granted the Estate leave to file an amended complaint to substitute defendants.

¶ 4. The Estate filed the amended complaint on August 26, 2004. The named defendants in the amended complaint were as follows: Bedford Health Properties, L.L.C.; Hattiesburg Medical Park, Inc.; Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation; Michael E. McElroy, Sr.; M.E. McElroy, Jr.; M.E. McElroy, Inc.; HMP Management; Bedford Care Center-Monroe Hall, L.L.C.; Bedford Care Center-Warren Hall, L.L.C.; Robert Perry; Gina Simonetti; John Does 3 through 10; and Unidentified Entities 5 through 10 (as to Conva-Rest of Northgate, n/k/a Bedford Care Center-Monroe Hall and Bedford Care Center-Warren Hall)(collectively "Amended Defendants"). Only four Original Defendants were named in both the complaint and the amended complaint, those being, Bedford Health Properties, L.L.C.; Hattiesburg Medical Park, Inc.; Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation; and Michael E. McElroy, Sr. The amended complaint asserted the same eight causes of action as those in the original complaint.

¶ 5. Thereafter, the Amended Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that the amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint pursuant to M.R.C.P. 15(c). Following a hearing, on June 9, 2005, the Circuit Court of Forrest County denied the Amended Defendants' motion for summary judgment and granted certification for interlocutory appeal to this Court. This Court granted the Amended Defendants' petition to bring this interlocutory appeal. See M.R.A.P. 5.

FACTS

¶ 6. Williams resided at Conva-Rest of Northgate, n/k/a Bedford Care Center-Monroe Hall and Bedford Care Center-Warren Hall. He lived there from October 22, 1992 until December 16, 2001. Williams died on December 28, 2001. Conva-Rest of Northgate and Conva-Rest of Hattiesburg, n/k/a Bedford Care Center of Hattiesburg, L.L.C., are owned by Bedford Health Properties, L.L.C., and managed by Hattiesburg Medical Park Management Corporation. Michael E. McElroy, Sr., and his son, Michael E. McElroy, Jr., own a large portion of these companies and are involved in a variety of capacities in other companies that own and operate the nursing facilities.

¶ 7. In her deposition testimony, Hawthorne stated that she was the step-granddaughter of Williams. During the first five years of Williams' residency, Hawthorne visited him approximately four to six times a month. After Hawthorne's grandmother died in 1995, Hawthorne visited Williams approximately four times a month at the nursing home. She also saw Williams at church each week. Hawthorne stated that the name of Williams' wing was Northgate or Warren Hall.

¶ 8. Hawthorne, as administratrix of the Estate, filed her complaint on December 13, 2002. Later, Hawthorne determined that the incorrect facility and some personnel had been named in the original complaint. The complaint mistakenly named Conva-Rest of Hattiesburg instead of Conva-Rest of Northgate. Both of these facilities are located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Estate filed a motion to dismiss the incorrect original defendants which was granted by the trial court. The Estate petitioned the trial court to amend the complaint and substitute the correct parties pursuant to M.R.C.P. 15. The trial court granted the motion and allowed the Estate thirty days to file the amended complaint. On August 26, 2004, the Estate filed the amended complaint which named the correct nursing facility, owners, managers, and operators. The trial court denied the Amended Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Thereafter, this Court granted the Amended Defendants' petition for interlocutory appeal. On appeal, the Amended Defendants raise the following issues:

I. Whether the Estate properly substituted a defendant for a fictitious party.

II. Whether the Estate's amended complaint relates back to the date the original complaint was filed pursuant to M.R.C.P. 15.

III. Whether the Estate's claims are time barred by Miss.Code Ann. § 15-1-36.

DISCUSSION

¶ 9. This Court applies a de novo standard of review on appeal from a grant of summary judgment by the trial court. Russell v. Orr, 700 So.2d 619, 622 (Miss. 1997); Richmond v. Benchmark Constr. Corp., 692 So.2d 60, 61 (Miss.1997); Merrimack Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. McDill, 674 So.2d 4, 7 (Miss.1996); Northern Elec. Co. v. Phillips, 660 So.2d 1278, 1281 (Miss. 1995). Rule 56(c) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be granted by a court if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." M.R.C.P. 56(c) (emphasis added). The moving party has the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact in existence, while the non-moving party should be given the benefit of every reasonable doubt. Tucker v. Hinds County, 558 So.2d 869, 872 (Miss. 1990). "Issues of fact sufficient to require denial of a motion for summary judgment obviously are present where one party swears to one version of the matter in issue and another says the opposite." Id.

¶ 10. Of importance here is the language of the rule authorizing summary judgment "where there is no genuine issue of material fact." Simmons v. Thompson Mach. of Miss., Inc., 631 So.2d 798, 801 (Miss.1994). This Court has stated:

The presence of fact issues in the record does not per se entitle a party to avoid summary judgment. The court must be convinced that the factual issue is a material one, one that matters in an outcome determinative sense ... the existence of a hundred contested issues of fact will not thwart summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute regarding the material issues of fact.

Simmons, 631 So.2d at 801 (citing Shaw v. Burchfield, 481 So.2d 247, 252 (Miss. 1985)). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Russell, 700 So.2d at 622; Richmond, 692 So.2d at 61; Merrimack Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 674 So.2d at 7; Northern Electric Co., 660 So.2d at 1281; Simmons, 631 So.2d at 802; Tucker, 558 So.2d at 872.

¶ 11. To avoid summary judgment, the non-moving party must establish a genuine issue of material fact within the means allowable under the Rule. Richmond, 692 So.2d at 61 (citing Lyle v. Mladinich, 584 So.2d 397, 398 (Miss.1991)). "If any triable issues of fact exist, the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment will be reversed. Otherwise the decision is affirmed." Richmond, 692 So.2d at 61.

I. Whether the Estate properly substituted a defendant for a fictitious party.

¶ 12. The Amended Defendants argue that the Estate failed to properly substitute the seven new defendants named in the amended complaint for a fictitious party pursuant to M.R.C.P. 9(h). The Estate argues that the new defendants were not substituted pursuant to M.R.C.P. 9(h) because it met the requirements of M.R.C.P. 15(c).

¶ 13. Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h) provides:

(h) Fictitious Parties. When a party is ignorant of...

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