Diversicare General Partner, Inc. v. Rubio

Decision Date14 October 2005
Docket NumberNo. 02-0849.,02-0849.
Citation185 S.W.3d 842
PartiesDIVERSICARE GENERAL PARTNER, INC., Diversicare Leasing Corporation, Advocat, Inc., and Texas Diversicare Limited Partnership d/b/a Goliad Manor, Petitioners, v. Maria G. RUBIO and Mary Holcomb as Next Friend of Maria G. Rubio, Respondents.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

Dorothy Siemon, for Amicus Curiae AARP and The National Citizens.

Robert A. Shults, for Amicus Curiae Living Centers of Texas, Inc.

Stephen R. Darling, Gonzales Hoblit Ferguson LLP, San Antonio, Audrey Mullert Vicknair, Law Office of Audrey Mullert Vicknair, Joel Cruz Resendez, Chaves Resendez & Rivero, Corpus Christi, for Petitioners.

Henry P. Giessel, David T. Marks, The Marks Firm, and T. Gerald Treece, Houston, for Respondents.

Justice WAINWRIGHT delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice HECHT, Justice MEDINA, Justice JOHNSON, and Justice WILLETT joined, and in which Chief Justice JEFFERSON joined as to Part III(B)(3).

We address for the first time whether the Medical Liability Insurance Improvement Act (MLIIA or the Act) governs a patient's claims that a nursing home's negligence in failing to provide adequate supervision and nursing services proximately caused her injuries from a sexual assault by another patient. We conclude that the nursing home resident's claims in this case are causes of action for departures from accepted standards of professional health care and safety. Therefore, the causes of action constitute health care liability claims under the MLIIA and are governed by the two-year statute of limitations prescribed by the statute.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

From August 1, 1994 to January 17, 1999, Maria Rubio was a resident of Goliad Manor nursing home. She suffered from Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer's Type, rendering her mentally incapacitated for the duration of her stay at Goliad.

On July 14, 1999, Rubio's daughter, Mary Holcomb, as next friend, brought suit on Rubio's behalf against Diversicare General Partner, Inc., Diversicare Leasing Corporation, Advocat, Inc., and Texas Diversicare Limited Partnership doing business as Goliad Manor (collectively Diversicare) for injuries Rubio sustained in two separate falls while a resident at the facility. She alleged that Diversicare and its staff were negligent in failing to provide adequate supervision and nursing services to meet her fundamental needs; failing to budget for, hire, and train a sufficient number of qualified direct health care staff; failing to develop and implement adequate policies and procedures for safety, training, and staffing at its nursing homes; and for violations of section 22.04 of the Texas Penal Code entitled "Injury to Child, Elderly, or Disabled Individual." Rubio also brought a claim for breach of contract asserting that, as a Medicaid recipient, she was a third-party beneficiary to a contract between Diversicare and the Texas Department of Human Services under the Texas Medical Assistance Program.

On September 26, 2000, Rubio amended her petition to include damages arising from the alleged failure of Diversicare and its staff to adequately supervise and monitor Rubio to protect her from sexual abuse and assault by another resident in violation of sections 22.011 and 22.021 of the Texas Penal Code. She alleges multiple incidents of sexual assault occurring between October 1994 and April 1995. The summary judgment evidence identifies one incident that took place on April 25, 1995. A nurse entered Rubio's room and discovered a male resident straddling Rubio on the bed. Both Rubio's daughter and her physician were informed of the incident shortly after it occurred. Rubio remained a resident at Goliad Manor for another three and one-half years.

Rubio also added in her amended petition a claim for breach of an implied covenant to provide reasonably safe premises in which Rubio was a third-party beneficiary of the contract between Diversicare and the Texas Department of Human Services. Rubio further claimed fraudulent inducement, alleging that the facility represented that it would provide for her safety.

Diversicare moved for summary judgment on all of Rubio's claims arising from the alleged sexual assaults, arguing that the MLIIA's two-year statute of limitations barred recovery on the claims. The district court severed all the claims arising from the assaults and granted Diversicare's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Rubio's claims arising from the alleged assaults are claims for common law negligence and are not covered by the MLIIA. 82 S.W.3d 778, 783-84. The court concluded that Rubio's mental incapacity tolled the statute of limitations for personal injury claims, as provided by section 16.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Id. at 781-82. Diversicare petitioned this Court for review.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and judgment should be granted in favor of the movant as a matter of law. KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison County Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex.1999). A defendant moving for summary judgment on the affirmative defense of limitations has the burden to conclusively establish that defense, including the accrual date of the cause of action. Id.; see also Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 220 (Tex.2003). If the movant establishes that the statute of limitations bars the action, the nonmovant must then adduce summary judgment proof raising a fact issue in avoidance of the statute of limitations. KPMG Peat Marwick, 988 S.W.2d at 748. When reviewing a summary judgment, we take as true all competent evidence favorable to the nonmovant, and we indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Southwestern Elec. Power Co. v. Grant, 73 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex.2002) (citing Science Spectrum, Inc. v. Martinez, 941 S.W.2d 910, 911 (Tex.1997)). In reviewing a summary judgment, we consider all grounds presented to the trial court and preserved on appeal in the interest of judicial economy. Knott, 128 S.W.3d at 216; Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Cates, 927 S.W.2d 623, 626 (Tex.1996).

In this case, the commencement date of the limitations period for the claims arising from the alleged sexual assaults depends upon whether the statute of limitations in the MLIIA or the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies. If the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies, the limitations period is tolled, and Rubio's claims are not barred. If the MLIIA supplies the statute of limitations, the limitations period is not tolled and Rubio's claims are barred. We note that for limitations purposes the parties do not dispute that the assaults occurred no later than 1995.

III. Discussion

In the MLIIA, the Legislature modified the liability laws relating to health care claims to address what the Legislature described as a medical "crisis [that] has had a material adverse effect on the delivery of medical and health care in Texas." Act of May 30, 1977, 65th Leg., R.S., ch. 817, § 1.02(6), 1977 Tex. Gen. Laws 2039, 2040 (former Tex.Rev.Civ. Stat. art. 4590i, § 1.02(6)), repealed by Act of June 2, 2003, 78th Leg., R.S., ch. 204, § 10.09, 2003 Tex. Gen. Laws 847, 884; see also Act of June 2, 2003, 78th Leg., R.S., ch. 204, § 10.11, 2003 Tex. Gen. Laws 847, 884 (reiterating the Legislature's concern about the gravity of an ongoing "medical malpractice insurance crisis" caused in part by an increased number of health care liability claims since 1995).1 The Legislature instituted heightened requirements for filing and maintaining lawsuits that assert professional liability claims against health care providers, shortened the statute of limitations and restricted tolling for such claims, and capped certain types of damages recoverable from these lawsuits. Rubio asserts that her claims are not governed by the MLIIA and, therefore, are not barred by the statute of limitations because her claims are tolled by statutory provisions in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

A. Statute of Limitations for Health Care Liability Claims

Rubio filed suit in July 1999 for injuries from two alleged falls at Goliad Manor. In September 2000, nearly five and one-half years after the alleged assaults took place, she amended her complaint to plead claims for sexual assaults by another nursing home resident during 1995. Rubio argues that because her claims are not health care liability claims under the MLIIA, they are governed by the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims, which tolls the statute of limitations due to mental incapacity. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code §§ 16.001(b), 16.003. Diversicare argues that these claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations under the MLIIA, which does not provide for tolling based on mental incapacity.2 The parties agree that Rubio was mentally incapacitated during her entire stay at Goliad Manor.

Section 10.01 of the MLIIA states:

Notwithstanding any other law, no health care liability claim may be commenced unless the action is filed within two years from the occurrence of the breach or tort or from the date the medical or health care treatment that is the subject of the claim or the hospitalization for which the claim is made is completed.... Except as herein provided, this subchapter applies to all persons regardless of minority or other legal disability.

Former TEX.REV.CIV. STAT. art. 4590i, § 10.01. The MLIIA's two-year statute of limitations applies to health care liability claims as defined by the statute.3

To determine whether a cause of action is a health care liability claim that falls under the rubric of the MLIIA, we examine the underlying nature of the claim and are not bound by the form of the pleading. See Sorokolit v....

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