Howard v. Dooner Laboratories, Inc.

Decision Date08 August 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-396,83-396
PartiesThomas HOWARD as Guardian Ad Litem for Betty K. Howard, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. DOONER LABORATORIES, INC., a Penn. corp., and Maciej Tomaszewski, M.D., Defendants and Appellants.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Anderson, Brown, Gerbase, Cebull & Jones, Richard F. Cebull, Billings, for defendants and appellants.

Torger S. Oaas, Lewistown, for plaintiff and respondent.

SHEA, Justice.

Defendant, Dr. Maciej Tomaszewski, M.D., appeals from an order of the Fergus County District Court denying his motion to change venue from Fergus County to Yellowstone County. Plaintiff, Thomas Howard, as guardian ad litem for Betty K. Howard, is suing the doctor for medical malpractice and co-defendant, Dooner Laboratories, for the alleged defective manufacture of the allergy medication that was prescribed by the doctor for Betty Howard. Dooner Laboratories has not appealed the order keeping venue in Fergus County. We reverse and remand with instructions to order venue changed to Yellowstone County.

The sole issue is whether, in a medical malpractice action, an alleged tort is "committed" for purposes of section 25-2-102, MCA, in the county where the doctor made his examination and diagnosis and prescribed the medication, or in the county where the patient later ingested the medication and allegedly suffered injury.

The facts are simple and uncontested. The patient, Betty Howard, suffers from asthma and other related health problems. On or about October 18, 1978, she traveled from her home in Fergus County to Yellowstone County to see the defendant doctor, a specialist in allergy and immunology practicing in Billings. Doctor Tomaszewski examined her and prescribed a medication called Slo-phyllin Gyrocaps. The medication is manufactured by co-defendant, Dooner Laboratories, a Pennsylvania corporation.

Betty Howard returned to her home in Fergus County and had the prescription filled at a pharmacy in Lewistown. After ingesting some of the Slo-phyllin Gyrocaps, she allegedly suffered seizure attacks and other serious injuries. She sued the doctor and the laboratory in Fergus County. The defendant doctor moved to have the venue changed to Yellowstone County.

The general statutory rule is that a defendant has a right to be sued in the county where he resides (section 25-2-108, MCA), although there are exceptions. One exception is provided in section 25-2-102, MCA, which provides that "actions for torts may be tried in the county where the tort was committed,..." Plaintiff relied on this exception to file the action in Fergus County as opposed to Yellowstone County, where the doctor lives and practices.

The examination, diagnosis, and prescription for the medication took place in Yellowstone County. The defendant doctor argues that if he is guilty of malpractice, the conduct giving rise to that claim all took place in Yellowstone County and therefore that is where plaintiff should have filed the lawsuit. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that the tort was incomplete until she actually sustained injuries, and that those injuries were sustained in Fergus County. Plaintiff also argues, as an alternative argument, that her complaint is sufficient to keep the action in Fergus County because she alleged that the defendant doctor "failed to properly monitor" her use of the medication in Fergus County, and that this allegation is sufficient on its face to keep venue in Fergus County. She bases this argument on the language of her complaint alleging that the defendant doctor "... failed to monitor the use of (the medication) by Betty K. Howard as recommended by the manufacturer." (Emphasis added).

The general rule to determine venue in tort cases is set forth in Whalen v. Snell (Mont.1983), 667 P.2d 436, 40 St.Rep. 1283, where we held that for purposes of venue "a tort is committed where there is a concurrence of breach of obligation and the occasion of damages." The question is not an easy one, however, where a concurrence of breach and damages does not occur in the same county. Such is the situation here. The doctor's activity took place in Yellowstone County, but the alleged injuries later suffered after ingestion of the pills occurred in Fergus County. If the doctor breached his duty to properly examine, diagnose, and prescribe for the plaintiff, that breach took place in Yellowstone County, where this activity took place. However, the alleged injury was incurred in Fergus County after the plaintiff had obtained and ingested the medication from a pharmacy in Fergus County.

Cases cited by the plaintiff to support the trial court's decision to keep venue in Fergus County, are distinguishable. In Hopkins v. Scottie Homes, Inc. (1979), 180 Mont. 498, 591 P.2d 230, plaintiff sustained injuries in Musselshell County when he slipped and fell on the roof of a trailer home he had purchased in Valley County. Plaintiff sued in Musselshell County for personal injuries and for breach of contract. We held that the contract was to be performed in Musselshell County, and that the allegation that the defendant committed a tort in Musselshell County was sufficient to keep venue in Musselshell County rather than returning it to Valley County, the place of the defendant-seller's residence. Here no contract violation is alleged and plaintiff has not alleged tortious conduct of the doctor occurring in Fergus County. The mere allegation that the doctor "failed to monitor" the patient's use of the medication does not on its face allege that a tort was "committed" in Fergus County.

Cases cited by the plaintiff to support the trial court's decision to keep venue in Fergus County, are inapplicable. Hopkins v. Scottie Homes, Inc., supra; Woolcock v. Beartooth Ranch (Mont.1981), 637 P.2d 520, 38 St.Rep. 2130; and Bergin v. Temple (1941) 111 Mont. 539, 111 P.2d 286. We need not discuss the facts and law of these cases because it is sufficient to say that they do not support plaintiff's argument that venue is properly in Fergus County.

Although venue questions between counties and personal jurisdiction questions as between states, and personal jurisdiction questions regarding the federal courts cannot be totally synchronized, the fact remains that the considerations in deciding venue questions and personal jurisdiction questions are basically the same. Underlying the approach to both types of questions is the fundamental requirement of fairness to the defendant.

Federal cases involving decisions on whether a particular federal court should assert personal jurisdiction are more in point to the problem faced here. In Wright v. Yackley (9th Cir.1972), 459 F.2d 287, a doctor who lived in South Dakota, and who prescribed medicine for plaintiff while she lived in South Dakota, was sued by the plaintiff after the plaintiff had moved to Idaho and had taken medicine that had been prescribed by the doctor in South Dakota, but had been refilled in Idaho. Plaintiff sued the doctor in Idaho federal court, alleging she had been injured by the medicine prescribed by the South Dakota doctor. The Idaho Federal District Court dismissed the action for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, stating:

"If appellee was guilty of malpractice, it was through acts of diagnosis and prescription performed in South Dakota. The mailing of the prescription to Idaho did not constitute new prescription. It was not diagnosis and treatment by mail... It did, of course, put the doctor on notice that consequences of his South Dakota services would be felt in Idaho and that it was by his very act of mailing that this would be made possible. In our view however, this does no more than put the doctor in the position of one who, in South Dakota, treats an Idaho resident with knowledge of her imminent return to Idaho and that his treatment thus may cause effects there." (Emphasis added). (459 F.2d at 288).

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9 cases
  • Prince v. Urban
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 30, 1996 subverted by finding jurisdiction on these facts. (Kennedy v. Freeman, supra, 919 F.2d at p. 129; but see Howard v. Dooner Laboratories, Inc. (1984) 211 Mont. 312, 688 P.2d 279.) And it is demeaning to the outstanding specialists, clinics, and hospitals around this country to suggest Cal......
  • Sanders v. Buch
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    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Arkansas
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    ...patient he could return to work) via telephone call subjected him to personal jurisdiction in Montana); Howard v. Dooner Laboratories, Inc., 211 Mont. 312, 688 P.2d 279 (1984) (for venue purposes tort committed in county where doctor made his examination and diagnosis and prescribed medicat......
  • Carter v. Nye, 94-078
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • August 30, 1994
    ...any breach necessarily occurred during the "lawyering process," which took place at his office. Nye cites Howard v. Dooner Laboratories, Inc. (1984), 211 Mont. 312, 688 P.2d 279, and Schutz Foss Architects v. Campbell (1990), 243 Mont. 194, 793 P.2d 821, in support of his position that when......
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    ...of obligation” or “cause of negligence” occurred in Teton County when the two vehicles collided. Morris, Jr. relies on Howard v. Dooner, 211 Mont. 312, 688 P.2d 279 (1984), and Deichl. He maintains that since the tort occurred in Teton County and the defendants resided in Glacier and Teton ......
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