Jewson v. Mayo Clinic

Decision Date22 October 1982
Docket NumberNo. 81-2011,81-2011
Citation691 F.2d 405
PartiesWilliam R. JEWSON, Appellant, v. MAYO CLINIC, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

S. E. Schonberg, Albuquerque, N. M., V. Michael Heinz, Minneapolis, Minn., for appellant.

Dorsey & Whitney, James H. O'Hagan, Paul B. Klaas, Minneapolis, Minn., for appellee.

Before McMILLIAN and ARNOLD, Circuit Judges, and VAN SICKLE, * District Judge.

McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.

William R. Jewson appeals from a summary judgment entered in the District Court 1 for the District of Minnesota pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, dismissing his medical malpractice complaint against the Mayo Clinic as being barred by Minnesota's two-year medical malpractice statute of limitations, Minn.Stat.Ann. § 541.07(1) (West Supp. 1982). For reversal Jewson argues that the district court erred in granting summary judgment because there were disputed issues of material fact as to the running of the statute of limitations. Alternatively, Jewson argues that the statute of limitations, as applied, is unconstitutional. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the district court.

The underlying facts are not in dispute. On September 24, 1942, doctors 2 at the Mayo Clinic, located in Rochester, Minnesota, diagnosed Jewson as suffering from lymphosarcoma. 3 Jewson underwent radiation therapy 4 from October 1942 to 1950 at Mayo Clinic. From 1950 through May 1961 Jewson continued as a patient at Mayo Clinic and received numerous check-ups to determine whether further radiation was necessary, as well as being treated for ailments unrelated to the lymphosarcoma. The check-ups indicated that Jewson was asymptomatic of lymphosarcoma and in 1961 the examinations for reoccurrence ended. From 1961 through 1969 Jewson was not seen or treated by any Mayo Clinic physician. During this period of time he was treated by doctors at the Olmstead Medical & Surgical Group for various ailments unrelated to lymphosarcoma.

In May 1969, Jewson again became a patient at Mayo Clinic and over the next several years was diagnosed and treated for a series of maladies including thyroid cancer, bowel obstructions, skin cancer, kidney cancer, and depression. He was last treated at the Mayo Clinic in July 1976. In July 1969, a Mayo Clinic pathologist amended Jewson's 1942 diagnosis of lymphosarcoma to follicular and reticular hyperplasia. 5 Jewson was not informed of the amendment by any Mayo Clinic physician but discovered it from an independent source in 1977. 6

On April 19, 1978, Jewson initiated the present medical malpractice action against Mayo Clinic alleging numerous theories including: (1) his condition had been negligently misdiagnosed in 1942; (2) due to the misdiagnosis he had been subjected to inappropriate radiation therapy which resulted in later ailments including cancer of the thyroid, skin and kidney; (3) the Mayo Clinic had failed to obtain his informed consent for the radiation therapy; and (4) the Mayo Clinic physicians had fraudulently concealed the 1942 misdiagnosis by not informing him of the 1969 amendment. 7 The Mayo Clinic moved for a summary judgment arguing that Jewson's action was barred by Minnesota's two-year medical malpractice statute of limitations, Minn.Stat.Ann. § 541.07(1). Section 541.07(1) provides that "all actions against physicians, surgeons, dentists, hospitals, sanitoriums, for malpractice, error, mistake or failure to cure, whether based on contract or tort" must be commenced within two years.

The district court granted the motion on the basis that under Minnesota law the statute of limitations in medical malpractice actions begins to run when treatment for a particular malady ceases, citing Johnson v. Winthrop Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug, Inc., 291 Minn. 145, 190 N.W.2d 77 (1971). The district court reasoned that the Mayo Clinic's treatment of Jewson for lymphosarcoma had ceased in 1961, the date of his last check-up for reoccurrence, and, therefore, the 1961 through 1969 time span during which Jewson sought no treatment from and maintained no relationship with Mayo Clinic physicians barred all claims arising out of the alleged 1942 misdiagnosis. Jewson v. Mayo Clinic, No. 1-78-164 (D.Minn. Aug. 19, 1981). The district court further found that even if Jewson had established fraud and concealment regarding the 1969 amended diagnosis, such fraud could not resurrect a malpractice claim which had expired in 1963. Id. at 4.

When reviewing the district court's entry of summary judgment, this court applies the same standard the district court used in granting the motion for summary judgment. 10 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2716 (1973). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), the motion for summary judgment should be sustained "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

This Circuit has repeatedly emphasized the drastic nature of the summary judgment remedy. It should not be granted unless the moving party has established the right to a judgment with such clarity as to leave no room for controversy. See Snell v. United States, 680 F.2d 545, 547 (8th Cir. 1982); Jackson v. Star Sprinkler Corp., 575 F.2d 1223, 1226 (8th Cir. 1978); New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Null, 554 F.2d 896, 901 (8th Cir. 1977). This imposes a heavy burden on the moving party because the evidence will be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. The court also must give the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the facts. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608-09, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). "However, this Circuit recognizes the remedy's salutary purpose of avoiding useless and time consuming trials." Butler v. MFA Life Insurance Co., 591 F.2d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 1979), citing Percival v. General Motors Corp., 539 F.2d 1126, 1129 (8th Cir. 1976); Lyons v. Board of Education, 523 F.2d 340, 347 (8th Cir. 1975).

In the present case the district court properly applied the Minnesota case law interpreting Minn.Stat.Ann. § 541.07. Moreover, the principles relied on by the district court were recently reaffirmed by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Grondahl v. Bulluck, Minn., 318 N.W.2d 240 (1982). In Grondahl, the court stated:

An action for medical malpractice is barred if not commenced within 2 years of the date on which the cause of action accrued. Minn.Stat. §§ 541.07, 541.07(1) (1980). The cause of action accrues when the physician's treatment for the particular condition ceases. Johnson v. Winthrop Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug, Inc., 291 Minn. 145, 190 N.W.2d 77 (1971); Schmit v. Esser, 183 Minn. 354, 236 N.W. 622 (1931). Where there are disputed questions of material fact as to whether a plaintiff is barred by the statute of limitations, these questions are to be decided by a jury. Schmit v. Esser, 183 Minn. at 357, 236 N.W. at 624; see Sheets v. Burman, 322 F.2d 277, 278 (5th Cir. 1963).

....

... Schmit articulates three factors to be considered in determining when treatment ceases: (1) whether there is a relationship between physician and patient with regard to the illness; (2) whether the physician is attending and examining the patient; and (3) whether there is something more to be done. 183 Minn. at 358-59, 236 N.W. at 625.

318 N.W.2d at 242-43.

On appeal Jewson first argues that there were disputed material issues of fact as to when the Mayo Clinic's treatment of him for lymphosarcoma ceased. Jewson asserts that lymphosarcoma is an incurable disease, and that the treatment of it therefore continues for life. Therefore, the Mayo Clinic's treatment did not cease until 1976, the date Jewson was last examined by a Mayo Clinic physician for medical problems allegedly resulting from the 1942 misdiagnosis. Jewson further asserts that his treatment at the Olmstead Medical Group for ailments unrelated to lymphosarcoma did not constitute a termination of his relationship with the Mayo Clinic because he always intended to return to the Mayo Clinic for treatment of his lymphosarcoma. This argument is without merit.

Initially we note that the plaintiff in Grondahl based her medical malpractice claim on an alleged misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The fact that multiple sclerosis was an incurable disease did not alter the Minnesota Supreme Court's analysis in determining when the defendant physician's treatment of Grondahl's multiple sclerosis ceased. The reasoning of Grondahl is consistent with the reasoning of the Minnesota Supreme Court in Schmit v. Esser, 183 Minn. 354, 236 N.W. 622, 625 (1931).

When does the treatment cease? So long as the relation of physician and patient continues as to the particular injury or malady which he is employed to cure, and the physician continues to attend and examine the patient in relation thereto, and there is something more to be done by the physician in order to effect a cure, it cannot be said that the treatment has ceased. That does not mean that there must be a formal discharge of the physician or any formal termination of his employment. If there is nothing more to be done by the physician as to the particular injury or malady which he was employed to treat, or if he ceases to attend the patient therefor, the treatment ordinarily ceases without any formality.

Id. 183 Minn. 354, 236 N.W. at 625, citing Schmit v. Esser, 178 Minn. 82, 226 N.W. 196, 197 (1929). 8

In the present case the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Jewson as suffering from lymphosarcoma in 1942 and treated him with radiation therapy from 1942 through 1950. After the radiation treatment ceased, Jewson continued to receive examinations to check for a reoccurrence of lymphosarcoma and the need for additional radiation therapy. In 19...

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