Park v. Spayd, Supreme Court No. S-17743

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
Writing for the CourtBORGHESAN, Justice.
Citation509 P.3d 1014
Parties Janice L. PARK, Appellant, v. Jessica J. SPAYD, Appellee.
Docket NumberSupreme Court No. S-17743
Decision Date20 May 2022

509 P.3d 1014

Janice L. PARK, Appellant,
v.
Jessica J. SPAYD, Appellee.

Supreme Court No. S-17743

Supreme Court of Alaska.

May 20, 2022


Janice L. Park, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.

Steven M. Wells, Steven M. Wells, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before: Winfree, Chief Justice, Maassen, Carney, Borghesan, and Henderson, Justices.

OPINION

BORGHESAN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

In 2019 a woman sued her former husband's medical provider, alleging that from 2003 to 2010 the provider negligently prescribed the man opioid medications, leading to his addiction, damage to the couple's business and marital estate, the couple's divorce in 2011, and ultimately the man's death in 2017. The superior court ruled the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and rejected the woman's argument that the provider should be estopped from relying on a limitations defense. Because the undisputed evidence shows that by 2010 the woman had knowledge of her alleged injuries, the provider's alleged role in causing those injuries, and the provider's alleged negligence, we conclude that the claims accrued at that time and were no longer timely when filed in 2019. And because the record does not show that the woman's failure to timely file her claims stemmed from reasonable reliance on fraudulent conduct by the provider, we conclude that equitable estoppel does not apply. We therefore affirm summary judgment in the provider's favor.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Janice Park was married to Jalal Keith Husseini.1 The couple initiated a divorce in 2007, which was finalized in 2011 (after an appeal to this court2 ), with Husseini owing Park a substantial sum. Husseini died of a drug overdose in 2017, apparently without paying this debt to Park.

In October 2019 Park, representing herself, sued Jessica Spayd in superior court. According to the complaint Spayd, a registered nurse, had recently been arrested by federal authorities for unlawfully distributing opioid medications. Park alleged that Husseini had been a patient of Spayd's and that beginning in 2003 Spayd had overprescribed opioid medications to Husseini, who became dependent on them. Park alleged that by 2005 she was "distraught" over Husseini's dependence on opioids and that in 2007 she reported Spayd's prescription practices to authorities at the Alaska Department of Commerce's Board of Nursing. Park alleged that "[a]s a direct and proximate result of the emotional and physical addiction from which Husseini suffered, he and Park fought over his addiction, ultimately ending the marriage"; further, the "value of the marital estate diminished as the direct and proximate result of Husseini's drug dependence and reliance upon Spayd for his supply." The complaint alleged that Spayd was liable under theories of negligence and professional malpractice for damages including medical expenses; "[l]ost business and marital property"; "[l]oss of consortium[,] anxiety, fear, and other emotional distress;" and "[l]oss of [Park's] court[-]ordered marital settlement."

509 P.3d 1017

Spayd filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the limitations period for Park's claims had expired and that the case should be dismissed. Spayd argued that Park's claims were untimely under either the two-year limitations period applicable to tort claims3 or the six-year period applicable to certain professional malpractice claims.4 Spayd invoked the "discovery rule," under which "the cause of action accrues when the plaintiff has information sufficient to alert a reasonable person to the fact that he has a potential cause of action."5 Spayd maintained that Park herself had alleged that by 2005 she was aware she was being harmed by Husseini's addiction and that by 2007 she had become suspicious enough of Spayd's prescribing practices to alert licensing authorities. Accordingly, Spayd argued, Park was on inquiry notice of her potential cause of action by 2007, and the limitations period for her claims expired by 2013 at the latest — well before the complaint was filed in 2019.

Park moved for a continuance under Alaska Civil Rule 56(f) to obtain additional discovery — specifically to obtain affidavits of expert witnesses.6 In support of this motion Park submitted an affidavit describing certain details about the timeline of events. She stated that when she complained to the Board of Nursing in 2007, the Board took no action on her complaint. Park did "not pursue the matter further" and at that time "did not know the full extent of [Spayd's] malpractice." But she said that after a 2010 court order in connection with Park's divorce gave Park access to records of the business she had shared with Husseini, Park found Husseini's "extensive drug receipts ... and realized the full measure of [Spayd's] gross negligence." The superior court granted "a single extension of time" for Park to conduct discovery and file an opposition by January 3, 2020, but indicated that it did not see how the discovery Park sought would be relevant to the limitations issue.

Park then opposed summary judgment. She submitted an affidavit setting forth additional facts relevant to when the limitations period began to run. Park stated that she did not know she had a cause of action against Spayd until Spayd was arrested in October 2019. In regard to Park's complaint about Spayd to the Board of Nursing, Park stated that the Board "told [Park] there was no basis for the complaint" and that she "believed that ended the matter." She further explained that she "did not consider filing a civil case until Spayd was arrested [in] 2019 for the same conduct of which [Park] had complained" and that she now believed the Board of Nursing's decision "was wrong."

At a subsequent hearing, Park told the superior court that she had requested discovery from Spayd but had not received it; she asked the court to compel Spayd's response before ruling on summary judgment. The superior court declined, stating that Park had not explained how discovery would be relevant to the limitations issue.

On the day of oral argument Park filed another memorandum with the superior court. Park raised the possibility that Spayd had provided false or misleading information to the Board of Nursing during its investigation undertaken in response to Park's complaint. If so, Park argued, then the limitations period should be tolled or Spayd should be estopped from asserting a limitations defense. Park maintained that she was entitled to discovery of Spayd's correspondence with the Board to explore these issues.

509 P.3d 1018

At oral argument, Park again argued that the limitations period should be tolled until Spayd's arrest in October 2019. She also reiterated that discovery of Spayd's communications with the Board was needed to address the limitations defense. The superior court stated on the record that it did not view Spayd's communications with the Board as relevant to the limitations issue.

The superior court ruled that Park's claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The court first determined that Park's negligence claim was subject to a two-year limitations period and that her malpractice claim was subject to a three-year period. The court accepted for purposes of summary judgment the truth of the allegations in Park's complaint and affidavits. Nevertheless it agreed with Spayd's argument that, in light of Park's report to the Board of Nursing in 2007, Park's claims accrued at that time because Park was aware then of all the elements of her malpractice and negligence claims. It therefore ruled that the limitations period expired in 2010.

The court then rejected Park's argument that Spayd should be estopped from relying on the statute of limitations. The court acknowledged Park's assertion that the Board's inaction on Park's complaint against Spayd must have been the result of Spayd providing misleading information to the Board. But the court concluded that "despite receiving an extension of time to obtain discovery," Park had not presented any evidence indicating fraudulent conduct that she had relied on in declining to file suit earlier.7

Finally, the court rejected Park's equitable tolling argument. Observing that the limitations period may be tolled while a party pursues a separate legal remedy, the court reasoned that Park's complaint to the Board of Nursing did not toll the limitations period because the Board did not have authority to give Park any relief for her injuries.

Park moved for reconsideration. She argued that the court's rejection of her equitable estoppel argument for lack of evidence overlooked that the court had allowed Park only a brief extension to obtain discovery and that Spayd had not responded to Park's discovery requests. Park also argued that evidence of Spayd's dishonesty was described in an FBI agent's affidavit submitted in connection with Spayd's 2019 arrest, thus creating a dispute of material fact on the estoppel issue.

The superior court denied reconsideration. Regarding the discovery issue, the court ruled that Park had failed to show that she "exercised due diligence in attempting to uncover the concealed facts" or that further discovery would have yielded material evidence. As to the FBI affidavit, the court observed that...

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