Roberts v. Mecosta County General Hosp.

Decision Date24 April 2002
Docket NumberDocket No. 116563,Docket No. 116573,Docket No. 116570,Docket No. Calendar No. 5.
Citation466 Mich. 57,642 N.W.2d 663
PartiesLisa ROBERTS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MECOSTA COUNTY GENERAL HOSPITAL, Gail A. Desnoyers, M.D., Michael Atkins, M.D., Barb Davis, and Obstetrics and Gynecology of Big Rapids, P.C., formerly known as Gunther, Desnoyers & Mekaru, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Granzotto & Nicita, P.C. by Angela J. Nicita, Allen Park, MI, and Gary E. Levitt, Bloomfield Hills, MI, for the plaintiff-appellee.

Smith, Haughey, Rice & Roegge by Jon D. Vander Ploeg, Grand Rapids, MI, for defendant-appellant Mecosta County General Hospital.

Bensinger, Cotant, Menkes & Aardema, P.C. by Kerr L. Moyer, Grand Rapids, MI, for defendants-appellants DesNoyers, Davis, and Obstetrics & Gynecology of Big Rapids, P.C.

Burnheimer & Company, P.C. by Mark A. Burnheimer, Traverse City, MI, for defendant-appellant Atkins.

Kerr, Russell & Weber, P.L.C. by Richard D. Weber and Joanne Geha Swanson, Detroit, MI, for Michigan State Medical Society, amicus curiae.

Granzotto & Nicita, P.C. by Mark Granzotto, Detroit, MI, and Gleicher & Patek, P.C. by Barbara A. Patek, Detroit, MI, for Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, amicus curiae.


This case again calls into question the authority of courts to create terms and conditions at variance with those unambiguously and mandatorily stated in a statute. We reaffirm that the duty of the courts of this state is to apply the actual terms of an unambiguous statute.

In this medical malpractice case, the Court of Appeals concluded that defendants had waived their ability to object to the sufficiency of the notices of intent by failing to raise their objections before the filing of the complaint. We hold that the statute of limitations cannot be tolled under M.C.L. § 600.5856(d) unless notice is given in compliance with all the provisions of M.C.L. § 600.2912b. We further hold that M.C.L. § 600.2912b places the burden of complying with the notice of intent requirements on the plaintiff and does not implicate a reciprocal duty on the part of the defendant to challenge any deficiencies in the notice before the complaint is filed. In addition, because M.C.L. § 600.5856(d) is a tolling provision and a plaintiff relies on a tolling provision to negate a statute of limitations defense raised by a defendant, a defendant does not need to assert the defense or challenge a plaintiff's compliance with M.C.L. § 600.2912b, as required by M.C.L. § 600.5856(d), until the plaintiff files suit. For these reasons, we reverse the Court of Appeals opinion and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Facts and Proceedings

Plaintiff was pregnant and sought treatment because she was experiencing severe pain in her abdomen. She was diagnosed as having suffered a spontaneous abortion and a D & C was performed. Plaintiff alleges that it was later discovered that she had actually been suffering from an ectopic pregnancy, not a spontaneous abortion, and that her left fallopian tube had burst. Emergency surgery was performed to remove plaintiff's left fallopian tube. Plaintiff claims that as a result of the second operation, she can no longer bear children because her right fallopian tube had previously been removed.

Plaintiff decided to pursue a medical malpractice claim, alleging that defendants misdiagnosed her condition and subsequently performed an unnecessary operation.

Plaintiff served a notice of intent on defendant Mecosta County General Hospital on September 19, 1996, and on the remaining defendants on September 23, 1996. Serving these notices constituted plaintiff's attempt to (1) meet the notice requirements for medical malpractice actions prescribed by M.C.L. § 600.2912b and (2) toll the statute of limitations pursuant to M.C.L. § 600.5856(d).

After the waiting period required under M.C.L. § 600.2912b had passed, plaintiff filed her complaint.1 Thereafter, defendants filed motions for summary disposition. Defendants argued, inter alia, that plaintiff's claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the notices of intent failed to comply with the requirements outlined in M.C.L. § 600.2912b(4).2 Specifically, defendants asserted that plaintiff's notices failed to sufficiently state the standard of care, the manner in which the standard was breached, the action the defendants should have taken, and the proximate cause of the injury. Defendants advanced the position that, since the notices were insufficient, the period of limitation was not tolled under M.C.L. § 600.5658(d) and had therefore expired. The trial court granted the motions for summary disposition.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that defendants had waived their ability to challenge plaintiff's failure to comply with the notice requirements because they did not raise their objections before the time the complaint was filed:

In short, defendants sandbagged, harboring the alleged error until plaintiff could no longer correct it and the only available remedy would be dismissal with prejudice. This Court cannot condone such conduct.
... [T]he purpose behind subsection 2912b(1) is to encourage settlement without the need for formal litigation. This purpose cannot be served if defendants are permitted to sit on alleged deficiencies in the notice of intent until after suit has been filed. If the purpose of the notice requirement is to encourage settlement of legitimate claims before litigation is commenced, then any claims of deficiencies in the notice need to be raised before the complaint is filed, not after.

* * *

Accordingly, we hold that any objections to a notice of intent under subsection 2912b(1) must be raised before the filing of the complaint. Summary disposition based on any alleged defect in the notice of intent not raised by the defendant before the filing of the complaint is not appropriate. [240 Mich.App. 175, 184-186, 610 N.W.2d 285 (2000).]

We granted defendants' application for leave to appeal to consider the propriety of the Court of Appeals holding that a plaintiff's noncompliance with the provisions of § 2912b is waived by a defendant if no objection is raised before the filing of the complaint.

II. Standard of Review

Questions of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo by this Court. In re MCI Telecommunications Complaint, 460 Mich. 396, 413, 596 N.W.2d 164 (1999). Similarly, we review de novo decisions on summary disposition motions. Herald Co. v. Bay City, 463 Mich. 111, 117, 614 N.W.2d 873 (2000).

A. The Tolling Statute Mandates Compliance with all of M.C.L. § 600.2912b

The limitation period for medical malpractice actions is two years. MCL § 600.5805(5). This period is tolled under M.C.L. § 600.5856(d)

[i]f, during the applicable notice period under section 2912b, a claim would be barred by the statute of limitations or repose, for not longer than a number of days equal to the number of days in the applicable notice period after the date notice is given in compliance with section 2912b. [Emphasis added.]

Plaintiff argues that the language "is given in compliance with section 2912b" indicates that the Legislature intended only the delivery provisions of § 2912b to be applicable to § 5856(d). In other words, plaintiff's position is that, as long as § 2912b(2)3 is satisfied, the statute of limitations is tolled under § 5856(d), notwithstanding noncompliance with § 2912b(4). On the basis of a plain reading of the statute, we reject this contention.

An anchoring rule of jurisprudence, and the foremost rule of statutory construction, is that courts are to effect the intent of the Legislature. People v. Wager, 460 Mich. 118, 123, n. 7, 594 N.W.2d 487 (1999). To do so, we begin with an examination of the language of the statute. Wickens v. Oakwood Healthcare System, 465 Mich. 53, 60, 631 N.W.2d 686 (2001). If the statute's language is clear and unambiguous, then we assume that the Legislature intended its plain meaning and the statute is enforced as written. People v. Stone, 463 Mich. 558, 562, 621 N.W.2d 702 (2001). A necessary corollary of these principles is that a court may read nothing into an unambiguous statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature as derived from the words of the statute itself. Omne Financial, Inc. v. Shacks, Inc., 460 Mich. 305, 311, 596 N.W.2d 591 (1999).

Section 5856(d) clearly provides that notice must be compliant with § 2912b, not just § 2912b(2) as plaintiff contrarily contends. Had the Legislature intended only the delivery provisions of § 2912b to be applicable, we presume that the Legislature would have expressly limited compliance only to § 2912b(2). However, the Legislature did not do so. Rather, it referred to all of § 2912b.

Since the statute is clear and unambiguous, this Court is required to enforce § 5856(d) as written. Stone, supra. As a result, the tolling of the statute of limitations is available to a plaintiff only if all the requirements included in § 2912b are met.

B. The Notice of Intent Statute, M.C.L. § 600.2912b

The Court of Appeals did not decide whether the trial court erred in determining that plaintiff's notices of intent did not comply with § 2912b(4). Instead, the Court concluded that defendants had waived4 their ability to challenge the sufficiency of the notices under that section, by failing to object to any deficiencies before the filing of the complaint.

The notice of intent required for medical malpractice actions is statutorily mandated. MCL 600.2912b(1) provides:

[A] person shall not commence an action alleging medical malpractice against a health professional or health facility unless the person has given the health professional or health facility written notice under this section not less than 182 days before the action is commenced. [Emphasis added.]

Subsection 2912b(4) provides that "[t]he notice...

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