Schroeder v. Steven Weighall, M.D., & Columbia Basin Imaging, P.C.

Decision Date16 January 2014
Docket NumberNo. 87207–4.,87207–4.
Citation316 P.3d 482,179 Wash.2d 566
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesJaryd SCHROEDER, Appellant, v. Steven WEIGHALL, M.D., and Columbia Basin Imaging, P.C., a Washington corporation, Respondents, and Kadlec Regional Medical Center, Defendant.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Held Unconstitutional

West's RCWA 4.16.190(2)George E. Telquist, Telquist Ziobro McMillen, PLLC, Richland, WA, for Appellant.

Christopher John Mertens, Miller Mertens & Comfort PLLC, Kennewick, WA, Mary H. Spillane, Daniel W. Ferm, Williams Kastner & Gibbs PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Respondents.

Bryan Patrick Harnetiaux, Attorney at Law, Spokane, WA, George M. Ahrend, Ahrend Albrecht PLLC, Ephrata, WA, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Association for Justice Foundation.

GORDON McCLOUD, J.

¶ 1 Petitioner Jaryd Schroeder challenges the constitutionality of RCW 4.16.190(2), which eliminates tolling of the statute of limitations for minors in the context of medical malpractice claims. We hold that RCW 4.16.190(2) violates article I, section 12 of the Washington State Constitution, and we therefore reverse the trial court's summary judgment order dismissing Schroeder's medical malpractice action.

FACTS

¶ 2 On May 22, 2001, Schroeder sought treatment from the respondents, Dr. Steven Weighall and Columbia Basin Imaging. Schroeder was nine years old at the time and suffered from headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness in his legs, and double vision. He underwent an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which Weighall reviewed and found to be normal. Schroeder's symptoms persisted.

¶ 3 On either November 9 or 19, 2009,1 when he was 17, Schroeder underwent another MRI. This time the radiologist who reviewed the image found an Arnold Chiari Type I Malformation , a condition in which brain tissue protrudes into the spinal canal. The radiologist also reviewed the 2001 MRI and concluded that the condition had been present to the same extent at that time.

¶ 4 On January 13, 2011, the day before his 19th birthday, Schroeder filed a medical malpractice action against Weighall, Columbia Basin Imaging, PC, and a third party subsequently dismissed by stipulation. Weighall asserted that the action was barred by the statute of limitations codified at RCW 4.16.350 and subject to the minority tolling exemption codified at RCW 4.16.190(2). 2

¶ 5 RCW 4.16.350 provides that a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice must be filed within three years of the “act or omission” giving rise to the claim or one year after the patient “discovered or reasonably should have discovered” that the injury was caused by the act or omission in question. The statute also imputes a parent's or guardian's knowledge to the injured minor. RCW 4.16.350. RCW 4.16.190(1) provides that the statute of limitations applicable to any legal action shall be tolled during a plaintiff's minority, incompetency, or incarceration, but RCW 4.16.190(2)eliminates tolling for minors in medical malpractice actions.

¶ 6 Schroeder and his mother discovered Weighall's alleged omission in November 2009. On that date, Schroeder was still a minor. If not for RCW 4.16.190(2), the one-year statute of limitations applicable to his claim would have tolled until his 18th birthday on January 14, 2010. In reality, the combined effect of RCW 4.16.350 and .190(2) placed Schroeder's January 13, 2011 filing date about two months outside the statute of limitations. On that basis, the trial court dismissed his action.3

¶ 7 Schroeder appealed the dismissal directly to this court, arguing that RCW 4.16.190(2) violated article I, section 10 and article I, section 12 of the Washington State Constitution.

ANALYSIS
Standard of Review

¶ 8 We review the constitutionality of a statute de novo. Kitsap County v. Mattress Outlet, 153 Wash.2d 506, 509, 104 P.3d 1280 (2005) (citing Ino Ino, Inc. v. City of Bellevue, 132 Wash.2d 103, 114, 937 P.2d 154, 943 P.2d 1358 (1997)). Because we conclude that RCW 4.16.190(2) violates article I, section 12, we do not address Schroeder's article I, section 10 challenge.

Article I, Section 12

¶ 9 Article I, section 12 of the Washington Constitution provides that [n]o law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens, or corporations.” As we have noted in several recent cases, this court has construed article I, section 12 as “substantially similar” to the federal equal protection clause for many, many years. Seeley v. State, 132 Wash.2d 776, 788, 940 P.2d 604 (1997) (collecting cases). In Grant County Fire Protection District No. 5 v. City of Moses Lake, 145 Wash.2d 702, 735, 42 P.3d 394 (2002) (Grant County I ), rev'd in part by Grant County Fire Protection District No. 5 v. City of Moses Lake, 150 Wash.2d 791, 812, 83 P.3d 419 (2004) (Grant County II ), however, we also recognized that article I, section 12 differed from and was more protective than the federal equal protection clause and required a very different analysis in certain situations. The Grant County cases acknowledged our state constitution's particular concern with the “undue political influence” exercised by a privileged few and drew on early decisions addressing that concern through the reasonable ground analysis. Grant County II, 150 Wash.2d at 805–11, 83 P.3d 419.4

1. RCW 4.16.190(2) Grants an “Immunity” under Article I, Section 12

¶ 10 In Grant County I, we held that article I, section 12, unlike the federal equal protection clause, applies to special interest legislation—laws that confer a benefit on a privileged or influential minority. Grant County I, 145 Wash.2d at 731, 42 P.3d 394. In the second Grant County case, we modified that holding, recognizing that that independent “privileges” analysis applies only where a law implicates a “privilege” or “immunity” as defined in our early cases distinguishing the ‘fundamental rights' of state citizenship. Grant County II, 150 Wash.2d at 812–13, 83 P.3d 419 (quoting State v. Vance, 29 Wash. 435, 458, 70 P. 34 (1902)).

¶ 11 After Grant County II, we have subjected legislation to a two-part test under this “privileges” prong of article I, section 12 analysis. First, we ask whether a challenged law grants a “privilege” or “immunity” for purposes of our state constitution. Grant County II, 150 Wash.2d at 812, 83 P.3d 419. If the answer is yes, then we ask whether there is a “reasonable ground” for granting that privilege or immunity. Grant I, 145 Wash.2d at 731, 42 P.3d 394.

¶ 12 Not every benefit constitutes a “privilege” or “immunity” for purposes of the independent article I, section 12 analysis. Rather, the benefits triggering that analysis are only those implicating “fundamental rights ... of ... state ... citizenship.” Vance, 29 Wash. at 458, 70 P. 34.

¶ 13 The benefit that RCW 4.16.190(2) confers is limited liability—an immunity from suits pursued by certain plaintiffs. This court has long recognized that the privileges and immunities contemplated in article I, section 12 include the right to pursue common law causes of action in court.5 Thus, at least where a cause of action derives from the common law, the ability to pursue it is a privilege of state citizenship triggering article I, section 12's reasonable ground analysis. A law limiting the pursuit of common law claims against certain defendants therefore grants those defendants an article I, section 12 “immunity.”

¶ 14 This court has also recognized that [m]edical malpractice claims are fundamentally negligence claims, rooted in the common law tradition.” Putman v. Wenatchee Valley Med. Ctr., 166 Wash.2d 974, 982, 216 P.3d 374 (2009). RCW 4.16.190(2) limits the ability of certain plaintiffs—those whose injuries occurred during childhood—to bring medical malpractice claims. It therefore grants, an immunity (and burdens a privilege) triggering the reasonable ground test under article I, section 12.

2. There Is No Reasonable Ground For Limiting Medical Malpractice Defendants' Liability to Patients Injured During Minority

¶ 15 The article I, section 12 reasonable ground test is more exacting than rational basis review. Under the reasonable ground test a court will not hypothesize facts to justify a legislative distinction. See, e.g., City of Seattle v. Rogers, 6 Wash.2d 31, 37–38, 106 P.2d 598 (1940) (striking down regulatory exemption despite city's argument that the exempted party constituted “a class by itself”). Rather, the court will scrutinize the legislative distinction to determine whether it in fact serves the legislature's stated goal. See, e.g., State ex rel. Bacich v. Huse, 187 Wash. 75, 82, 59 P.2d 1101 (1936) (striking down provision in regulatory statute that grandparented in protections for those holding gillnetting licenses in 1932–33, in part because it did “not accomplish the purpose suggested by [the State's] argument”), overruled on other grounds by Puget Sound Gillnetters Ass'n v. Moos, 92 Wash.2d 939, 603 P.2d 819 (1979).

¶ 16 This court addressed a statute similar to RCW 4.16.190(2) in DeYoung v. Providence Medical Center, 136 Wash.2d 136, 141, 960 P.2d 919 (1998), where we held that an eight-year statute of repose applicable to medical malpractice claims violated article I, section 12. In the pre- Grant County cases we applied rational basis review and found that the statute of repose could not survive even that most deferential form of scrutiny. DeYoung, 136 Wash.2d at 149, 960 P.2d 919. While we recognized that addressing escalating insurance rates was a legitimate legislative goal, we also found clear evidence in the legislative record that the challenged statute would not advance that goal in any appreciable way. Id. at 149–50, 960 P.2d 919.

¶ 17 The evidence in question was a report by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners finding that less than one percent of all insurance claims nationwide were made by adults pursuant to incidents of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
33 cases
  • Nw. Grocery Ass'n v. City of Seattle
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Washington
    • March 18, 2021
    ...federal Equal Protection Clause, but in certain situations it may require an independent analysis. See, e.g. , Schroeder v. Weighall , 179 Wash.2d 566, 316 P.3d 482, 485 (2014). A claim related to a law regulating wages may constitute such a situation. Int'l Franchise Ass'n, Inc. v. City of......
  • Rental Hous. Ass'n v. City of Seattle
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • March 21, 2022
    ...and, if it does, then asking if there is a reasonable ground for granting the privilege or immunity. Schroeder v. Weighall, 179 Wash.2d 566, 572-73, 316 P.3d 482 (2014) (citations omitted). ¶78 "Not every benefit constitutes a ‘privilege’ or ‘immunity’ for purposes of the independent articl......
  • Larson v. Snohomish Cnty.
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • December 6, 2021
    ...constitution, and, if yes, asking if there is a reasonable ground for granting the privilege or immunity. Schroeder v. Weighall, 179 Wash.2d 566, 572-73, 316 P.3d 482 (2014) (citations omitted). "Not every benefit constitutes a ‘privilege’ or ‘immunity’ for purposes of the independent artic......
  • State v. Peterson
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • November 18, 2021
    ...article I, section 12 as " ‘substantially similar’ " to the federal equal protection clause for many years. Schroeder v. Weighall , 179 Wash.2d 566, 571-72, 316 P.3d 482 (2014) (quoting Seeley v. State , 132 Wash.2d 776, 788, 940 P.2d 604 (1997) (collecting cases)). Under both state and fed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • Washington State Bar Association Washington Appellate Practice Deskbook (WSBA) Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...17.7(7) Schroeder v. Excelsior Mgmt. Grp., LLC, 177 Wn.2d 94, 297 P.3d 677 (2013): 4.3(10), 12.7(15) Schroeder v. Weighall, 179 Wn.2d 566, 316 P.3d 482 (2014): 12.7(16) Schuster v. Schuster, 90 Wn.2d 626, 585 P.2d 130 (1978): 16.2(1) Schweib v. Crosby, 160 Wn. App. 345, 249 P.3d 184 (2011):......
  • § 12.7 Standard of Review Applied to Specific Rulings: Civil Cases
    • United States
    • Washington State Bar Association Washington Appellate Practice Deskbook (WSBA) Chapter 12 Standard of Review
    • Invalid date
    ...determinations The constitutionality of a statute is an issue of law subject to de novo review. Schroeder v. Weighall, 179 Wn.2d 566, 571, 316 P.3d 482 (2014); Kitsap County v. Mattress Outlet/Gould, 153 Wn.2d 506, 509, 104 P.3d 1280 (2005). A trial court's interpretation of a statute also ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT