Valles v. Mueting

Decision Date19 March 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19-1066,19-1066
Citation956 N.W.2d 479
Parties Rosalinda VALLES, Individually and on Behalf of F.L., Her Minor Child, Appellant, v. Andrew MUETING, Joseph Liewer, Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians, P.C., Amy Wingert, and Kelly Ryder, Appellees.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Jim Leventhal, Bruce L. Braley (argued), Brian N. Aleinikoff and Benjamin I. Sachs of Leventhal Puga Braley, P.C., Denver, Colorado, for appellant.

Nancy J. Penner (argued) of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, Cedar Rapids; John C. Gray and Jeff W. Wright of Heidman Law Firm, L.L.P., Sioux City; Kevin J. Kuhn of Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell, LLP, Denver, Colorado; and Christine L. Conover and Carrie L. Thompson of Simmons, Perrine, Moyer & Bergman, PLC, Cedar Rapids, for appellees Mueting, Liewer, and Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians, P.C.

William R. Settles (argued), Patrick G. Vipond, and Sarah M. Dempsey of Lamson Dugan & Murray LLP, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellees Wingert and Ryder.

Christensen, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Waterman, Mansfield, McDonald, and McDermott, JJ., joined. Appel, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Oxley, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

CHRISTENSEN, Chief Justice.

A mother whose son developed severe, disabling injuries from bacterial meningitis brought an action for medical negligence against the physicians who treated her son and their employers. Various defendants entered settlement agreements with the mother and a few others were dismissed on summary judgment prior to trial. Two physicians and an employer of one of those physicians went to trial. A jury issued a verdict in their favor, finding the remaining physicians were not negligent.

The mother appealed and presents several issues on appeal. In addition to contesting these issues on the merits, the defendants maintain the appeal is untimely and should be dismissed under Iowa Rule of Appellate Procedure 6.101(1)(b ) because the mother failed to timely file her notice of appeal. Upon our review, we conclude the appeal is untimely. Therefore, we lack jurisdiction to consider the appeal and must dismiss it.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On April 3, 2015, Rosalinda Valles took her eleven-year-old son, F.L., to the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City (Mercy) because he had a fever, cough, and chills. F.L. returned to the emergency room two days later, on April 5, where he presented with similar complaints. By this time, the results of F.L.’s April 3 nasal swab were available and showed F.L. was positive for Influenza B. F.L. was admitted to the hospital for further observation, and he remained hospitalized in this unit until his condition deteriorated on April 8.

On April 8, F.L. became unresponsive to verbal stimuli and was transferred to the intensive care unit, where a physician performed a lumbar puncture. When F.L.’s lumbar puncture revealed an "elevated white count and decreased glucose concentration, [and] presence of Bandemia was indicated at 49%," F.L. was transported by airlift at 9:40 a.m. to the pediatric intensive care unit at the Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. F.L. was admitted with "meningitis /bacteremia." F.L. continues to suffer severe and debilitating injuries and will for the remainder of his life.

On January 28, 2016, Valles, individually and on behalf of her minor son, F.L., filed this lawsuit. Valles amended her petition a number of times. In the final petition, Valles sued Mercy and the following physicians for medical negligence and parental loss of consortium: Jaime Dodge, Leah Johnson, Joseph Liewer, Thomas Morgan, Andrew Mueting, Jesse Nieuwenhuis, Rex Rundquist, Kelly Ryder, Said Hasib Sana, Aruntha Swampillai, and Amy Wingert. She also asserted direct and vicarious liability claims against Mercy; Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians, P.C.; Siouxland Medical Education Foundation; and Prairie Pediatrics & Adolescent Clinic, P.C., doing business as Prairie Pediatrics, P.C. Between the filing of this lawsuit on January 28 and the commencement of trial on October 30, 2018, there were numerous motions, pretrial hearings, amended petitions, and settlements. The only remaining claims by the time of trial were those against Dr. Liewer, Dr. Mueting, and Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians, P.C. (Defendants).1

The jury trial commenced on October 30 and spanned several weeks. On November 21, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants, finding they were not negligent. Since then, Valles has filed various motions, dismissals, requests, and appeals. We discuss those relevant to this appeal.

After trial, Valles filed a motion to extend the time for posttrial filings, which the district court granted on December 6 to extend the deadlines for filing bills of exceptions and posttrial motions until December 21. On December 20, Valles filed a motion for entry of order nunc pro tunc asking the district court to amend its November 21 order of judgment to identify specifically the defendants who were exonerated by the jury as opposed to settling defendants who were also in the case caption. On January 25, 2019, the district court entered an order amending the judgment to make this clarification.

On December 20, 2018, Valles also filed her first notice of appeal in our court

from the order and judgment entered in this case on the 21st day of November, 2018, from the "Enlarged Finding on Plaintiff's Motion for Directed Verdict on Comparative Negligence of Mercy Nurses" which was later filed in this case on the 5th day of December, 2018, and from all adverse rulings and orders inhering therein.

Valles's notice explained that she did

not believe that this case is ripe for an appeal because stipulations and orders of dismissal have not yet been entered with respect to several of the settling defendants .... Therefore, the order and judgment entered on the 21st day of November, 2018, was not actually dispositive of the entire case. In an abundance of caution, however, Plaintiff files this protective notice of appeal.

(Emphasis added.)

Before we entered any rulings on Valles's first notice of appeal, Valles filed a bill of exceptions in the district court on December 21, which Defendants resisted. The district court issued its order denying this bill on January 25, 2019, explaining it no longer possessed jurisdiction to address Valles's request because Valles had filed her notice of appeal the day before filing her bill of exceptions.

We entered an order on February 5, requiring Valles to "file a statement concerning whether this court has jurisdiction" to hear that appeal and welcoming responses from Defendants. In response, Valles asked us to dismiss that appeal without prejudice and stated it "should not be considered an application for interlocutory review." Defendants did not resist dismissal of the appeal, but they maintained there was no authority for dismissal without prejudice and "reserve[d] all argument and positions in any subsequent appeal ..., including as to its timeliness." On March 14, we issued an order treating Valles's first notice of appeal as an application for interlocutory appeal, which we denied. Procedendo issued on April 10.

On April 15, Valles filed a dismissal of settling defendant Mercy in district court. On April 30, she dismissed the remaining settling defendants. On May 28, Valles filed a motion requesting an order entering final judgment, noting the district court had entered judgment in favor of Dr. Liewer, Dr. Mueting, and Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians, P.C., and all other defendants had been otherwise dismissed from the case. The district court entered Valles's proposed order the next day. Valles filed her second notice of appeal on June 24, and we retained the appeal. The only defendants who are parties to this appeal are the three defendants who went to trial, Dr. Liewer, Dr. Mueting, and Northwest Iowa Emergency Physicians, P.C., and two defendants who were dismissed by summary judgment prior to trial, Dr. Ryder and Dr. Wingert.

II. Jurisdiction.

We must deal with a threshold matter before addressing any of Valles's claims on appeal, as all defendants on appeal contend Valles's appeal is untimely. If they are correct, we lack jurisdiction to consider Valles's appeal. See Milks v. Iowa Oto-Head & Neck Specialists, P.C. , 519 N.W.2d 801, 803 (Iowa 1994) ("The timeliness of a notice of appeal is mandatory and jurisdictional ...."). "[W]ant of jurisdiction of the subject matter may be taken advantage of at any stage of the proceedings" and "need not be pled." Lloyd v. State , 251 N.W.2d 551, 556 (Iowa 1977).

All defendants on appeal maintain we have no jurisdiction to consider Valles's appeal of the district court's summary judgment rulings pertaining to them and challenges to the district court's decisions during trial because the appeal is untimely. They contend the district court's November 21, 2018 judgment in favor of Defendants following the jury's November 21 verdict was the final, appealable order pertaining to them, and Valles failed to file a proper notice of appeal within thirty days of that judgment. Alternatively, they contend that Valles's April 30, 2019, voluntary dismissal of the remaining settling defendants triggered the thirty-day appeal deadline because it eliminated the only remaining defendants from the case. Again, they contend that Valles failed to file a timely notice of appeal after April 30.

Under our appellate rules of procedure, "[a] notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the filing of the final order or judgment." Iowa R. App. P. 6.101(1)(b ).

A final judgment or decision is one that finally adjudicates the rights of the parties. It must put it beyond the power of the court which made it to place the parties in their original position. A ruling or order is interlocutory if it is not finally decisive of the case.

In re M.W. , 894 N.W.2d 526, 532 (Iowa 2017) (quoting Johnson v. Iowa...

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