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State ex rel. West Virginia Regional Jail Authority v. Webster

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

November 22, 2019

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA EX REL. WEST VIRGINIA REGIONAL JAIL AUTHORITY, Petitioner
v.
HONORABLE CARRIE WEBSTER, JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF KANAWHA COUNTY; BOBBI DAWN BRYANT; AND PRIMECARE OF WEST VIRGINIA, INC., Respondents

          Submitted: November 6, 2019

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF PROHIBITION

          M. Andrew Brison Mark J. McGhee Anspach Meeks Ellenberger LLP Attorneys for the Petitioner

          Stephen P. New Amanda J. Taylor, Attorneys for the Respondent Bobbi Dawn Bryant

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "A writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of discretion by a trial court. It will only issue where the trial court has no jurisdiction or having such jurisdiction exceeds its legitimate powers. W.Va. Code, 53-1-1." Syllabus point 2, State ex rel. Peacher v. Sencindiver, 160 W.Va. 314, 233 S.E.2d 425 (1977).

         2. "' [T]his Court will use prohibition in this discretionary way to correct only substantial, clear-cut, legal errors plainly in contravention of a clear statutory, constitutional, or common law mandate which may be resolved independently of any disputed facts and only in cases where there is a high probability that the trial will be completely reversed if the error is not corrected in advance.' Syl. Pt. 1, in part, Hinkle v. Black, 164 W.Va. 112, 262 S.E.2d 744 (1979), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in State ex rel. Thornhill Group, Inc. v. King, 233 W.Va. 564, 759 S.E.2d 795 (2014)." Syllabus point 3, State ex rel. Almond v. Rudolph, 238 W.Va. 289, 794 S.E.2d 10 (2016).

         3. "In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal's order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal's order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal's order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight." Syllabus point 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W.Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).

         4. "A five-step analysis should be applied to determine whether a cause of action is time-barred. First, the court should identify the applicable statute of limitation for each cause of action. Second, the court (or, if questions of material fact exist, the jury) should identify when the requisite elements of the cause of action occurred. Third, the discovery rule should be applied to determine when the statute of limitation began to run by determining when the plaintiff knew, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, of the elements of a possible cause of action, as set forth in Syllabus Point 4 of Gaither v. City Hosp., Inc., 199 W.Va. 706, 487 S.E.2d 901 (1997). Fourth, if the plaintiff is not entitled to the benefit of the discovery rule, then determine whether the defendant fraudulently concealed facts that prevented the plaintiff from discovering or pursuing the cause of action. Whenever a plaintiff is able to show that the defendant fraudulently concealed facts which prevented the plaintiff from discovering or pursuing the potential cause of action, the statute of limitation is tolled. And fifth, the court or the jury should determine if the statute of limitation period was arrested by some other tolling doctrine. Only the first step is purely a question of law; the resolution of steps two through five will generally involve questions of material fact that will need to be resolved by the trier of fact." Syllabus point 5, Dunn v. Rockwell, 225 W.Va. 43, 689 S.E.2d 255 (2009).

          OPINION

          JENKINS JUSTICE

         This case was brought as a petition for a writ of prohibition under the original jurisdiction of this Court by Petitioner, the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority ("the WVRJA"). In this proceeding, the WVRJA seeks to have this Court prohibit the Circuit Court of Kanawha County from enforcing its order denying the WVRJA's motion to dismiss Respondent Bobbi Dawn Bryant's ("Ms. Bryant") complaint against it as barred by the applicable statute of limitations. On November 16, 2016, Ms. Bryant was incarcerated at the Southwestern Regional Jail and Correctional Facility ("regional jail") in Logan County, West Virginia, when she was seen by the medical staff for "weakness, labored breathing, rapid pulse, and disorientation." She was urgently transferred to Logan Regional Medical Center and, subsequently, to Pikeville Medical Center.

         Ms. Bryant sued both PrimeCare Medical of West Virginia Inc. ("PrimeCare")[1] and the WVRJA in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. The WVRJA moved to dismiss the complaint on the sole basis that the claims asserted against it were time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitation. However, the circuit court found that because the statute of limitations was appropriately tolled as to the co-defendant, PrimeCare, and because Ms. Bryant alleged a civil conspiracy cause of action, the tolling of the statute of limitation as to PrimeCare was imputed to the WVRJA. The WVRJA contends that the circuit court's order is clear legal error. Upon careful review of the briefs, the appendix record, the oral arguments of the parties, and the applicable legal authority, we deny the writ.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ms. Bryant asserted the following factual allegations in her underlying complaint. Ms. Bryant was an inmate at the regional jail from November 7, 2016, until November 16, 2016, at which time she was "transferred urgently to Logan Regional Medical Center and, subsequently, to Pikeville Medical Center" for treatment. On the evening of November 16, 2016, Ms. Bryant was seen by the medical staff of PrimeCare at the regional jail for "weakness, labored breathing, rapid pulse, and disorientation." She was found to have crackles in the bases of her lungs. As such, the on-call doctor directed that the nursing staff administer IV antibiotics, however the nursing staff could not do so. Accordingly, Ms. Bryant was transferred to Logan Regional Medical Center where she received medical care, including receiving IV antibiotics, and was ultimately transferred to Pikeville Medical Center for further treatment. During her stay at Pikeville Medical Center, Ms. Bryant was treated for several ailments, including sepsis and endocarditis. Ms. Bryant underwent a cholecystectomy and a tricuspid valve replacement and was eventually discharged from Pikeville Medical Center on December 5, 2016; however, she continued to receive four weeks of daily outpatient IV antibiotics.[2]

         It is undisputed that on November 6, 2018, pursuant to the pre-suit notice requirements contained within the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act ("MPLA"), West Virginia Code § 55-7B-6(b) (LexisNexis 2016), Ms. Bryant, through counsel, served a notice of claim on PrimeCare. According to Ms. Bryant, the notice of claim "contained [a] statement of intent to provide a screening certificate of merit affidavit within sixty days." On December 28, 2018, within the sixty day time period, Ms. Bryant states that she provided a detailed notice of claim and screening certificate of merit to PrimeCare. On January 28, 2019, Ms. Bryant filed her complaint against both PrimeCare and the WVRJA. Specifically, Ms. Bryant alleged state law claims of negligence against the WVRJA asserting that while she was incarcerated at the regional jail, its agents, servants, or employees (1) negligently and carelessly failed to monitor and check her; (2) negligently and carelessly failed to prevent her health from declining; (3) failed to watch or monitor her as required; and (4) failed to properly and adequately supervise the monitoring. Ms. Bryant alleged a medical negligence claim against PrimeCare. Finally, Ms. Bryant alleged a civil conspiracy claim against both the WVRJA and PrimeCare. Ms. Bryant's civil conspiracy claim contended that,

[b]y entering into an express or implicit agreement to commit an unlawful act or to commit a lawful act through unlawful means by engaging in an overt act, to-wit: Defendant PrimeCare Medical and agents and/or employees of Defendant West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, collectively agreed and conspired to commit the tortious conduct set forth herein, thereby inflicting damage on ...

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