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Kostadinovski v. Harrington

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 24, 2017

DRAGO KOSTADINOVSKI and BLAGA KOSTADINOVSKI, Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
STEVEN D. HARRINGTON, M.D., and ADVANCED CARDIOTHORACIC SURGEONS, PLLC, Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

         Macomb Circuit Court LC No. 2014-002247-NH

          Before: Borrello, P.J., and Murphy and Ronayne Krause, JJ.

          Murphy, J.

         Plaintiffs Drago Kostadinovski and Blaga Kostadinovski, husband and wife, appeal as of right the trial court's order denying their motion to file an amended medical malpractice complaint after the court had earlier granted summary disposition in favor of defendants Steven D. Harrington, M.D. (the doctor), and Advanced Cardiothoracic Surgeons, P.L.L.C., on plaintiffs' original complaint. Mr. Kostadinovski suffered a stroke during the course of a mitral-valve-repair (MVR) surgery performed by the doctor in December 2011. Plaintiffs timely served defendants with a notice of intent to file a claim (NOI), MCL 600.2912b, and later timely filed a complaint for medical malpractice against defendants, along with the necessary affidavit of merit, MCL 600.2912d. In the NOI, affidavit of merit, and the complaint, plaintiffs set forth multiple theories with respect to how the doctor allegedly breached the standard of care in connection with the surgery. After nearly two years of litigation and the close of discovery, plaintiffs' experts effectively disavowed and could no longer endorse the previously-identified negligence or breach-of-care theories and the associated causation claims, determining now, purportedly on the basis of information gleaned from discovery, that the doctor had instead breached the standard of care by failing to adequately monitor Mr. Kostadinovski's hypotension (low blood pressure) and transfuse him, resulting in the stroke. Plaintiffs agreed to the dismissal of the existing negligence allegations and complaint, but sought to file an amended complaint that included allegations regarding Mr. Kostadinovski's hypotensive state and the failure to adequately transfuse him. While the trial court believed that any amendment would generally relate back to the filing date of the original complaint, the court ruled that an amendment would be futile, considering that the existing NOI would be rendered obsolete because it did not reference the current malpractice theory. And, absent the mandatory NOI, a medical malpractice action could not be sustained. The denial of plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint, in conjunction with the dismissal of the original complaint, effectively ended plaintiffs' lawsuit. On appeal, plaintiffs challenge the denial of their motion to amend the complaint. Defendants cross appeal, arguing that, aside from futility, amendment of the complaint should not be permitted because plaintiffs unduly delayed raising the new negligence theory and because such a late amendment would prejudice defendants. On the strength of Bush v Shabahang, 484 Mich. 156; 772 N.W.2d 272 (2009), we hold that the trial court, as opposed to automatically not allowing plaintiffs to amend their complaint because of the NOI conundrum that would be created, was required to assess whether the NOI defect could be disregarded or cured by an amendment of the NOI under MCL 600.2301 in the context of futility analysis. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings under MCL 600.2301.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 9, 2013, plaintiffs served defendants with the NOI, asserting that on December 14, 2011, the doctor had performed robotic-assisted MVR surgery on Mr. Kostadinovski and that, as subsequently determined, Mr. Kostadinovski suffered a stroke during the course of the procedure. The NOI listed six specific theories with respect to the manner in which the doctor allegedly breached the applicable standard of care relative to the surgery and preparation for the surgery, along with identifying related causation claims.[1] On June 4, 2014, an expert for plaintiffs executed an affidavit of merit that listed the same six negligence theories outlined in the NOI in regard to the alleged breaches of the standard of care. On June 5, 2014, plaintiffs filed their medical malpractice complaint against defendants, along with the affidavit of merit, alleging that the doctor breached the standard of care in the six ways identified in the NOI and affidavit of merit. The causation claims were also identical in all three legal documents. In resolving this appeal, it is unnecessary for us to discuss the particular nature of these negligence and causation theories.

         On March 21, 2016, defendants filed a motion for summary disposition, arguing that, as revealed during discovery, plaintiffs' expert witnesses could not validate or support the six negligence theories set forth in the NOI, affidavit of merit, and the complaint. On that same date, March 21, 2016, plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their complaint. Plaintiffs asserted that discovery had recently been completed and that discovery showed that Mr. Kostadinovski "was in a hypotensive state during the operation and was not adequately transfused." According to plaintiffs, this evidence was previously unknown and only came to light following the deposition of the perfusionist, the continuing deposition of the doctor, and the depositions of plaintiffs' retained experts. Plaintiffs sought to amend the complaint to allege negligence against the doctor "for failing to adequately monitor Mr. Kostadinovski's hypotension during the operation and failing to transfuse the patient so as to maintain the patient's blood pressure." On March 28, 2016, a hearing was held on plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint, and the trial court decided to take the matter under advisement. On April 25, 2016, a hearing was conducted on defendants' motion for summary disposition, at which time plaintiffs agreed to the dismissal of their original complaint, given that their theories of negligence now lacked expert support, as did the causation claims that had been linked to the defunct negligence theories.[2] Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint remained pending.

         On April 29, 2016, the trial court issued a written opinion and order denying plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint. The court initially ruled, under MCR 2.118(D), that because the proposed amendment of plaintiffs' complaint arose from the same transactional setting as that covered by the original complaint, any amendment would relate back to the date that the original complaint was filed for purposes of the period of limitations. However, after citing language in MCR 2.118 and associated caselaw regarding principles governing the amendment of pleadings, along with MCL 600.2912b on notices of intent, the trial court ruled:

The Court finds that plaintiffs' NOI did not set forth the minimal requirements to provide notice of the claim of breach of the standard of care with regard to the failure to monitor hypotension levels during the operation and the failure to transfuse the patient as a potential cause of injury as required by MCL 600.2912b. Accordingly, defendants were not given the opportunity to engage in any type of settlement negotiation with regard to the hypotension and transfusion claims because they were not given notice of the existence of any such claims. Even if plaintiffs had included these new allegations in their original complaint, defendants lacked the requisite notice mandated by MCL 600.2912b because they were not raised in the NOI.
Plaintiffs' failure to adhere to the statutory mandates renders the new allegations contained in the proposed amended complaint futile, as these new allegations of medical malpractice must fail as a matter of law. Therefore, plaintiffs' motion to amend is properly denied. [Citations omitted.]

         Plaintiffs appeal as of right.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         This Court reviews for an abuse of discretion a trial court's ruling on a motion for leave to file an amended pleading. Franchino v Franchino, 263 Mich.App. 172, 189; 687 N.W.2d 620 (2004). "Thus, we defer to the trial court's judgment, and if the trial court's decision results in an outcome within the range of principled outcomes, it has not abused its discretion." Wormsbacher v Phillip R Seaver Title Co, Inc, 284 Mich.App. 1, 8; 772 N.W.2d 827 (2009) (citation omitted). "A trial court . . . necessarily abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law." People v Al-Shara, 311 Mich.App. 560, 566; 876 N.W.2d 826 (2015). We review de novo matters of statutory construction, as well as questions of law in general. Wells Fargo Bank, NA v SBC IV REO, LLC, 318 Mich.App. 72, 89-90; 896 N.W.2d 821 (2016).

         B. AMENDMENT OF PLEADINGS - BASIC PRINCIPLES

         A pleading may be amended once as a matter of course if done so within a limited period; otherwise, "a party may amend a pleading only by leave of the court or by written consent of the adverse party." MCR 2.118(A)(1) and (2). Plaintiffs were no longer entitled to amend their complaint as of right, necessitating their motion to amend the complaint. MCR 2.118(A)(2) provides that "[l]eave shall be freely given when justice so requires." Therefore, a motion to amend should ordinarily be granted. Weymers v Khera, 454 Mich. 639, 658; 563 N.W.2d 647 (1997). A court must give a particularized reason for denying leave to amend a pleading, and acceptable reasons for denial include undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive by the party seeking leave, repeated failures to cure deficiencies after previously-allowed amendments, undue prejudice to the nonmoving party, and futility. Miller v Chapman Contracting, 477 Mich. 102, 105; 730 N.W.2d 462 (2007); Wormsbacher, 284 Mich.App. at 8. The amendment of a pleading is properly deemed futile when, regardless of the substantive merits of the proposed amended pleading, the amendment is legally insufficient on its face. Hakari v Ski Brule, Inc, 230 Mich.App. 352, 355; 584 N.W.2d 345 (1998); Gonyea v Motor Parts Fed Credit Union, 192 Mich.App. 74, 78; 480 N.W.2d 297 (1991).

         With respect to the question whether an amendment of a pleading relates back to the date that the original pleading was filed, MCR 2.118(D) provides:

An amendment that adds a claim or a defense relates back to the date of the original pleading if the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth, or attempted to be set forth, in the original pleading. In a medical malpractice action, an amendment of an affidavit of merit or affidavit of meritorious defense relates back to the date of the original filing of the affidavit.

         In Doyle v Hutzel Hosp, 241 Mich.App. 206, 218-219; 615 N.W.2d 759 (2000), this Court analyzed MCR 2.118(D) and the caselaw regarding the amendment of pleadings, holding:

When placed in context against a backdrop providing that leave to amend pleadings must be freely granted, MCR 2.118(A)(2), the principle to be gleaned from these cases is the necessity for a broadly focused inquiry regarding whether the allegations in the original and amended pleadings stem from the same general "conduct, transaction, or occurrence." The temporal setting of the allegations is not, in and of itself, the determinative or paramount factor in resolving the propriety of ...

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