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Estate of Jesse v. Lakeland Specialty Hospital

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 14, 2019

ESTATE OF WANDA JESSE, by BEVERLY JUNE GRAY, Personal Representative, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LAKELAND SPECIALTY HOSPITAL AT BERRIEN CENTER, Defendant-Appellee.

          Berrien Circuit Court LC No. 17-000215-NM

          Before: Meter, P.J., and Fort Hood and Borrello, JJ.

          Meter, J.

         Under MCL 600.5852's saving provision, when the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim has otherwise lapsed, the personal representative of an estate is given two years "from the date letters of authority are issued to" her to bring a claim on behalf of the estate. In this case, we are called upon to determine when the letters of authority are "issued." Reviving the precedent temporarily set by Lentini v Urbancic, 262 Mich.App. 552, 555-559; 686 N.W.2d 510 (2004), vacated and remanded on other grounds 472 Mich. 885 (2005), we conclude that the letters of authority are "issued" on the date they are signed by the probate judge. Because plaintiff did not file the action within two years of the date the probate judge signed the letters of authority, we affirm the trial court's dismissal of the action as untimely. MCR 2.116(C)(7).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts underlying this dispute are not contested. Plaintiff's decedent, Wanda Jesse, died on September 15, 2013, allegedly due to defendant's malpractice. Under MCL 600.5805(8), the statute of limitations for decedent's medical malpractice claim would have expired on September 15, 2015, absent application of the savings provision set forth in MCL 600.5852. The probate judge signed the letters of authority establishing decedent's estate on September 9, 2015, but the letters were not mailed to the personal representative of the estate, Beverly June Gray, until September 25, 2015. Plaintiff filed the instant complaint for medical malpractice on September 22, 2017.

         Defendant moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), arguing that, under MCL 600.5852(2), the statutory period of limitations had ended on September 9, 2017-two years from the date the probate court signed the letters of authority. Plaintiff disagreed, arguing that the statutory period did not end until September 25, 2017-two years from the date the probate court mailed the letters of authority. The trial court agreed with defendant that the statutory period ended on September 9, 2017, and granted defendant's motion for summary disposition. This appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The only issue presented to us in this appeal is a legal one: does the statutory period set forth in MCL 600.5852's saving provision begin to run on the date the letters of authority are signed or the date they are mailed or otherwise distributed to the personal representative. MCR 2.116(C)(7) directs the trial court to grant summary disposition to a party when there is no question of material fact that the claim is barred because it was not brought within the relevant statutory period. "We review de novo a trial court's grant or denial of summary disposition." Hoffner v Lanctoe, 492 Mich. 450, 459; 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012). MCL 600.5852 provides, in pertinent part:

(1) If a person dies before the period of limitations has run or within 30 days after the period of limitations has run, an action that survives by law may be commenced by the personal representative of the deceased person at any time within 2 years after letters of authority are issued although the period of limitations has run.
(2) If the action that survives by law is an action alleging medical malpractice, the 2-year period under subsection (1) runs from the date letters of authority are issued to the first personal representative of an estate. Except as provided in subsection (3), the issuance of subsequent letters of authority does not enlarge the time within which the action may be commenced.
(3) If a personal representative dies or is adjudged by a court to be legally incapacitated within 2 years after his or her letters are issued, the successor personal representative may commence an action alleging medical malpractice that survives by law within 1 year after the personal representative died or was adjudged by a court to be legally incapacitated.

         There is no binding caselaw interpreting the term "issued" in the context of MCL 600.5852. Yet, this is not the first time that this question has been presented to this Court. Rather, we answered the question whether "issued" denotes the signature date or some later date in Lentini v Urbancic, 262 Mich.App. 552, 555-559; 686 N.W.2d 510 (2004) (Lentini I). The Lentini I panel concluded that the letters of authority are "issued" on the date the probate judge signs them, reasoning as follows:

The primary goal of judicial interpretation of statutes is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Gladych v New Family Homes, Inc, 468 Mich. 594, 597; 664 N.W.2d 705 (2003). If reasonable minds can differ regarding the meaning of a statute, judicial construction is appropriate. Adrian School Dist v Michigan Pub School Employees Retirement Sys, 458 Mich. 326, 332; 582 N.W.2d 767 (1998). The court must consider the object of the statute and the harm it is designed to remedy, and apply a reasonable construction that best ...

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