VIRGINIA E. ALLDREDGE AND JULIA A. LUKER, AS CO-PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ESTATE OF VENITA HARGIS, Appellants (Plaintiffs below),
THE GOOD SAMARITAN HOME, INC., Appellee (Defendant below)
Appeal from the Vanderburgh Superior Court, No. 82D03-1110-CT-5314. The Honorable Robert J. Tornatta, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 82A01-1206-CT-249.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Robert D. King, Jr., David R. Thompson, Indianapolis, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Danny E. Glass, Adam S. Glass, Evansville, Indiana.
Massa, Justice. Dickson, C.J., and Rucker, David, and Rush, JJ., concur.
Nearly two centuries ago, Justice Stephen C. Stevens observed: " the wisest of judges have had much trouble in wading through the labyrinth of difficulties, discriminations, technicalities and shades that have gathered around the statute of limitations."
Raymond v. Simonson, 4 Blackf. 77, 84 (Ind. 1835). Although the case before
us concerns the statutory filing period of a non-claim statute rather than a statute of limitation, we find Justice Stevens's metaphor equally applicable here, where plaintiffs appeal the trial court's determination that their wrongful death claim was untimely filed. Ultimately, we navigate this labyrinth and conclude we must reverse the trial court.
Facts and Procedural History
In November 2006, Venita Hargis lived at The Good Samaritan Home, a nursing home in Evansville. Due to her medical condition, she was prone to falling. On November 17, a nurse called one of Hargis's daughters, Julia Luker, and told her Hargis had suffered a fall, started vomiting a few hours later, and was being transported to the hospital. On November 26, Hargis died as a result of the head injury she sustained in this alleged fall.
Nearly three years later, on November 24, 2009, a former employee of Good Samaritan visited another of Hargis's daughters and told her Hargis's head injury had not been caused by a fall. Rather, another resident had attacked Hargis and pushed her to the floor.
In December 2010, Luker and Virginia Alldredge, as co-personal representatives, opened an estate for Hargis in order to pursue a wrongful death action. They filed their complaint on October 27, 2011, alleging Good Samaritan negligently caused Hargis's death and then fraudulently concealed its negligence. Good Samaritan moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(6), arguing plaintiffs were not entitled to relief because they failed to file the action within two years of Hargis's death as required by the Indiana Wrongful Death Act. Ind. Code § 34-23-1-1 (2012 & Supp. 2013). Good Samaritan also argued that fraudulent concealment, even if it had occurred, could neither extend nor toll that statutory time period.
Plaintiffs successfully moved to treat Good Samaritan's motion as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Trial Rule 56, noting Good Samaritan had attached an exhibit to its motion and thus it relied upon evidence outside the pleadings. After both parties briefed the issue and designated evidence, the trial court granted Good Samaritan's motion.
Citing Southerland v. Hammond, 693 N.E.2d 74, 78 (Ind.Ct.App. 1998), in which a panel of our Court of Appeals stated that as to a wrongful death claim, " the fraudulent concealment exception does not establish a new date for the commencement of the statute of limitations, but rather creates an equitable exception" under which a " plaintiff must institute an action within a reasonable time after he discovers information which would lead to discovery of the cause of action," the trial court concluded the plaintiffs had waited too long after learning the true cause of death: a year to open the estate and nearly two years to file their complaint.
Plaintiffs moved to correct error, stating several reasons they should have had two years from November 24, 2009--the discovery date--to file their complaint. First, they cited the Fraudulent Concealment Statute, which provides: " If a person liable to an action conceals the fact from the knowledge of the person entitled to bring the action, the action may be brought at any time within the period of limitation after the discovery of the cause of action." Ind. Code § 34-11-5-1 (2012). Second, they argued the two-year statutory period offended Article 1, § 12 of our Indiana Constitution. Third, they claimed that pursuant to the " discovery rule" we
Van Dusen v. Stotts, 712 N.E.2d 491, 497 (Ind. 1999), the two-year statutory period did not begin to run until the discovery date. Fourth, they asserted Southerland should not apply because the plaintiff in that case discovered the claim within the two-year statutory period, while they didn't discover their claim until after the two-year statutory period ended. Finally, they maintained that even if the Southerland " reasonable time" standard did apply, Good Samaritan failed to show there was no genuine issue of fact as to whether their complaint was filed within a reasonable time.
The trial court denied plaintiffs' motion, reiterating its prior reasoning that fraudulent concealment does not extend or delay the two-year statutory period to file a wrongful death action. It did, however, state it " agree[d] with the [plaintiffs] that this is an arguably arbitrary and capricious standard i.e. what is a reasonable time?" App. at 84. But based on its reading of precedent cases, it ultimately concluded plaintiffs' action was untimely, noting " this court is obligated to follow the law as it understands it." App. at 85.
The plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding the plaintiffs had two years from the discovery date to file their complaint.
Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., 982 N.E.2d 378, 384 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013). The panel concluded the Fraudulent Concealment Statute could not apply to toll the two-year filing period because it was enacted before the Wrongful Death Act, but that common-law fraud could apply. Id. at 382-83 (citing
Guy v. Schuldt, 236 Ind. 101, 105, 138 N.E.2d 891, 893 (1956) (declining to apply the Fraudulent Concealment Statute to toll the statute of limitation in the Medical Malpractice Act)). Accordingly, the panel extended our holding in Van Dusen, 712 N.E.2d at 497 (providing a plaintiff who doesn't discover his illness or injury until after the two-year MMA statute of limitation has run has two years from the discovery date to file his claim) to the ...