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Ranucci v. Crain

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 23, 2014

Shannon Ranucci, Petitioner,
v.
Corey K. Crain, Respondent

Heard May 20, 2014.

Appeal From York County. Appellate Case No. 2012-211188. S. Jackson Kimball, III, Special Circuit Court Judge.

Daryl G. Hawkins, of Law Office of Daryl G. Hawkins, L.L.C., of Columbia; John S. Nichols and Blake Alexander Hewitt, both of Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, L.L.C., of Columbia; Eric Christopher Davis, of Eric C. Davis, P.A., of West Columbia, for Petitioner.

Dennis Gary Lovell, Jr., Lee Cannon Weatherly and Michael Baxter McCall, all of Carlock Copeland & Stair, L.L.P., of Charleston, for Respondent.

Andrew A. Mathias, of Nexsen Pruet, L.L.C., of Greenville, for Amicus Curiae, South Carolina Hospital Association.

JUSTICE BEATTY. TOAL, C.J., KITTREDGE and HEARN, JJ., concur. PLEICONES, J., dissenting in a separate opinion.

OPINION

Page 190

[409 S.C. 496] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

BEATTY, JUSTICE:

Shannon Ranucci appealed the circuit court's order dismissing her medical malpractice case for failure to contemporaneously file an expert witness affidavit with her Notice of Intent to File Suit (" NOI" ) pursuant to section 15-79-125 of the South Carolina Code.[1] Ranucci asserted the circuit court erred in finding the affidavit of her medical expert was not timely filed because section 15-79-125 incorporates section 15-36-100, which includes a " safe harbor" provision that extends the time for filing the affidavit.[2]

Page 191

[409 S.C. 497] The Court of Appeals affirmed in Ranucci v. Crain, 397 S.C. 168, 723 S.E.2d 242 (Ct. App. 2012), holding the pre-litigation filing requirement for a medical malpractice case found in section 15-79-125 incorporates only the parts of section 15-36-100 that relate to the preparation and content of an expert's affidavit. This Court granted Ranucci's petition for a writ of certiorari. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the circuit court as we hold that section 15-79-125(A) incorporates section 15-36-100 in its entirety. Thus, Ranucci could invoke section 15-36-100(C)(1), which extended the time for filing the expert witness affidavit and tolled the applicable statute of limitations.

I. Factual / Procedural History

On June 7, 2006, Dr. Corey Crain performed a needle core breast biopsy on Ranucci. Following the procedure, Ranucci experienced pain while breathing. On June 10, 2006, an X-ray revealed that Ranucci had suffered a collapsed lung.

On June 8, 2009, Ranucci filed an NOI pursuant to section 15-79-125(A), which alleged her collapsed lung was a result of Dr. Crain's negligent execution of the biopsy. The NOI stated that " time constraints" prevented Ranucci from contemporaneously filing an affidavit of a medical expert. The NOI further stated Ranucci would either file such an affidavit within the next forty-five days pursuant to section 15-36-100(C) [409 S.C. 498] or her allegations of negligence would be " within the ambit of common knowledge and experience" so that Dr. Crain's conduct could be evaluated without the assistance of special learning.

On July 23, 2009, Ranucci filed an affidavit of Dr. Richard Boortz-Marx, a medical doctor from North Carolina who was board certified in anesthesiology and anesthesiology pain management.

Dr. Crain filed an Answer to the NOI and a motion to dismiss Ranucci's NOI on the ground the forty-five day extension for filing an expert affidavit, found in section 15-36-100(C)(1), does not apply to the filing of an NOI under section 15-79-125(A) because the statute expressly requires the expert affidavit be filed contemporaneously with the NOI. Additionally, Dr. Crain claimed Ranucci's NOI was filed outside of the statute of limitations.

After a hearing, the circuit court granted Dr. Crain's motion to dismiss, finding Ranucci did not comply with the plain language of section 15-79-125(A) because she did not file an expert affidavit contemporaneously with the NOI. However, because the NOI and affidavit did not constitute an " action," the court denied Dr. Crain's motion to dismiss on the alternative ground involving the statute of limitations.

Subsequently, Ranucci filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Following a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion, but clarified that " S.C. Code Ann. § 15-79-125 and [§ ] 15-36-100 operate independently of each other, and that § 15-36-100 does not offer a procedural alternative to § 15-79-125." Ranucci appealed to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's order. Ranucci v. Crain, 397 S.C. 168, 723 S.E.2d 242 (Ct. App. 2012). In so ruling, the court analyzed the narrow question of " which requirements of section 15-36-100 constitute the affidavit requirements referenced by section 15-79-125(A)." Id. at 176, 723 S.E.2d at 246. After parsing section 15-36-100, the court determined that this statute " institutes, on the one hand, substantive requirements for the authorship and content of affidavits by expert witnesses and, on the other, procedural requirements relating to such affidavits when filed with a [409 S.C. 499] complaint." Id. However, based on its reading of

Page 192

the two statutes at issue, the court found that, while section 15-79-125 references and incorporates section 15-36-100, the latter statute is not incorporated in its entirety. Id. at 177, 723 S.E.2d at 246. Rather, the court concluded that " section 15-79-125(A) invokes only the provisions of section 15-36-100 governing the preparation and content of the affidavit." Id. at 176, 723 S.E.2d at 246. Specifically, the court held that although section 15-79-125(A) references section 15-36-100, it does not incorporate the forty-five day filing extension for the expert affidavit found in section 15-36-100(C)(1). Id. at 175, 723 S.E.2d at 246.

Based on the foregoing analysis, the court ultimately affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of Ranucci's NOI for failure to comply with the contemporaneous affidavit filing requirement of section 15-79-125. Id. at 175, 723 S.E.2d at 246. The court expressly rejected Ranucci's argument that the affidavit requirements of section 15-36-100 permitted her to file the affidavit late without violating section 15-79-125. Id. at 178, 723 S.E.2d at 247. The court explained, " The affidavit requirements invoked by section 15-79-125 govern only authorship and content" and " do not permit a potential plaintiff to file her expert witness's affidavit after she files her Notice of Intent to File Suit." Id. We granted Ranucci's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals.

II. Discussion

A. Arguments

Ranucci concedes the individual subsections of 15-79-125 and 15-36-100 are clear when viewed in isolation. However, she asserts a reviewing court must look beyond the plain language of individual subsections in order to discern the underlying purpose of the statutes and their operational effect. Because the " statutes have a shared purpose and were intended to completely incorporate one another," Ranucci contends the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the dismissal of her pre-litigation NOI.

In support of this contention, Ranucci maintains that sections 15-79-125 and 15-36-100 operate together to establish a [409 S.C. 500] two-step process for the filing of medical malpractice cases. Although section 15-79-125 establishes the pre-litigation process in medical malpractice cases, Ranucci explains that section 15-36-100 " creates an orderly procedure where expert affidavits are injected into the earliest stage of a dispute." Specifically, Ranucci notes that section 15-36-100 contains " the definitions, the enforcement mechanisms, and the penalties for non-compliance" that govern all professional negligence claims, including those involving medical malpractice. Therefore, Ranucci avers section 15-79-125 cannot operate in isolation, but must ...


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