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McMaster v. Dewitt

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

December 3, 2014

Joseph D. McMaster, Appellant,
John H. Dewitt, M.D. and Carolina Psychiatric Services, P.A., Respondents

Heard: October 8, 2014.

Appeal From Richland County. Appellate Case No. 2013-000717. Alison Renee Lee, Circuit Court Judge.

Charles L. Henshaw, Jr., Furr & Henshaw, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Carmelo Barone Sammataro and Robert Gerald Chambers, Jr., Turner Padget Graham & Laney, P.A., both of Columbia, for Respondent Carolina Psychiatric Services, P.A.; James Edward Bradley, John Calvin Bradley, Jr., and Margaret Amelia Hazel, Moore Taylor Law Firm, P.A., all of West Columbia, for Respondent John H. Dewitt.

FEW, C.J. THOMAS and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


Page 452

[411 S.C. 141] FEW, C.J.:

Joseph D. McMaster brought a medical malpractice claim against John H. Dewitt, M.D. and Carolina Psychiatric Services, P.A. based on Dr. Dewitt's alleged negligence in overprescribing McMaster the drug Adderall. The circuit court granted summary judgment for both defendants, finding the statute of limitations barred McMaster's claim. We affirm.

Page 453

[411 S.C. 142] I. Fact and Procedural History

Dr. Dewitt treated McMaster for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and prescribed him Adderall. On May 13, 2008, McMaster was involuntarily committed to Palmetto Health Baptist " in a delusional and paranoid state." Following his discharge on May 28, Dr. Dewitt stopped prescribing Adderall to McMaster. On June 25, 2008, McMaster was once again admitted to the hospital " in a paranoid and psychotic state."

On June 16, 2011, McMaster commenced a medical malpractice action against Dr. Dewitt and Carolina Psychiatric. He alleged Dr. Dewitt negligently overprescribed him Adderall, which led to his psychosis and subsequent hospitalization. The complaint mentioned only his June 2008 hospitalization.

During a deposition, McMaster testified Dr. Dewitt told him in May the cause of his psychosis. Specifically, McMaster stated, " [Dr. Dewitt] called it Adderall induced psychosis when I talked to [him]." When asked what Dr. Dewitt did " wrong," McMaster stated, " [H]e just gave me too much medicine. . . . I mean, it was just way too much and I didn't know it until it was too late."

Dr. Dewitt and Carolina Psychiatric moved for summary judgment. They argued McMaster's claims were barred by the statute of limitations because it began to run when McMaster was hospitalized in May 2008. See S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-545(A) (2005). See id. (stating a medical malpractice claim " must be commenced within three years from the date of the treatment . . . giving rise to the cause of action or three years from date of discovery or when it reasonably ought to have been discovered" ).

Two days before the summary judgment hearing, McMaster filed an affidavit in which he claimed he was not aware of Dr. Dewitt's negligence until June 2008. McMaster explained in his affidavit that when he was hospitalized in May, " Neither [Dr. Dewitt] nor anyone else at that time suggested that Adderall . . . had caused me to have paranoid psychosis . . . or that the amounts of Adderall . . . prescribed to me by Dr. Dewitt had caused me any harm." Instead, he claimed it was not until he learned of his diagnosis in June that he " began to question whether amphetamines such as Adderall had been overprescribed to [him]." Although he " recalled that Dr. [411 S.C. 143] Dewitt's partner, Dr. Larry Nelson, had told [him] in May 2008 that Dewitt had a tendency to overprescribe amphetamines," [1] he stated, " Dr. Nelson did not tell me that [Dr.] Dewitt had overprescribed amphetamines to me or that Adderall had caused me any injury."

The circuit granted summary judgment, finding that when McMaster filed his lawsuit in June 2011, it had been " more than three years after he discovered that he was hospitalized due to the Adderall prescribed by Dr. Dewitt." The court based this finding on McMaster's deposition testimony, in which he stated Dr. Dewitt told him in May he had suffered an Adderall induced psychosis. The circuit court refused to consider the affidavit submitted by McMaster, finding it " should be disregarded" as a " sham affidavit" under Cothran v. Brown, 357 S.C. 210, 218, 592 S.E.2d 629, 633 (2004).

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when a plaintiff does not commence an action within the applicable statute of limitations. See Kreutner v. David, 320 S.C. 283, 286-87, 465 S.E.2d 88, 90 (1995) (affirming " the grant[ing] of summary judgment because the statute of limitations has expired" ). In reviewing a decision to grant summary judgment, we apply the same standard as the circuit court. Vaughan v. Town of Lyman, 370 S.C. 436, 440, 635 S.E.2d 631, 633 (2006). Under this standard, summary judgment is appropriate when " there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), SCRCP. " In determining whether any triable issue of fact exists, the evidence and all inferences which can reasonably be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Quail Hill, LLC v. Cnty. of Richland, 387 S.C. 223, 235, 692 S.E.2d 499, 505 (2010) (citation omitted). " However, it is not

Page 454

sufficient for a party to create an inference that is not reasonable or an issue of fact that is not genuine." Town of Hollywood v. Floyd, 403 S.C. 466, 477, 744 S.E.2d 161, 166 (2013).

[411 S.C. 144] While South Carolina courts have not established the standard for reviewing the circuit court's decision to exclude a sham affidavit, federal appellate courts use an abuse of discretion standard.[2]See Cothran, 357 S.C. at 218, 592 S.E.2d at 633 (" find[ing] persuasive the reasoning of federal case law" in adopting the rule that a circuit court may exclude a sham affidavit). We adopt this standard and accordingly, must ...

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