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Brooks v. Meaux

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

June 12, 2019

KEVON BROOKS, ET AL.
v.
RACHELLE MEAUX, M.D.

          APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LAFAYETTE, NO. C-2017-4583 HONORABLE EDWARD B. BROUSSARD, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Maria Bridget Glorioso The Glorioso Law Firm COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Kevon Brooks Kevon Brooks, on behalf of Alice Faye Brooks Kevon Brooks, on behalf of Maleah S. Brooks

          James J. Hautot, Jr. Michelle R. Judice Judice & Adley COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Rachelle Meaux, M.D.

          John Elliott Baker Special Assistant Attorney General Irving Hirsch Koch Assistant Attorney General COUNSEL FOR INTERVENOR/APPELLEE: Attorney General, State of Louisiana

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Shannon J. Gremillion, and John E. Conery, Judges.

          JOHN E. CONERY, JUDGE

         The plaintiff filed this medical malpractice action seeking damages associated with the pregnancy-related death of his wife. The defendant physician filed an exception of prescription after the matter was initially filed in a court of improper venue and subsequently transferred to the appropriate district. The trial court sustained the exception, dismissing the plaintiff's claims as to his wife. The plaintiff appeals. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This matter stems from the death of Alice Brooks, who collapsed in her home in the early morning hours of October 11, 2013, and who died in the thirty-eighth week of her pregnancy after being taken to the emergency room. The twenty-four-year old's cause of death was determined to be Peripartum Cardiomyopathy.[1] Although not the subject of this appeal, Mrs. Brooks' child, Maleah Brooks, was delivered by caesarean section, but died weeks after delivery.

         Kevon Brooks, Mrs. Brooks' husband and Maleah's father, instituted this matter against Dr. Rachelle Meaux, Mrs. Brooks' obstetrician/gynecologist. Pertinent to the prescription issue on appeal, Mr. Brooks filed a medical malpractice complaint with the Louisiana Patient's Compensation Fund (PCF) on October 10, 2014, requesting a Medical Review Panel (MRP). He alleged that Dr. Meaux deviated from the applicable standard of care by the "failure to properly diagnose, treat/monitor, perform additional testing[, ] or refer" Mrs. Brooks for further testing. That deviation, Mr. Brooks asserted, resulted in Mrs. Brooks' death.

         The MRP rendered its decision on June 13, 2016, with notice provided to Mr. Brooks on July 20, 2016.[2] Mr. Brooks, in turn, filed his initial petition in East Baton Rouge Parish on October 5, 2016, naming Dr. Meaux as the defendant in this medical malpractice claim. He alleged that Mrs. Brooks presented to Dr. Meaux on the day before her death, complaining of "shortness of breath over the last several days, congestion with cough, swelling of legs down to ankles and feet, and a 5 lb. weight gain over the last 6 days." Mr. Brooks further alleged that Mrs. Brooks "was sent home where, in the early morning hours of October 11, 2013, [she] suffered a cardiac arrest." He began CPR and continued that effort until paramedics arrived. Mrs. Brooks was taken by ambulance to Women's and Children's hospital in Lafayette, where Maleah was delivered via caesarean section. Mrs. Brooks was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. As in the complaint before the PCF, Mr. Brooks asserted that Dr. Meaux was negligent in her failure to diagnose and treat Mrs. Brooks' condition.[3]

         Although filed on October 5, 2016, Mr. Brooks' petition was not served on Dr. Meaux until November 16, 2016. Dr. Meaux subsequently filed an exception of improper venue, noting that her domicile, residence, and medical practice were in Lafayette Parish as was the entirety of the subject medical care. Denying that East Baton Rouge Parish was a parish of proper venue, Dr. Meaux requested that the claim against her be dismissed. Mr. Brooks responded by filing a motion to transfer the matter to Lafayette Parish. Following a hearing, the trial court judge granted the exception of improper venue but denied the request for dismissal. The resulting May 25, 2017 judgment instead transferred the matter to Lafayette Parish.

         Upon transfer, Dr. Meaux filed the exception of prescription now at issue and asserted that the date of Mrs. Brooks' death, October 11, 2013, commenced the one-year prescriptive period applicable to this medical malpractice matter. Although filed within the subsequent one-year period, the request for the MRP was not filed until October 10, 2014. Dr. Meaux contended that this request was only "one (1) day prior to the one-year prescriptive period lapsing" on the instant claim. See La.R.S. 40:1231.8(A)(2)(a) ("The filing of the request for a review of a claim shall suspend the time within which suit must be instituted, . . . until ninety days following notification by certified mail, . . . to the claimant or his attorney of the issuance of the opinion of the medical review panel.").

         Thereafter referencing July 20, 2016, as the date she received the MRP opinion, Dr. Meaux urged that Mr. Brooks "had ninety (90) days, in addition to one (1) day still remaining in the prescriptive period, to file a lawsuit in a court of proper venue[.]" Dr. Meaux thus alleged that Mr. Brooks had through October 19, 2016, to file this matter in a court of proper venue.

         While suit was filed on October 5, 2016, Dr. Meaux pointed out that it was filed in an improper venue as evidenced by the granting of the exception by the court in East Baton Rouge Parish, who transferred the case to Lafayette Parish. She further contended that prescription was not interrupted until she was actually later served with that suit on November 16, 2016. Louisiana Civil Code Article 3462 provides: "If action is commenced in an incompetent court, or in an improper venue, prescription is interrupted only as to a defendant served by process within the prescriptive period." As that date of actual service was beyond the extended prescription date of October 19, 2016, Dr. Meaux claimed in her exception that the matter was prescribed.

         In opposition, Mr. Brooks chiefly questioned Dr. Meaux's suggestion that prescription began on the date of Mrs. Brooks' death. He contended instead that prescription began to run on the date that he became aware of his cause of action. Mr. Brooks identified that date as his receipt of the December 19, 2013 autopsy report, and, pursuant to that argument, he had one year from December 19, 2013 for the institution of suit. Having requested the MRP review on October 10, 2014, Mr. Brooks urged he had "approximately an additional 70 days beyond the 90 day post Medical Review Panel notification [pursuant to La.R.S. 40:1231.8(A)(2)(a)], for the sheriff to effect service on defendant." (Emphasis omitted.) Accordingly, Mr. Brooks asserted that he "did not have just one day left on the one year statu[t]e, but some 70 days under the discovery rule to have defendant served post-initial filing, or until December 27, 2016[.]" Mr. Brooks urges that personal service on Dr. Meaux on November 16, 2016, was well within the prescriptive period.

         Following an evidentiary hearing, at which the parties' presented their respective arguments regarding the commencement of the prescriptive period, the trial court ruled in favor of Dr. Meaux. Though no oral or written reasons were assigned, the trial court cryptically indicated agreement with Dr. Meaux's position, finding that "it was a day late." Accordingly, the trial court sustained the exception of prescription and dismissed Mr. Brooks' claims arising out of Mrs. ...


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