Bryant v. Bay Health

CONCLUDED

Other
09/19/07 – 09/19/07

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Summary

Case Description: While Bryant was a patient at Kent General Hospital, which is a facility operated by Bayhealth, he sustained injuries as a result of a fall from his hospital bed. Bryant’s injury occurred on April 29, 2004. Under the applicable statute of limitations, Bryant had two years—or until May 1, 2006—to file a personal injury action.On May 1, 2006—the last day of the period of limitations—Bryant’s counsel filed with the Kent County Prothonotary paper copies of a complaint, a praecipe and other documents required to be filed under the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The Prothonotary stamped the papers “RECEIVED AND FILED 06 MAY – 1,” docketed the complaint, and issued a civil action number. All parties agree that the applicable statute of limitations is 18 Del. C. § 6856, which requires that the action be brought within two years from the date the injury occurred. Because April 29, 2006 was a Saturday, the last permissible day to bring the action was May 1, 2006. Bryant’s counsel in the Superior Court was not the same attorney who currently represents him on this appeal, although they are both in the same law firm. On May 2, 2006, the next day, the Prothonotary sent to Bryant’s counsel a “Notice of Non-Conforming Documents,” which stated that the “hard copy” filing was “being rejected and returned ... undocketed [because it] [m]ust be E-Filed.”
The hand-filed papers were marked “VOID” and were returned to Bryant’s counsel. Later that same day (May 2), Bryant’s counsel e-Filed the same documents, including the complaint and the praecipe, that he had paper-filed the day before. Bryant’s counsel filed another hard copy of that praecipe on June 21,
2006. Thereafter, the Prothonotary issued a summons to the Kent County Sheriff, who perfected service of process upon Bayhealth on July 5, 2006. On July 17, 2006, Bayhealth filed a Rule 36 Request for Admissions, requesting Bryant to admit that the “attached praecipe” (1) had been filed with the Prothonotary on June 21, 2006, and (2) was the first “legally cognizable” document filed with the Superior Court requesting service of process upon Bayhealth. Because Bryant failed to respond to the Request for Admissions within It is undisputed that under Administrative Directive No. 2003-7, the pleadings should have been electronically filed because counsel had certified that damages were in excess of $100,000. In fact, no praecipe was attached to Bayhealth’s Rule 36 Request. 3
30 days as Rule 36 requires the subject matter of the Request was deemed to have
been admitted by default. Next, on September 15, 2006, Bayhealth filed a motion for summary
judgment, on the ground that Bryant’s action was time-barred as a matter of law. Bryant did not move for relief from the effect of his default admission. Instead, on September 21, 2006, Bryant’s counsel filed an out-of-time response to the Request for Admissions, which stated that Bryant could not admit or deny the matter requested because no praecipe had been attached to the Request. On October 4, 2006, Bryant’s counsel filed a response to Bayhealth’s motion for summary judgment, taking the position that: (i) he had filed the complaint and praecipe within the period of limitations, (ii) only the form of the filing required correction, and (iii) counsel’s error as to form (i.e., the failure to e-File) was attributable to the Prothonotary. The Superior Court granted Bayhealth’s summary judgment motion, holding that Bryant’s malpractice action had not been commenced within the statutorily prescribed two year period. The trial court so ruled, despite having determined that the May 1 paper filing would have sufficed to toll the statute of limitations if the May 2 e-Filing had complied with all the applicable procedural requirements. One of those requirements, imposed by Super. Ct. Civ. R. 36(a) pertinently states that: “Each matter of which an admission is requested is ... admitted unless, within 30 days after service of the request, or within such shorter or longer time as the Court may allow, the party to whom the request is directed serves upon the party requesting the admission a written answer or objection addressed to the matter.” Superior Court Rule 3(a), is to diligently seek to bring the defendant before the court, by filing with the complaint a praecipe directing the issuance of process on the defendant. The Superior Court held that the May 2 filing did not comply because, having failed to file a timely response to Bayhealth’s Request for Admissions, Bryant judicially admitted that the first “legally cognizable” document ordering service upon Bayhealth was filed—not on May 1 or May 2, but on June 21—seven weeks after the limitations period had expired. Based solely on that judicial admission by default, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Bayhealth.

Proceedings Overview: First, he claims that his failure to timely file the action was attributable to errors of court-related personnel. Second, Bryant claims that, in filing a complaint and a praecipe on May 1 and e-Filing those documents the next day, he commenced the action within the limitations period. Third, he contends that dismissing the action based solely upon his untimely response to the Request for Admissions was too extreme a remedy, because his disregard of discovery obligations was neither willful nor conscious. Fourth, Bryant urges that, in any 5 event, the matter deemed admitted by default did not provide a sufficient factual predicate for a grant of summary judgment.
Outcome: The Supreme Court of Delaware reversed the Superior Court and remanded.

http://courts.delaware.gov/opinions/download.aspx?ID=98250

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