Supreme Court of OhioJul 28, 1982
1 Ohio St. 3d 114 (Ohio 1982)
1 Ohio St. 3d 114438 N.E.2d 431

No. 81-1440

Decided July 28, 1982.

Pleadings — Amended complaint — Malpractice — Relates back to original complaint, when — Civ. R. 15(C) applicability — Improperly named defendant.

APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Hancock County.

Peggy J. Hardesty, appellee, is the widow of and administratrix of the estate of Glenn E. Hardesty, Sr., who died on September 29, 1978. On September 20, 1979, appellees, pursuant to R.C. 2305.11(A), submitted notice of extension of the statute of limitations for malpractice, thus tolling the statute until March 19, 1980. Subsequently, on March 11, 1980, appellees filed a complaint against, among others, "The Board of Trustees Blanchard Valley Hospital," alleging several causes of action: malpractice against the hospital because of the acts of its agents who were physicians, negligence against the hospital because of acts of "any agents or employees * * * who were negligent in their independent care and treatment of said decedent and in caring for and attending to other matters within their domain all of which carelessness and negligence also amounted to malpractice upon the said decedent," wrongful death, and loss of consortium.

R.C. 2305.11(A) provides:
"An action for libel, slander, assault, battery, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, or malpractice, including an action for malpractice against a physician, podiatrist, or a hospital, or upon a statute for a penalty or forfeiture, shall be brought within one year after the cause thereof accrued, provided that an action by an employee for the payment of unpaid minimum wages, unpaid overtime compensation, or liquidated damages by reason of the nonpayment of minimum wages or overtime compensation, shall be brought within two years after the cause thereof accrued.
"If a written notice, prior to the expiration of time contained in this division, is given to any person in a medical claim that an individual is presently considering bringing an action against that person relating to professional services provided to that individual, then an action by that individual against that person may be commenced at any time within one hundred eighty days after that notice is given."
This appeal relates to the alleged malpractice of the appellant hospital through its physician-employees. The applicable statute of limitations, therefore, was one year from the termination of the physician-patient relationship. It was subsequently tolled by operation of the statute until March 19, 1980. Thus, in order for appellees' amended complaint to state a cause of action, it must relate back to an initial complaint filed prior to March 19, 1980.

This cause concerns only the cause of action against the hospital through its physician-employees. The issue of the statute of limitations for a hospital's liability for the negligence of its non-professional employees was addressed in Lombard v. Medical Center (1982), 69 Ohio St.2d 471 [23 O.O. 3d 410]; the issue of the statute of limitations of a hospital's liability for wrongful death was addressed in Koler v. St. Joseph Hospital (1982), 69 Ohio St.2d 477 [23 O.O. 3d 413]; and the issue of the statute of limitations for a hospital's liability for loss of consortium was addressed in Holzwart v. Wehman (1982), 1 Ohio St.3d 26.

The physician-defendants were duly served and the action has proceeded against them. They are not parties to this appeal. Appellees also attempted, on March 12, 1980, to obtain service on "Board of Trustees of Blanchard Valley Hospital," to whom a summons was issued by certified mail. It was sent to 145 West Wallace Street, Findlay, Ohio, and was received and receipted by "C. Miller." As was subsequently found by the trial court, and as established by the record, there was no such entity, the intended defendant being "The Blanchard Valley Hospital Association, Inc.," appellant, a non-profit corporation with its officer and statutory agent at 145 West Wallace Street, Findlay, Ohio.

On April 9, 1980, appellant was granted leave on application to move or plead by the trial court. Appellant moved to dismiss the complaint on April 29, 1980. A hearing was held on the motion on June 4, 1980, and on July 15, 1980, the trial court sustained the motion finding there was "no legal entity known as Blanchard Valley Hospital and there are no persons who are trustees of this non-entity * * *."

Prior to the trial court's ruling on appellant's motion to dismiss, appellees filed a motion, also on July 15, 1980, to amend the original complaint by interlineation. No action was taken by the trial court on this motion.

On July 21, 1980, appellees filed objections to the July 15, 1980, judgment entry because no finding was made under Civ. R. 54(B). Appellees filed notice of appeal to the July 15, 1980, judgment entry on August 12, 1980. The appeal was dismissed on August 21, 1980. On August 27, 1980, a corrective entry was filed containing the Civ. R. 54(B) finding. However, no appeal was taken from the corrective entry.

On September 10, 1980, an amended complaint was filed by appellees, which substituted appellant for the defendant named originally. Service was obtained upon "Blanchard Valley Hospital Assoc., Inc. c/o William E. Ruse, Statutory Agent [at] 145 West Wallace Street, Findlay, Ohio." The service was by certified mail and the receipt again was signed by "C. Miller."

Appellant moved to dismiss on September 26, 1980, on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted since the statute of limitations for malpractice had run on March 19, 1980. Moreover, appellant argued that there was no question of relation back since there was no entity to which such relation back could apply.

On November 12, 1980, the trial court dismissed the amended complaint with prejudice to appellant hospital. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Messrs. Hanna Hanna
and Mr. Harold A. Hanna, for appellees.

Messrs. Oxley, Malone, Fitzgerald Hollister and Mr. Michael J. Malone, for appellant.

This cause poses the question whether appellees' amended complaint of September 10, 1980, may relate back to the date of the original complaint, March 11, 1980. For the following reasons, we hold that Civ. R. 15(C) would operate to permit relation back of the amended complaint to the date of the original complaint. Thus, appellees have stated a cause of action against appellant hospital for the alleged malpractice of its physician-employees.

As pointed out by the Court of Appeals, "[i]t is clear that the original order dismissing the original complaint is final." Nonetheless, appellees filed a motion to amend the complaint prior to the dismissal of the original complaint. The record reveals that the trial court took no action at all upon the motion to amend. Under such circumstances we agree with the Court of Appeals that "where an order dismissing a complaint is granted and a motion to amend is pending the complainant has, as a matter of course, a leave to amend his complaint," See McCormac, Ohio Civil Rules Practice, 195-196, Section 9.03. Appellees subsequently filed an amended complaint substituting a change in the name of the same intended party.

The question then becomes whether application of the relation back rule would be proper as regards the amended complaint. Civ. R. 15(C) provides, in part: "Whenever the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading, the amendment relates back to the date of the original pleading. An amendment changing the party against whom a claim is asserted relates back if the foregoing provision is satisfied and, within the period provided by law for commencing the action against him, the party to be brought in by amendment (1) has received such notice of the institution of the action that he will not be prejudiced in maintaining his defense of the merits, and (2) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against him."

Here, the requirements of Civ. R. 15(C) are satisfied. Initially, in the original complaint, an existing defendant was improperly named and served. The claim asserted in the amended complaint is identical to the original pleading and relates to the same conduct, transactions or occurrences therein set forth. We agree with the Court of Appeals that "[i]t is apparent from the record that summons was served at the actual address of the corporate defendant on March 12, 1980; it was receipted for by `C. Miller.' This is, it must be inferred, the same `C. Miller' at the same address who on September 12, 1980 also receipted for the summons issued to the Blanchard Valley Hospital Association c/o William E. Ruse, Statutory Agent. It is an inescapable inference that the corporation received actual notice on the prior date sufficient to eliminate any prejudice in maintaining its defense. So far as the record indicates there is only one hospital operated at that address." It is clear that appellant hospital did receive notice of the action prior to the tolling of the statute of limitations, R.C. 2305.11, on March 19, 1980, and it will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits.

Moreover, it is equally clear from the original complaint who the intended defendant was, and if appellant did not infer this from the summons and the complaint, it should have done so.

Such a result comports with the purpose of the Civil Rules. "The spirit of the Civil Rules is the resolution of cases upon their merits, not upon pleading deficiencies." Peterson v. Teodosio (1973), 34 Ohio St.2d 161, 175 [63 O.O. 2d 262, 269]. Decisions on the merits should not be avoided on the basis of mere technicalities; pleading is not " `a game of skill in which one misstep by counsel may be decisive to the outcome * * * [rather] the purpose of pleading is to facilitate a proper decision on the merits.' Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48." Foman v. Davis (1962), 371 U.S. 178, 181-182.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, and the cause is remanded to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.

Judgment affirmed and cause remanded.