Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bloomquist v. Schneider[1]

Opinion handed down January 15, 2008
Link to Supreme Court Opinion

The Missouri Supreme Court held that section 516.200 of the Missouri Revised Statutes violated the Commerce Clause because it tolled the statute of limitations with respect to claims against defendants who had been Missouri residents upon the accrual of the cause of action, but moved out of the state before the expiration of the statute of limitations.

I. Facts and Holding

On July 31, 2006, Leiloni Popoalii filed a petition in St. Charles County alleging that eleven healthcare providers, including Dr. Raymond Bloomquist, negligently failed to diagnose and treat her for meningitis when she was in their care between March 19 and July 2 of 2004. All eleven healthcare providers moved for dismissal alleging that the two year statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims, RSMo section 516.105, barred her petition. Ms. Popoalii filed an amended petition alleging that only Dr. Bloomquist was not entitled to dismissal because he had moved from Missouri to Kansas in February 2006. Ms. Popoalii alleged that, pursuant to RSMo section 516.200, Dr. Bloomquist’s moving to another state tolled the statute of limitations with respect to her claim.[2] Section 516.200 of the Missouri Revised Statutes provides, in relevant part:

If at any time when any cause of action herein specified accrues against any person who is a resident of this state, . . . and if, after such cause of action shall have accrued, such person depart from and reside out of this state, the time of his absence shall not be deemed or taken as any part of the time limited for the commencement of such action.

The Honorable Nancy L. Schneider (“Respondent”) dismissed all the defendants except Dr. Bloomquist. Respondent agreed with Ms. Popoalii and held that RSMo section 516.200 tolled the two year statute of limitations with respect to Dr. Bloomquist beginning in February 2006 when he moved from Missouri to Kansas. In response, Dr. Bloomquist argued that RSMo section 516.200 placed an undue burden on interstate commerce and violated the Commerce Clause as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States in Bendix Autolite Corp. v. Midwesco Enterprises. Dr. Bloomquist argued that the statute unduly burdened interstate commerce because Missouri courts had personal jurisdiction over him pursuant to Missouri’s long arm statute even after his move to Kansas. Respondent initially agreed that RSMo section 516.200 was unconstitutional, but considered her decision in the instant case bound by Poling v. Moitra, a 1986 Missouri Supreme Court decision applying RSMo section 516.200.[3] Bloomquist came to the Missouri Supreme Court on a preliminary writ of prohibition. In considering the writ, the issue presented to the Court was whether section 516.200 could be constitutionally applied to Dr. Bloomquist. The Missouri Supreme Court held that section 516.200 placed an undue burden on interstate commerce in violation of the United States Commerce Clause.

II. Legal Background

Respondent Schneider believed the 1986 Missouri Supreme Court case of Poling v. Moitra[4]mandated that she allow Ms. Popoalii’s claim to proceed against Dr. Bloomquist despite the expiration of the statute of limitations.[5] The facts of Poling are similar to the case at bar in that the Defendant Moitra, then a Missouri resident, operated on Plaintiff Poling in September 1980 and moved to Pennsylvania in June 1981.[6] Plaintiff filed a medial malpractice action against Dr. Moitra in March 1983.[7] Dr. Moitra raised the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims as an affirmative defense.[8] In response, the Plaintiff averred that RSMo section 516.200 tolled the statute of limitations on her claim beginning in June 1981 when the Defendant moved out of state.[9]

The Missouri Supreme Court found for the Plaintiff and held that 516.200 tolled the statute of limitations on Plaintiff’s claim against Dr. Moitra.[10] The Court stated: “[t]he tolling provisions of § 516.200 are clear, unequivocal, and free of ambiguity. The statute admits of no exception . . .”[11] The Court rejected the Defendant’s argument that it should accept the position that the Southern District adopted in 1980 in Williams v. Malone.[12] Williams considered the purpose behind section 516.200, and held that the statute only required tolling the statute of limitations when Missouri courts could not acquire jurisdiction over an absent defendant via Missouri’s long-arm statute.[13]

In overruling Poling and holding that section 516.200 is unconstitutional, the Bloomquist Court relied heavily on the principles set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1988 case of Bendix Autolite Corp. v. Midwesco Enterprises, Inc.[14] The Ohio statute at issue in Bendix tolled the statute of limitations indefinitely against defendants who were absent from the state, unless the defendants had appointed an agent for out-of-state service.[15] The Court held that the statute violated the Commerce Clause and unduly burdened interstate commerce because it forced out-of-state corporations to choose between “exposure to the general jurisdiction of Ohio courts or forfeiture of the limitations defense, remaining subject to suit in Ohio in perpetuity."[16]

The Bendix Court noted that while statutes of limitation are not a fundamental right, they nonetheless constitute an integral aspect of our judicial system, and one which a state may not withdraw from a litigant on conditions repugnant to the Commerce Clause.[17] The fact that Bendix could have obtained jurisdiction over Midwesco throughout the statutory limitations period using Ohio’s long-arm statute was crucial to the Court’s decision.[18] Given the existence of Ohio’s long-arm statute, the tolling statute at issue could not be justified as a means of protecting Ohio residents from corporations who become liable for acts done within Ohio and later move to a different jurisdiction.[19] As such, the statute unnecessarily imposed a greater burden on out-of state companies that it did on Ohio companies.[20]

III. Commentary

The Bloomquist decision settles a previously-conflicting body of case law in Missouri’s appellate courts with regards to RSMo section 516.200. Missouri’s post-Poling cases are more consistent in that they apply section 516.200 literally and find the limitations period tolled indefinitely when a tortfeasor moves out of state during the statute of limitations.[21] However, several pre-Poling cases held that section 516.200 did not operate to toll the applicable statute of limitations, and these cases had not been overruled prior to Bloomquist. As mentioned, the Southern District in Williams v. Malone stated that the purpose behind enacting section 516.200 required that it not toll the statute of limitations when Missouri courts could assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant using the long-arm statute.[22] Bethke v. Bethke, a 1984 Eastern District case, relied on Williams in finding that the statute of limitations was not tolled with respect to a defendant who remained subject to Missouri’s long-arm statute after moving to another state.[23] Poling’s holding was further discredited by two Eighth Circuit cases that found both Missouri’s tolling statute and a similar North Dakota statute to be invalid under Bendix’s holding.[24]

The Bloomquist decision is fair for both plaintiffs and defendants. Repealing section 516.200 should not present any obstacle to the diligent plaintiff. Most importantly, Missouri’s long-arm statute reaches to the constitutional boundaries of due process.[25] The long-arm statute will enable plaintiffs to obtain jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants, and obviate the need to toll the statute of limitations.[26] While courts have recognized that it may at times be difficult to obtain non-defective service of process on an out-of-state defendant,[27] that difficulty should be alleviated given that an action is commenced when a petition is filed and not when personal service is obtained.[28]

Likewise, repealing section 516.200 is a fair outcome for a defendant who commits a tort in Missouri and then moves out of state before the statute of limitations has run on his or her tort. If section 516.200 were to remain the law, a tortfeasor would remain perpetually amenable to suit in Missouri for the commission of that tort.[29] As courts have noted, section 516.200 is even more superfluous given the reach of Missouri’s long-arm statute, which affords personal jurisdiction to the full extent that due process allows.[3o]

- Lauren Standlee

[1] No. SC88456 (Mo. Jan. 15, 2008) (en banc), available at http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?id=26590.  The West reporter citation is Bloomquist v. Schneider, 244 S.W.3d 139 (Mo. 2008) (en banc).
[2] Thus, Ms. Popoalii alleged that the statute of limitations on her medical malpractice claim against Dr. Bloomquist was tolled as of February 2006, the time when he left Missouri. 2008 WL 133924, at *1.
[3] Poling did not address the constitutionality of RSMo section 516.200. See Bloomquist, 2008 WL 133924, at *2.
[4] 717 S.W.2d 520 (Mo. 1986).
[5] Bloomquist, 2008 WL 133924, at *2.
[6] Poling, 717 S.W.2d at 521. Thus, Dr. Moitra moved to Pennsylvania within the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Missouri. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.105 (2000).
[7] Poling, 717 S.W.2d at 521.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id. at 522.
[12] Id. at 521.
[13] Id.
[14] 86 U.S. 888 (1988).
[15] Id. at 888-89. While the Bendix defendant was an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois, the Ohio statute applied to persons and corporations alike. Id. at 888-89.
[16] Id. at 888. Designating an agent for service of process subjects the foreign corporation to the general jurisdiction of the courts of that state in matters where it would not otherwise extend. Id. at 893 (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980)).
[17] Bendix, 486 U.S. at 893.
[18] Id. at 894.
[19] Id.
[20] Id.
[21] See Genrich v. Williams, 869 S.W.2d 209, 211 (Mo. App. E.D. 1993) (stating that the tolling provisions of 516.200 are “clear, unequivocal, and free of ambiguity.”); Link v. Ise, 716 S.W.2d 805, 810 (Mo. App. W.D. 1986) (stating that section 516.200 is unambiguous and refusing to construe it liberally). But see Ahearn v. Lafayette Pharmacal, Inc., 729 S.W.2d 501, 504 (Mo. App. E.D. 1987) (stating that a general statute of limitations is not tolled under § 516.200 when the defendant is subject to personal service in another state under the Missouri long-arm statute, RSMo § 506.500.).
[22] See Williams v. Malone, 592 S.W.2d 879, 882 (Mo. App. S.D. 1980) (stating that to hold otherwise “would permit a party in the position of the plaintiff, at his or her option, to postpone the presentation of a claim for an indefinite period.”).
[23] 676 S.W.2d 46, 48 (Mo. App. E.D. 1984).
[24] Bloomquist, 2008 WL 133924, at *4. The two cases were Bottineau Farmers Elevator v. Woodward-Clyde Consultants, 963 F.2d 1064, 1074 (8th Cir. 1992) and Rademeyer v. Farris, 284 F.3d 833 (8th Cir. 2002). Bottineau held that a North Dakota statute that tolled the statute of limitations with respect to foreign corporations who were out-of-state when the action against them accrued violated the Commerce Clause. Bottineau, 963 F.2d at 1067. In Rademeyer, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s finding that RSMo section 516.200, as construed by the Missouri Supreme Court in Poling v. Moitra, violated the Commerce Clause when service could be had on the defendant pursuant to Missouri’s long-arm statute. Rademeyer, 284 F.2d at 839.
[25] Poling, 717 S.W.2d at 522.
[26] Missouri’s long-arm statute states that, among other things, any person or corporation submits to the jurisdiction of this state as to any cause of action arising out of such person or corporation’s transacting business in this state, making a contract in this state, or committing a tort in this state. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 506.500.1(1)-(3) (2000).
[27] See Williams v. Malone, 529 S.W.2d 879, 882 (Mo. App. S.D. 1980); Bendix Autolite Corp. v. Midwesco Enter., Inc., 486 U.S. 888, 893-94 (1988).
[28] Bloomquist, 2008 WL 133924, at *3.
[29] See supra note 16.
[30] See supra note 23.