The New Mexico Court of Appeals recently held in Foster v. Sun Healthcare Group that unless there is a clear showing of negligence in prosecution, a plaintiff who brings suit in the wrong court has six months to bring suit in the correct court, even if the statute of limitations for the claim has run.
Personal injury and other tort claims must be filed in a court that has both subject matter and personal jurisdiction to hear the case. Many civil cases are brought in state court. However, a federal court may have jurisdiction if the case involves a federal question or diversity of citizenship between the parties.
For a federal court to have diversity jurisdiction, the parties must be residents of different states or a foreign country. If a corporation or other non-person entity is a party to the case, the home state of the corporation is determined by several factors including the state of incorporation, the location of its headquarters, etc.
“Saving statutes” are state laws that are meant to give citizens broad access to the state court system. New Mexico law contains a saving statute, NMSA 1978, §37-1-14, which allows a second suit to be brought within six months of the first suit if it was brought in the wrong court, regardless of whether the statute of limitations on the claim has run. However, a plaintiff cannot take advantage of the saving statute if the plaintiff was negligent in prosecuting his or her case.
According to the Court, a plaintiff is negligent in prosecution when he or she fails to exercise due diligence. A failure to exercise due diligence occurs when, at the time of filing a lawsuit, a plaintiff knows or should have reasonably known that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case. If a plaintiff files in the wrong court, the plaintiff‘s mistake must have been an honest mistake and the suit in the wrong court must have been initiated with the good faith belief that the court was proper in order to take advantage of the saving statute.
In Foster v. Sun Healthcare Group, the Plaintiff filed his medical malpractice suit in federal court in a timely manner, within the three-year statute of limitations. The Plaintiff‘s original complaint claimed that the federal court had diversity jurisdiction over the case. Once the federal court found that it did not have jurisdiction over the case, the three-year statute of limitations had run. However, availing himself of the New Mexico saving statute, the Plaintiff filed suit in state court.
The defendants were granted summary judgment by the state court based on the statute of limitations and the claim that the Plaintiff was negligent in prosecution and therefore not allowed to use the saving statute. The New Mexico Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court stated that the defendants were unable to show evidence that the Plaintiff knew or should have known that diversity jurisdiction in fact did not exist. For this reason, the Plaintiff was not negligent in prosecuting his case and could take advantage of the saving statute.
Jurisdictional matters can be complicated and difficult to navigate. An experienced attorney will ensure that you file your case in the proper court and inform you of all of your rights and options.
Medical Malpractice Claims Raise Unique Statute of Limitations Issues
Statute of Limitations on Past Denial of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) Coverage in New Mexico
Tolling of Statute of Limitations is Rare