E-Alert Case Updates
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Vacates District Court Order Retroactively Extending Limitations Period on Plaintiff’s State Law Claims
Glynne v. WilMed Healthcare
In Glynne v. WilMed Healthcare, Judge Stephanie Thacker found that a district court erred in retroactively amending an order dismissing a plaintiff’s federal law claims, so as to extend the limitations period for plaintiff’s state law claims beyond the statutory tolling period. The court found that the district court misapplied the doctrine of nunc pro tunc by altering the record to reflect an event that never actually occurred. Therefore, the court vacated the district court’s order, rendering plaintiff’s state law claims as expired under the relevant state law limitations periods.
On December 10, 2008, Rose Glynne, M.D., filed a complaint against several defendants, including Wilson Medical Center (“WMC”), in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Dr. Glynne alleged various federal and state law violations, which included the allegation that defendants have improperly used the medical peer review process to force her out of a hospital. During the course of discovery, Dr. Glynne voluntarily dismissed with prejudice all of her federal claims, and all defendants with the exception of WMC. Though Dr. Glynne had remaining state law claims, the limitations periods for these state law claims had expired.
Because Dr. Glynne dismissed her federal law claims, and given that the case lacked diversity jurisdiction, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Dr. Glynne’s state law claims. On March 1, 2011, the court dismissed Dr. Glynne’s claims against WMC without prejudice, in order to provide her with a chance to re-file in state court. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d), the limitations periods on Dr. Glynne’s state law claims were tolled until thirty (30) days past the court’s dismissal. This gave Dr. Glynne until March 31, 2011 to re-file her suit in state court; Dr. Glynn actually re-filed on April 7, 2011. WMC moved to dismiss Dr. Glynne’s state court action under the statute of limitations.
On May 26, 2011, Dr. Glynne filed a motion in the district court, asking the court to either amend the limitations period in its March 1, 2011, order to forty (40) days, or permit additional time to appeal the court’s discretionary decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims. On June 8, 2011, Dr. Glynne amended her motion to include a request that the court grant relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), and allow the March order to be amended to extend the tolling period of her state law claims by forty (40) days.
On August 4, 2011, the district court, without providing a specific ruling on Dr. Glynne’s motion, entered an amended order and judgment. The amended order provided Dr. Glynne with sixty (60) days to file her claims in state court, and dismissed her action without prejudice. The court entered the order nunc pro tunc, giving the August 4, 2011, order the effective date of March 1, 2011. WMC appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s amended order. The court declined Dr. Glynne’s invitation to review the district court’s decision for abuse of discretion. Rather, the court reviewed the order de novo because (1) nothing in the record indicated that the court specifically acted on Dr. Glyne’s motion, and (2) even if the court did act on her motion, the application of nunc pro tunc is a question of law. The court explained nunc pro tunc as “a procedure whereby a determination previously made, but for some reason improperly entered or expressed, may be corrected and entered as of the original time when it should have been, or when there has been an omission to enter it at all.” Glynne v. WilMed Healthcare, No. 11-1859, slip op. at 6 (4th Cir. Oct. 18, 2012) (internal citation omitted). The court explained that the doctrine may not be used to record an event that never occurred, and is to be applied rarely. Given the limited purpose of the doctrine, the court held that the district court erred in amending its March 1, 2011 with a sixty (60) day time extension. Apart from whether the court could extend the statutory thirty (30) day tolling period, nothing in the record demonstrated that the court had actually done so at the time. Therefore, the district court erred in applying the doctrine of nunc pro tunc to a situation other than correcting the record for mistakes or omission that actually took place.
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