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Irby v. Madakasira

Court of Appeals of Mississippi, En Banc

March 28, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/24/2015




          BARNES, J.

         ¶1. Graham Read Irby, by and through his mother, Karen Collins, filed a wrongful-death suit against the psychiatrist who treated his father, Stuart M. Irby (Irby), prior to Irby's death by suicide. The suit alleged the psychiatrist's intentional and negligent acts created an irresistible impulse in Irby to commit suicide. The circuit court dismissed the action, finding that the claims of intentional acts were barred by the one-year statute of limitations for intentional torts and that Irby's suicide was a superseding event that barred any negligence claims. On appeal, Collins argues that despite allegations of intentional acts, the complaint was based in negligence, for which a two-year statute of limitations applies, and the negligence action is not barred. Finding the circuit court correctly dismissed the complaint, we affirm.


         ¶2. Prior to his death, Irby sought psychiatric treatment from Dr. Sudhakar Madakasira, a physician specializing in psychiatry. Dr. Madakasira treated Irby for various conditions, including bipolar disorder, anger management, and alcohol abuse. On February 11, 2009, Irby and his wife, Karen Irby, now Karen Collins, were involved in a car accident. Irby suffered a severe, traumatic frontal-lobe brain injury. He continued to see Dr. Madakasira for the brain injury.

         ¶3. Due to that injury, Irby was deemed incapable of conducting his own business affairs, and coconservators were appointed by the Hinds County Chancery Court, First Judicial District. The conservators petitioned the chancery court for authority to file a divorce complaint on Irby's behalf against Collins. The petition was granted. In support of the divorce complaint, the conservators attached an affidavit executed by Dr. Madakasira on October 28, 2011, while Irby was under his care. The affidavit stated that Irby had told Dr. Madakasira that he was unsure if he wanted a divorce from Collins. However, Dr. Madakasira swore in his affidavit that due to the brain injury, Irby was not capable of making a decision in his or Graham's best interest regarding the divorce. Dr. Madakasira opined that a divorce was in Irby's best interest and that it would be detrimental to Irby's health to remain married to Collins. Dr. Madakasira testified consistently at the divorce hearing. Although Irby testified he did not want a divorce, the divorce was granted.

         ¶4. On January 17, 2012, Irby told Collins, over the phone, that he was forced into the divorce and had no reason to live. Irby committed suicide at his home later that day.

         ¶5. On December 16, 2013, Collins sent Dr. Madakasira and his employer, Psycamore LLC, a notice of intent to commence a medical-malpractice action based on wrongful death. See Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-36(15) (Rev. 2012) (requiring at least sixty days' prior written notice of intent to begin a professional-negligence claim against healthcare providers). On March 17, 2014, Collins filed her complaint in Hinds County Circuit Court, First Judicial District. The complaint alleged that Dr. Madakasira and Psycamore, through the doctrine of respondeat superior, negligently caused Irby's death by suicide. It was later determined that the proper venue was Rankin County, and an agreed order was entered transferring the case to Rankin County Circuit Court.

         ¶6. After the case was transferred, Collins was granted leave to file an amended complaint. The amended complaint alleged negligence and added a claim for "intentional acts." The amended portion of the complaint alleged that "[a]s a direct and proximate result of the intentional acts of Dr. Madakasira in assisting the conservators in the prosecution of the divorce action and the granting of a divorce by the Chancery Court[, ] Stuart M. Irby developed an irresistible impulse to commit suicide[.]"

         ¶7. Dr. Madakasira moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the one-year statute of limitations for intentional torts barred the action and that any negligence claims were barred for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. After a hearing, the circuit court granted the motion to dismiss. Collins's motion for reconsideration was denied. Collins appeals, arguing that the two-year statute of limitations for professional negligence applies and that the case should be reversed and remanded for discovery and further proceedings.


         ¶8. The application of the correct statute of limitations is a question of law, which we review de novo. Lyas v. Forrest Gen. Hosp., 177 So.3d 412, 416 (¶18) (Miss. 2015). We also review de novo a trial court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Stockstill v. State, 854 So.2d 1017, 1019-20 (¶4) (Miss. 2003). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "the allegations in the complaint must be taken as true, and the motion should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff will be unable to prove any set of facts in support of her claim." Stockstill, 854 So.2d at 1020 (¶4).


         I. Whether Collins's wrongful-death complaint is barred by the one- year statute of limitations for intentional torts.

         ¶9. The applicable statute of limitations in "a wrongful[-]death action is adopted from the statute of limitations that governs the tort that caused the death." Tolliver ex rel. Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Green v. Mladineo, 987 So.2d 989, 996 (¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) (citing Lee v. Thompson, 859 So.2d 981, 990 (¶21) (Miss. 2003)). The statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years. Id.; Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-36(2) (Rev. 2012). Intentional torts not within the medical-malpractice statute, however, are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-35 (Rev. 2012).[1]

         ¶10. Collins's original complaint alleged medical negligence. In November 2014, after Collins's complaint was filed, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down its decision in Truddle v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto Inc., 150 So.3d 692 (Miss. 2014). Both sides agree that Truddle controls this case. Truddle held that "to sustain a cause of action for a suicide . . ., the plaintiff must show that the defendant committed an intentional act that [proximately caused] an irresistible impulse [in the decedent] to commit suicide[.]" Id. at 697 (¶19) (emphasis added) (citing State ex rel. Richardson v. Edgeworth, 214 So.2d 579, 586-88 (Miss. 1968)). This is an exception to common law, which prohibited recovery for wrongful death by suicide, as "suicide is an 'unforeseeable, intervening cause[, ] which breaks the causal connection between the wrongful act and the death.'" Id. at 695 (¶11) (quoting Edgeworth, 214 So.2d at 586).

         ¶11. To comply with Truddle's intentional-act pleading requirement, Collins moved for, and was granted, leave to amend the complaint. The pertinent section of the amended complaint reads:


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