The El Paso Court of Appeals has thrown out a medical malpractice case against Texas Tech Health Science Center in El Paso based on limitations despite plaintiff’s claim that SCOTX’s emergency COVID-19 order allowed the trial court to extend the deadline.

Texas Tech University Health Science Center v. Jaimeson Monroe Lockamy (No. 08-23-00170-CV; February 27, 2024) involved alleged complications from Plaintiff’s hernia surgery, which was performed by Texas Tech’s physician employees on January 4, 2019. Plaintiff filed medical malpractice claims on April 16, 2021. In two amended petitions, Plaintiff requested the trial court to suspend or toll the statute of limitations under SCOTX’s Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster. On March 28, 2023, Texas Tech filed a combined plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment based on limitations, arguing that the two-year statute plus 75-day tolling period for Plaintiff’s claims ended on March 22, 2021. Tech argued further that Plaintiff did not get a trial court ruling on his tolling request either before limitations expired on March 22 or the emergency order expired on October 1, 2021. The trial court denied Tech’s motion. Tech filed an accelerated interlocutory appeal.

An an opinion by Justice Soto, the court of appeals reversed and rendered. Tech asserted that the trial court erred in denying its plea to the jurisdiction and summary judgment motion because the emergency order did not give the trial court the authority “to retroactively grant [Plaintiff’s] request to extend the statute of limitations because the statute of limitations is jurisdictional for health care liability claims asserted against a governmental entity” under § 311.034, CPRC. Plaintiff countered that the statute was only a procedural bar and that the emergency order gave the trial court the authority to extend it even after limitations and the emergency order had expired. The court agreed with Tech. “Timely filing of suit based on the statute of limitations,” the court held, “is a statutory prerequisite to suit, and when the defendant is a governmental entity, that prerequisite is jurisdictional” (citations omitted). The trial court thus had no subject-matter jurisdiction to do anything, much less extend limitations. Additionally, the court observed, though the emergency order allows courts to modify or suspend deadlines and procedures, it “does not suggest that a court can create jurisdiction for itself where the jurisdiction would otherwise be absent[.]” (citations omitted). In short, Plaintiff “missed a ‘jurisdictional deadline,’” which doomed his case from the outset.

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