District Court, Spanish Fork Department The Honorable M.
James Brady No. 160300033
L. Chingas Jr., Attorney for Appellants
D. Reyes and Peggy E. Stone, Attorneys for Appellees
Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate
A. Toomey and Ryan M. Harris concurred.
Gary and Pamela Schleger appeal the district court's
decision dismissing their medical malpractice and wrongful
death action against the State and the Utah State Hospital
(collectively, the State). The court concluded that, while
the Schlegers had successfully complied with the
prelitigation claims-review requirements of the Utah Health
Care Malpractice Act (the HCMA), their suit was nevertheless
time-barred under the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah (the
GIA). The Schlegers maintain that the court erred in its
interpretation of the applicable statutes. We disagree and
This appeal comes to us in the wake of the tragic events
surrounding the death of the Schlegers'
twenty-nine-year-old daughter (Decedent). In May 2013, after
a long battle with mental illness, Decedent was admitted to
the Utah State Hospital for long-term inpatient treatment.
Upon her arrival, she was immediately placed on suicide
watch. Soon thereafter, Decedent's roommate alerted
hospital staff that Decedent had begun making strange noises.
Rushing into Decedent's room, staff members found her
sitting next to her bed, with shoelaces wrapped tightly
around her neck. Although staff members acted quickly in an
attempt to save her, she had already lost consciousness by
the time they managed to cut the laces off. Sadly, after
spending three days on life support, Decedent was pronounced
Following Decedent's death, the Schlegers decided to
assert claims against the State for medical malpractice and
wrongful death. Given that they wished to pursue a lawsuit
against the government, however, they could not file their
action without first satisfying certain procedural
prerequisites arising under the GIA. Thus, consistent with
section 63G-7-401 of the GIA, the Schlegers served a notice
of their claims on the Utah Attorney General on May 21, 2014,
the last possible day in the one-year period in which they
could do so. When the State failed to respond by July 20,
2014, the Schlegers' claims were deemed denied by
operation of statute. See Utah Code Ann. §
63G-7-403(1)(b) (LexisNexis 2016). At that point, barring a
tolling of the GIA's limitations period, the Schlegers
had one year in which to commence their action against the
State lest they lose their right to sue. See id.
But as of late July 2014, the Schlegers still had several
procedural hurdles to surmount before they could file suit.
Specifically, because they sought to assert claims for
medical malpractice, they were required to comply with the
prelitigation claims-review requirements set out in the HCMA.
They did not begin this process until May 19, 2015-some ten
months after the State was deemed to have denied their
claims-when they served the State with a notice of their
intent to sue for medical malpractice. See id.
§ 78B-3-412(1)(a) (LexisNexis 2012). Several weeks
later, on July 17, 2015, the Schlegers took the next step in
the claims-review process by submitting a formal request for
prelitigation panel review to the Utah Division of
Occupational and Professional Licensing (the Division).
See id. § 78B-3-416(2)(a). On January 6, 2016,
the Division provided the Schlegers with a certificate of
compliance. See id. § 78B-3-418(1)(a)-(b). With
that, the Division documented that it had finished its review
and that the HCMA's prelitigation claims-review process
was complete, leaving the Schlegers free to sue on their
The Schlegers then brought this action in district court,
see id. § 78B-3-412(1)(b), nearly two months
later, on March 4, 2016. In response, the State filed a
motion to dismiss on the ground that the Schlegers'
complaint was untimely under the GIA's one-year statute
of limitations. After hearing oral argument on the motion,
the district court agreed with the State and dismissed the
Schlegers' suit with prejudice. The Schlegers appeal.
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Schlegers argue that the district court erred in
concluding that the GIA's one-year statute of limitations
is not subject to the HCMA's provision for tolling
limitations statutes during the prelitigation claims-review
process. "Issues of statutory interpretation are
questions of law that we review for correctness, "
without according deference to the district court's
decision. In ...