Jack Nelson Jones Professional Association
January 8-14, 2018
Arkansas Center for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation v. Magee, 2017 Ark. App. 657 (December 6, 2017)
This appeal comes from the Pulaski County Circuit Court, Sixth Division, honorable Timothy Davis Fox presiding. This case concerns the statute of limitations for the collection of medical debts.
Arkansas Center for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ACPMR) is a chiropractic and physical-therapy clinic. Gloria Magee had been a patient at ACPMR. On August 12, 2016, ACPMR filed a complaint against Magee seeking to collect $7,195.68 in unpaid medical bills. ACPMR attached to its complaint an August 16, 2011 contract with Magee and account ledgers for account numbers 1007157 and 1006694. In account number 1007157, ACPMR charged Magee for services performed from August 16, 2011, through January 13, 2012, and the unpaid balance totaled $6,060. In account number 1006694, ACPMR charged Magee for services performed from February 4, 2014, through September 11, 2014, and the unpaid balance totaled $1,135.68.
Magee asserted that ACPMR could not recover on account number 1007157 because the claim was barred by the statute of limitations set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-56-106(b). Specifically, she pointed out that subsection 106(b) requires that a claim for unpaid medical bills be filed two years from the date the services were performed, or from the date of the most recent partial payment, whichever is later. She asserted that she last made a payment on that account on November 9, 2011, and that ACPMR last provided her services on that account on January 13, 2012, but that ACPMR did not file its complaint until August 12, 2016, more than two years later. Accordingly, she asked the court to dismiss ACPMR’s complaint as to account number 1007157 with prejudice. ACPMR argued that its claim for account number 1007157 was not barred by the statute of limitations because Magee had received ongoing treatment as recently as September 4, 2014, with respect to account number 1006694.
The circuit court held a bench trial, at which ACPMR did not appear. The circuit court ruled in Magee’s favor as to account number 1007157. The circuit court to the merits of ACPMR’s claim on account number 1006694. However, because ACPMR did not appear, Magee moved for a directed verdict, and the court granted it. ACPMR appealed.
On appeal, ACPMR first argued that Magee waived her statute-of-limitations defense (with respect to account number 1007157) when she failed to raise it as an affirmative defense in her answer. However, because ACPMR failed to raise the waiver argument to the circuit court, the Court declined to address it, noting it was not preserved for appeal.
ACPMR’s second argument was that section 16-56-106(b) of the Arkansas Code did not bar its claim as to account number 1007157. Specifically, ACPMR argued that its claim was not barred because Magee revived the debt when she received additional treatment from February 4, 2014, through September 11, 2014, in account number 1006694. It cited Raynor v. Kyser, wherein the Arkansas Supreme Court discussed the continuous-treatment doctrine, which tolls the statute of limitations for medical-malpractice claims, and ACPMR asked the Court to apply the doctrine here.
Section 16-56-106(b) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought to recover charges for medical services … by a physician or other medical service provider after the expiration of a period of two (2) years from the date services were performed or provided or from the date of the most recent partial payment for services, whichever is later.” The Court explained that an action barred by this statute can be continued or revived only by: (1) an express promise to pay the debt or an express acknowledgment of the debts from which the patient’s promise to pay may be inferred; and (2) an acknowledgment of the specific debts asserted to the “party in interest” or to “the person to whom the debt is due.” A mere acknowledgment of the debt as having once existed is not sufficient to raise an implication of such a new promise. To have this effect, the Court continued, there must be a distinct and unequivocal acknowledgment of the debts as still subsisting as a personal obligation of the debtor.
Here, the only evidence ACPMR offered was the August 2011 contract and the account ledgers. These documents, the Court noted, did not show an express promise by Magee to pay her unpaid balance or an express acknowledgement of the balance from which her promise to pay may be inferred.
Further, the Court declined to apply the continuous-treatment doctrine to this case. The Arkansas Supreme Court has applied the continuous-treatment doctrine only in medical-malpractice cases when the patient received active, ongoing medical treatment. The Court noted that continuous medical treatment is something more than the mere continuation of the physician-patient relationship. This case was not a medical-malpractice case, and Magee did not receive continuous treatment. Specifically, she did not receive services from ACPMR for a period of more than two years from January 13, 2012, through February 4, 2014. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the circuit court. Affirmed.