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United States v. Saint Louis University

November 16, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge


I. Introduction and Background

Now before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss and memorandum in support. (Docs. 3, 4.) Plaintiff United States of America opposes the motion. (Doc. 8.) Defendant filed a reply. (Doc. 9.) For the reasons below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

Defendant Saint Louis University ("SLU") and the United States were co-defendants in a medical malpractice and wrongful death action concerning the treatment of a Mr. Ronald Arpin. That case proceeded to a final judgment in this Court on November 16, 2006. (See No. 3:04-CV-00128-DRH, Doc. 54.) Following a bench trial, this Court found that the defendants negligently failed to diagnose a medical condition which ultimately caused Mr. Arpin's tragic and unnecessary death. (See Id., Doc. 53, pp. 2, 4.) Judgment was entered against the defendants jointly, who were ordered to pay $8,265,009.27 to Mr. Arpin's estate. (Id., Doc. 54.)

The United States filed suit seeking contribution*fn1 from its prior co-defendant for satisfaction of the judgment on February 26, 2007. (Doc. 2.) SLU has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the Government's claim is time-barred under Illinois law. (Doc. 3.) In the alternative, SLU argues that the Government's claim is also time-barred under federal law. The United States contends it is not bound by Illinois's limitations periods and argues that under the only applicable (federal) statute of limitations, its complaint is timely. (Doc. 8.)

II. Motion to Dismiss

Generally speaking, when ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court assumes as true all facts well-pled (plus reasonable inferences therefrom) and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Fries v. Helsper, 146 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir. 1998). The question is whether, under those assumptions, the plaintiff would have a right to legal relief. Id.

As a procedural matter, SLU's motion to dismiss, predicated as it is on the theory that the Government's claim is time-barred, is awkward. A statute of limitations is an affirmative defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c); United States Gypsum Co. v. Indiana Gas Co., 350 F.3d 623 (7th Cir. 2003). However, a complaint need not anticipate nor overcome affirmative defenses in order to survive a 12(b)(6) motion.Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Xechem, Inc. v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 372 F.3d 899, 901 (7th Cir. 2004). For this reason, "[i]t is, of course, 'irregular' to dismiss a claim as untimely under Rule 12(b)(6)." Hollander v. Brown, 457 F.3d 688, 691 n.1 (7th Cir. 2006). But where a plaintiff effectively pleads itself out of court by alleging facts that are sufficient to establish a defense, such a defense may be considered for the purposes of a 12(b)(6) motion. United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir. 2005). In this case, the dates which are relevant to determining whether the Government's claim is time-barred are provided for by the allegations of the complaint. (See Doc. 2, ¶¶ 1-3.)

A court may take judicial notice of documents filed in a different case. See General Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 1997). Therefore, the Court may look to the underlying malpractice action referenced by the Government's complaint and may utilize the evidence and findings of fact from that case to aid in determining the instant motion. The Court does not need to convert SLU's 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment in order to rule on the issue of timeliness. Cf. Pierce v. Illinois Dept. of Human Services, 128 Fed. Appx. 534, 536 n.1 (7th Cir. 2005). The purely legal*fn2 question of whether the Government's claim is time-barred is properly postured for decision.

III. Analysis

SLU correctly notes that the United States' right to contribution will be determined by the law of the state which gave rise to the underlying cause of action. See Overseas Nat. Airways, Inc. v. United States 766 F.2d 97, 101-02 (2d Cir. 1985) (citing United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 340 U.S. 543, 552 (1951) in noting that "state law generally governs claims of the United States for contribution"); Estate of Warner by Warner v. United States, 669 F.Supp. 234, 236 (N.D. Ill. 1987). Given that the substantive law of the case derives from Illinois, SLU argues that Illinois's limitations laws should also apply. Specifically, SLU argues that the Government's claim is time-barred under Illinois's 4 year statute of repose for medical malpractice actions and its complementary 2 year statute of limitations. See 735 ILCS 5/13-212(a).

The Government concedes that, ordinarily, a claim for contribution brought in the same time and manner as in the instant case would be barred: "Certainly, if plaintiff were Acme Widget Company instead of the United States of America, the claim would be barred by [Illinois's] statute of limitations or statute of repose." (Doc. 8, pp. 1-2.) Thus, the Court must decide whether Plaintiff's identity as the federal Government exempts it from a state's statute of limitations (or repose). If the answer is "no," according to the Government's concession, our analysis is finished and the suit must be dismissed. However, if the answer is "yes," the Court must then proceed to the secondary question of whether a federal statute of limitations precludes the United States' claim.

A. Applicability of Illinois's Limitations Laws

By requesting that the Court find the Government is bound by Illinois's limitations law, SLU invites the Court to make path-breaking precedent in contravention of decisions from the Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit, our sister districts in Illinois, and even from this Court. The Court declines the invitation and finds that neither Illinois's ...

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