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Miami Valley Hospital v. Joshua Middleton

September 30, 2011


Civil Appeal from Dayton Municipal Court Trial Court Case No. 09-CVF-751

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hall, J.

Cite as Miami Valley Hosp. v. Middleton,


{¶1} The action below was initiated by Miami Valley Hospital against Joshua Middleton for collection on a medical bill. Middleton has appealed two decisions of the Dayton Municipal Court. The first decision, filed October 13, 2009, dismissed Middleton's third-party complaint against the alleged tortfeasor whose negligence sent him to the hospital for treatment. The other decision, filed August 2, 2010, granted the hospital's motion for summary judgment, denied Middleton's request for leave to withdraw discovery admissions, and denied him additional time to complete discovery.

{¶2} Because we are unable to say that the municipal court abused its discretion by dismissing the third-party complaint, that decision of the trial court is affirmed. We conclude that the municipal court's denial of leave to withdraw admissions was, if unreasonable or arbitrary, harmless since Middleton elsewhere in the record admits liability for the medical treatment and the amount of the judgment was based on submitted affidavits, not the failure to respond to requests for admissions. The court's denial of additional time to complete discovery and respond to the motion for summary judgment, which was entered almost five months after the second request for an extension was made, was not an abuse of discretion. Finally, the municipal court properly granted summary judgment for the Hospital. The Hospital's bill was prima facie evidence of the reasonableness of its charges, and Middleton failed to set forth specific facts showing that the charges were unreasonable. The judgment containing these three rulings is also affirmed.

1. Facts and procedural posture.

{¶3} On September 25, 2008, Middleton was injured in an automobile accident. He was taken by ambulance to Miami Valley Hospital for emergency medical care. Unfortunately, Middleton did not have health insurance, so the Hospital billed him for its services. After discharging Middleton, the Hospital sent him a statement with a balance of $5,573.10. A few months later, the Hospital filed an action against Middleton in Dayton Municipal Court for a judgment on his account.

{¶4} Along with his answer, Middleton filed a third-party complaint against the person he alleges was at fault in the accident. For his injuries, Middleton claimed more than $25,000 in damages. He also claimed indemnity for any amount that he owed the Hospital. After Middleton had filed the third-party complaint, the Hospital served him with discovery requests, including a request for admissions. When Middleton did not respond to these requests, the Hospital moved for summary judgment based, in part, on its request for admissions, which the hospital argued were deemed admitted because Middleton failed to timely respond. Opposing, Middleton argued that, because the amount demanded by the third-party complaint exceeded the municipal court's jurisdictional limit, the municipal court lost its authority over the case on the date he filed the third-party complaint. Therefore, the request for admissions and the motion for summary judgment were legal nullities. All the municipal court could-and must-do, Middleton argued, was certify the case to the court of common pleas. Replying, the Hospital moved to dismiss the third-party complaint. On December 29, 2009, the municipal court dismissed the third-party complaint. Since Middleton had not yet responded to the summary judgment motion on its merits, the court gave him 14 days to do so.

{¶5} In his January 2009 merit response, Middleton asked the court for leave to withdraw his admissions and asked for a Civ.R. 56(F) continuance to conduct discovery. Middleton explained that, while he owed the Hospital for treating him, he did not believe that the amount the Hospital had charged him for its services was reasonable. Middleton told the court that time was needed to discover facts on this matter to ensure that the merits of the Hospital's claim were properly examined. In its January 27, 2010 ruling, the court did not address the admissions-withdrawal request, but it did grant Middleton a 30-day continuance in which to complete discovery and respond to the Hospital's summary judgment motion.

{¶6} In early March 2010, soon after the initial 30-day extension ended, Middleton served the Hospital with written discovery requests. A few days later, Middleton asked the court for more discovery time. He pointed out that the discovery rules grant a responding party at least 28 days to respond, and Middleton told the court that he wished to depose the Hospital. So, he asserted, it was simply impossible to complete discovery within the 30-day period that the court had originally ordered, let alone complete discovery and prepare a response to the summary judgment motion.

{¶7} Five months later, on August 2, 2010, the municipal court denied Middleton's request for more time, denied his request to withdraw his admissions, and granted the Hospital summary judgment. Deducting the amount that had been paid from the amount demanded in the complaint,*fn1 and consistent with an "Affidavit Evidencing Account Balance" filed March 29, 2010, the court entered judgment against Middleton in the amount of $3,905.94.

Middleton appealed.

{ΒΆ8} Middleton's assignments of error assert that the trial court erred in four respects: 1) the dismissal of his third-party complaint, 2) the denial of leave to withdraw his admissions, 3) the grant of summary judgment, and 4) the ...

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