McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.
William R. Jewson appeals from a summary judgment entered in the District Court
The underlying facts are not in dispute. On September 24, 1942, doctors
In May 1969, Jewson again became a patient at Mayo Clinic and over the next several years was diagnosed and treated for a series of maladies including thyroid cancer, bowel obstructions, skin cancer, kidney cancer, and depression. He was last treated at the Mayo Clinic in July 1976. In July 1969, a Mayo Clinic pathologist amended Jewson's 1942 diagnosis of lymphosarcoma to follicular and reticular hyperplasia.
On April 19, 1978, Jewson initiated the present medical malpractice action against Mayo Clinic alleging numerous theories including: (1) his condition had been negligently misdiagnosed in 1942; (2) due to the misdiagnosis he had been subjected to inappropriate radiation therapy which resulted in later ailments including cancer of the thyroid, skin and kidney; (3) the Mayo Clinic had failed to obtain his informed consent for the radiation therapy; and (4) the Mayo Clinic physicians had fraudulently concealed the 1942 misdiagnosis by not informing him of the 1969 amendment.
The district court granted the motion on the basis that under Minnesota law the statute of limitations in medical malpractice actions begins to run when treatment for a particular malady ceases, citing Johnson v. Winthrop Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug, Inc., 291 Minn. 145, 190 N.W.2d 77 (1971). The district court reasoned that the
When reviewing the district court's entry of summary judgment, this court applies the same standard the district court used in granting the motion for summary judgment. 10 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2716 (1973). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), the motion for summary judgment should be sustained "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
This Circuit has repeatedly emphasized the drastic nature of the summary judgment remedy. It should not be granted unless the moving party has established the right to a judgment with such clarity as to leave no room for controversy. See Snell v. United States, 680 F.2d 545, 547 (8th Cir. 1982); Jackson v. Star Sprinkler Corp., 575 F.2d 1223, 1226 (8th Cir. 1978); New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Null, 554 F.2d 896, 901 (8th Cir. 1977). This imposes a heavy burden on the moving party because the evidence will be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. The court also must give the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the facts. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608-09, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). "However, this Circuit recognizes the remedy's salutary purpose of avoiding useless and time consuming trials." Butler v. MFA Life Insurance Co., 591 F.2d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 1979), citing Percival v. General Motors Corp., 539 F.2d 1126, 1129 (8th Cir. 1976); Lyons v. Board of Education, 523 F.2d 340, 347 (8th Cir. 1975).
In the present case the district court properly applied the Minnesota case law interpreting Minn.Stat.Ann. § 541.07. Moreover, the principles relied on by the district court were recently reaffirmed by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Grondahl v. Bulluck, Minn., 318 N.W.2d 240 (1982). In Grondahl, the court stated:
318 N.W.2d at 242-43.
On appeal Jewson first argues that there were disputed material issues of fact as to when the Mayo Clinic's treatment of him for lymphosarcoma ceased. Jewson asserts that lymphosarcoma is an incurable disease, and that the treatment of it therefore continues for life. Therefore, the Mayo Clinic's
Initially we note that the plaintiff in Grondahl based her medical malpractice claim on an alleged misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The fact that multiple sclerosis was an incurable disease did not alter the Minnesota Supreme Court's analysis in determining when the defendant physician's treatment of Grondahl's multiple sclerosis ceased. The reasoning of Grondahl is consistent with the reasoning of the Minnesota Supreme Court in Schmit v. Esser, 183 Minn. 354, 236 N.W. 622, 625 (1931).
Id. 183 Minn. 354, 236 N.W. at 625, citing Schmit v. Esser, 178 Minn. 82, 226 N.W. 196, 197 (1929).
In the present case the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Jewson as suffering from lymphosarcoma in 1942 and treated him with radiation therapy from 1942 through 1950. After the radiation treatment ceased, Jewson continued to receive examinations to check for a reoccurrence of lymphosarcoma and the need for additional radiation therapy. In 1961 he received his last examination for reoccurrence and was found to be asymptomatic of the disease. At that time there was no more that the Mayo Clinic physicians could do to effect a cure. After the last examination, Jewson sought no treatment from and maintained no relationship with the Mayo Clinic for eight years. Therefore, under the reasoning in Schmit v. Esser, 183 Minn. 354, 236 N.W. 622, the Mayo Clinic's treatment of Jewson for lymphosarcoma ceased in 1961.
Jewson next argues that a material issue as to when his treatment ceased is raised by his claim that he visited the Mayo Clinic occasionally between 1961 and 1969 but was not seen by any physician, citing Grondahl. We disagree. In Grondahl, the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that a telephone consultation between a physician and his patient could constitute proof of a continuing physician-patient relationship and is evidence that the physician is attending and examining the patient. In contrast, Jewson does not allege that he consulted with or was examined by any Mayo Clinic physician between 1961 and 1969. He merely claims that he visited the clinic occasionally and that he spoke informally about his lymphosarcoma with his neighbor who happened to be a Mayo Clinic physician. We conclude that allegations of mere visits and over-the-back-fence chats do not constitute evidence of a continuing physician-patient relationship under the reasoning of Grondahl.
Jewson next argues that there was a disputed issue of material fact as to when the statute of limitations began to run. Jewson reasons that his cause of action did not accrue until 1969 when the damage of
Jewson's reliance on the cited cases is misplaced. Neither of the cases involved Minnesota's medical malpractice statute of limitations and both stressed the unique character of asbestos-related injuries and deaths in holding that the plaintiffs' causes of action did not accrue until the effects of the asbestos exposure were manifested. Rather, the Minnesota Supreme Court has expressly rejected this so-called "discovery rule" in medical malpractice cases. See Johnson v. Winthrop Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug, Inc., 291 Minn. 145, 190 N.W.2d at 81, citing Schmucking v. Mayo, 183 Minn. 37, 235 N.W. 633 (1931). "The cause of action accrues when the physician's treatment for the particular condition ceases." Grondahl v. Bulluck, 318 N.W.2d at 243 (citations omitted). "Thus, in the absence of fraud, ignorance of the existence of the cause of action does not toll the statute of limitations." Johnson v. Winthrop Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug, Inc., 291 Minn. 145, 190 N.W.2d at 81.
Jewson next argues that the 1969 amended diagnosis constitutes fraudulent concealment, thereby tolling the statute of limitations until 1977 when he first learned of the amendment. However, as the district court correctly found, "[t]here was no concealment, if any there was, until 1969 when the amended diagnosis was entered on the 1942 surgical report. Since no cause of action existed at that time, there was no claim against which the statute could be tolled." Jewson v. Mayo Clinic, slip op. at 4 (footnote omitted).
Jewson also argues that fraudulent concealment may have been present from the 1940's because the Mayo Clinic's negligence in making the 1942 diagnosis would have been obvious to any physician with access to Jewson's record, due to the Mayo Clinic's failure to perform a heterophil antibody test to rule out the possibility of infectious
Jewson next argues that Minn.Stat.Ann. § 541.07(1) operates as a statute of repose in the present case because it barred his cause of action before it accrued. Jewson argues that if Minn.Stat.Ann. § 541.07(1) is applied as a statute of repose it violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution by unconstitutionally distinguishing between plaintiffs with latent malpractice injuries and plaintiffs whose malpractice injuries manifest themselves within two years. This argument might have merit if the reasons for the difference were wholly irrelevant to the objective of the statute, McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 425, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 1104, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961), or so unrelated to the statute's legitimate purpose as to make its provisions irrational. Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93, 97, 99 S.Ct. 939, 942, 59 L.Ed.2d 171 (1979). However, such is not the case. Under Minnesota law, a patient can bring a medical malpractice action against his physician within two years after the termination of the treatment for which the physician was retained. The reasons underlying this rule have been explained as follows:
Swang v. Hauser, 288 Minn. 306, 180 N.W.2d 187, 189-90 (1970). The state's choice of the termination of treatment as the event which triggers the running of the statute is consistent with its strong and legitimate interest in preventing litigation of stale claims. That interest is particularly strong in the present case where the doctors who made the initial diagnosis and administered the radiation treatments are deceased, and the method of treatment administered is now obsolete. The statute of limitations, which applies to all medical malpractice plaintiffs, does not deny Jewson equal protection. See Botzet v. Spencer, 362 F.Supp. 177, 179 (D.Minn.1973) ("Since all plaintiffs and defendants in medical malpractice actions are treated alike under [Minn.Stat.Ann.] Section 541.07(1), there can be no denial of equal protection.").
Jewson's final argument is that the statute of limitations, as applied, violates due process by barring his right to a medical malpractice action before the damage had accrued. We disagree. Limitation periods are designed to eliminate stale claims. Order of Railroad Telegraphers v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 321 U.S. 342, 349, 64 S.Ct. 582, 586, 88 L.Ed. 788 (1949). "They are by definition arbitrary, and their operation does not discriminate between the just and the unjust claim, or the avoidable and unavoidable delay." Chase Securities Corp. v. Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304, 314, 65 S.Ct. 1137, 1142, 89 L.Ed. 1628 (1945). They sometimes expire before a claimant has sustained any injury, see, e.g., Dincher v. Marlin Firearms Co., 198 F.2d 821, 822-23 (2d Cir. 1952), or before he knows he has sustained an injury, see, e.g., Clark v. Gulesian, 429 F.2d 405, 406 (1st Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 993, 91 S.Ct. 461, 27 L.Ed.2d 441 (1971). If the limitation period is otherwise reasonable, a claimant is not thereby deprived of his right to due process. See, e.g., Ornstein v. Regan, 604 F.2d 212, 214 (2d Cir. 1979). Here the state of Minnesota was justifiably concerned about causes of action arising out of incidents occurring years ago. Long lapses of time result in the absence and unavailability of critical
The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
The case was initially assigned to the Honorable Diana Murphy, United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota. Judge Murphy initially denied Mayo Clinic's motion for summary judgment finding that there were disputed issues of material fact as to when treatment ceased. Subsequently, Judge Murphy disqualified herself from all cases involving Mayo Clinic and the case was assigned to Judge Renner. Discovery was completed and Mayo Clinic renewed its motion for summary judgment. Judge Renner granted the motion and allowed the parties to submit only new materials acquired since July 1980.
We realize that the Minnesota Supreme Court's summary affirmance itself has no precedential value. However, state district court opinions must be given proper regard by federal courts sitting in diversity. See Comm'r of Internal Revenue v. Bosch, 387 U.S. 456, 465, 87 S.Ct. 1776, 1782, 18 L.Ed.2d 886 (1967).
Therefore, even in those jurisdictions using the discovery rule, Jewson's claim may be barred.