In its opinion filed on November 19, 2018, the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands (“Virgin Islands Supreme Court”) held that the record before it “clearly demonstrates that [the plaintiff] filed a proposed complaint with the Committee [i.e., the Medical Malpractice Action Review Committee], satisfying the first condition of section 166i. After the Committee did not respond within 90 days, the second condition was met, and [the plaintiff] was free to file her complaint with the Superior Court. At that point, the Superior Court had jurisdiction to hear her claim under 4 V.I.C. § 76(a), and no other action was necessary—pleading or otherwise—to invoke the Superior Court’s subject matter jurisdiction. While the Superior Court may have appreciated a clarifying statement of pre-filing compliance in [the plaintiff’s] pleading, none was necessary to invoke the subject matter jurisdiction that the Superior Court already possessed.”
Section 166i of title 27 of the Virgin Islands Code establishes a pre-filing jurisdictional requirement before a plaintiff may commence a medical malpractice action under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. Section 166i states, in relevant part: “(b) No action against a health care provider may be commenced in court before the claimant’s proposed complaint has been filed with the Committee and the Committee has received the expert opinion as required by this section, provided, that if said opinion is not received by the Committee within ninety days from the date the complaint was filed with the Committee, the claimant may commence his action against the health care provider in court; Provided further, That the commencement of the court action shall not prevent the Committee from obtaining the expert opinion. (c) The proposed complaint shall be deemed filed when a copy is delivered or mailed by registered or certified mail to the Commissioner of Health . . . [.]”
In the case the Virgin Islands Supreme court was deciding, the medical malpractice defendants argued that by failing to plead compliance with the jurisdictional requirements of section 166i, the plaintiff’s Virgin Islands medical malpractice complaint failed to establish on its face that the Superior Court’s subject matter jurisdiction over her claim had vested. The defendants argued that although the plaintiff stated in her complaint that “[t]his Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 4 V.I.C. § 76 and also the Medical Malpractice Act[,]” she never expressly averred that she had already filed with the Committee and waited 90 days before commencing court action.
The Virgin Islands Supreme Court held that once the claimant has filed her complaint with the Committee, she may proceed to court after one of two things happens: (1) the Committee has received the expert opinion; or (2) the Committee has not received an expert opinion and 90 days have passed. 27 V.I.C. § 166i. Nowhere does the statute state that pleading compliance with the requirements of section 166i is a precursor to invoking the subject matter jurisdiction of the Superior Court. Section 166i is clear; statutory restrictions on the Superior Court’s jurisdiction are inapplicable once the claimant has satisfied the statutory pre-filing conditions.
Source Daley-Jeffers v. Graham, S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0011.
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