Hospital that miscalculated “a relatively simple” deadline cannot rely on equitable tolling to save its untimely writ petition.
Saint Francis Memorial Hospital was fined $50,000 by the California Department of Public Health. The Department served Saint Francis with the final decision on December 16, 2015, which stated that it “shall be effective immediately.” Two weeks later, Saint Francis submitted a “Request for Reconsideration” to the Department. That was a mistake. Reconsideration was not available because the Department’s decision was effective immediately. To challenge the final decision, Saint Francis needed to file a petition for writ of administrative mandate in the superior court within 30 days of service of the final decision—i.e., by January 15, 2016. (See Gov. Code, §§ 11521, 11523.) But Saint Francis did not realize that and did not promptly seek writ relief. The Department likewise did not initially realize the timeliness issue. It answered Saint Francis’s reconsideration request on the merits on January 8, 2016. But the Department soon caught on. On January 14, the Department denied reconsideration on the basis that it was unavailable. Saint Francis eventually filed a writ petition on January 26, 2016—11 days too late.
The Department demurred to the writ petition on the ground it was untimely. The trial court sustained the demurrer and entered judgment for the Department. Saint Francis appealed, contending that the petition was timely, the filing deadline was equitably tolled, and the Department was equitably estopped from claiming the petition was filed late. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, holding that Saint Francis’ petition was untimely and neither equitable tolling nor estoppel were available remedies. The California Supreme Court granted review and reversed, holding that the first two elements of equitable tolling were satisfied and remanded the case to the Court of Appeal to determine whether the third element—“reasonable and good faith conduct on the part of the plaintiff”—was satisfied. (See July 10, 2020 BLS-HLC eBulletin: Saint Francis Memorial Hospital v. State Department of Public Health (June 29, 2020, S249132) __ Cal.5th __ [2020 WL 3526741].)
On remand, the Court of Appeal again affirmed the judgment of dismissal, holding that it was not objectively reasonable for Saint Francis to miss the filing deadline due to its misinterpretation of the governing statutes. Although it is normally reasonable not to file a writ petition until after a reconsideration motion is resolved, reconsideration was never an available remedy here. Moreover, the fact that the Department’s counsel apparently shared the mistaken belief that reconsideration was available, and that Saint Francis’s petition was timely did not show that the mistake was reasonable, since determining the correct deadline “was a relatively simple matter” and “the fact that two attorneys failed to pay close attention does not seem to usto make the mistake any more reasonable.”
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.