COURT OF APPEALS CONCLUDES DISTRICT COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS BASED ON STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The Court of Appeals, Austin, recently concluded that the district court abused its discretion in denying motion to dismiss based on statute of limitations. In In re the Springs Condominiums, No. 03-21-00493-CV, 2021 WL 5814292 (Tex. App.—Austin, Dec. 8, 2021, mem. op.), Caitlin Donovan began experiencing health problems after she moved into her apartment-home at Springs Condominiums. She saw her physician on March 27, 2019, for a visual contrast sensitivity test that screened for an illness called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). On April 9, 2019, Donovan and her physician reviewed the results of her visual contrast sensitivity test, which were suggestive of a diagnosis of CIRS due to mold. Donovan's physician also provided her with an environmental relative moldiness index test kit to test for mold in her apartment. On May 3, 2019, Donovan received test results indicating toxic mold in her apartment.
On April 20, 2021 (two years and ten days after Donovan and her doctor reviewed the test results indicating a CIRS diagnosis due to mold, but less than two years after Donovan received the results indicating toxic mold in her apartment), Donovan filed suit against Springs Condominiums alleging a claim of negligence and damages resulting from mold exposure in her apartment. In response, Springs Condominiums filed a motion to dismiss contending that Donovan’s claims had no legal basis because they were filed after the expiration of the statute of limitation. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, and Springs Condominiums filed a petition for writ of mandamus.
On mandamus, the Court of Appeals concluded that the district court abused its discretion in denying Springs Condominiums’ motion to dismiss. The court reasoned that “Donovan had knowledge of her injury—and the limitations period for her personal-injury claims began—on April 9, 2019, the date that she and her physician reviewed her test results attributing her CIRS diagnosis to exposure to mold and that she was provided with the kit to test for mold in her apartment.” “Once the defendant's wrongful conduct causes a legal injury, the injured party's claims based on that wrongful conduct accrue—and the limitations period begins to run—even if ... the claimant does not yet know the specific cause of the injury or the party responsible for it.”
The Court of Appeals rejected Donovan’s argument that the motion to dismiss could not be granted because the contention that her claim was time-barred required the district court to look beyond her original petition to determine whether Springs Condominiums had raised the affirmative defense of the statute of limitations in its answer. The court reasoned that “Rule 91a limits the scope of the court's factual inquiry—the court must take the allegations as true—but does not limit the scope of the court's legal inquiry in the same way.” “When deciding a Rule 91a motion, a court may consider the defendant's pleadings if doing so is necessary to make the legal determination of whether an affirmative defense is properly before the court.”