Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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In 2009, D. was delivered at Sharon Hospital by Dr. Gallagher and sustained an injury, allegedly causing her shoulder and arm permanent damage. In 2010-2011, preparing to file D.’s malpractice case, counsel requested records from Sharon and Gallagher, limited temporally to the delivery. Counsel believed that Gallagher was privately employed. Sharon was private; Gallagher was listed on the Sharon website. Counsel did not discover that Gallagher was employed by Primary Health, a “deemed” federal entity eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), malpractice coverage. D.'s mother had been Gallagher's patient for 10 years and had visited the Primary office. In contracting Gallagher, counsel used the Primary office street address. Gallagher’s responses included the words “Primary Health.” The lawsuit was filed in 2016; Pennsylvania law tolls a minor plaintiff’s action until she turns 18.The government removed the suit to federal court and substituted the government for Gallagher. The district court dismissed the suit against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA. The case against Sharon returned to state court. After exhausting administrative remedies, counsel refiled the FTCA suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting a claim that D. was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period because counsel had no reason to know that Gallagher was a deemed federal employee or that further inquiry was required. D. failed to show that she diligently pursued her rights and that extraordinary circumstances prevented her from timely filing. View "D.J.S.-W. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Elaine Kirt died in 2010, due to complications that developed shortly after undergoing eye surgery. On September 23, 2011, her son, Neville Kirt, appearing in person and on behalf of his deceased mother and his two brothers, filed a request with the Division of Administration asking for a medical review panel to review the care provided to his mother by three defendants: Dr. Rebecca Metzinger, the attending surgeon; Dr. Theodore Strickland III, the anesthesiologist for the procedure; and Tulane Medical Center. In a reply letter to Neville, the Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board (PCF) acknowledged receipt of the request; confirmed Dr. Metzinger, Dr. Strickland, and Tulane University Hospital & Clinic were qualified under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act (Act); informed Kirt a filing fee of $100 per qualified defendant was due; and requested payment of $300. The notice stated the failure to pay would render the request invalid, without effect, and would not suspend the time to file suit. Days later, then appearing through counsel, the Kirts sent a second letter asking to amend its previous request, adding two additional nurses. The Kirts included a $500 check to cover filing fees. A medical review panel convened, reviewed the care provided by all named healthcare providers, and found no breach of the standard of care. The Kirts thereafter filed against the doctors and nurses. Claims against the doctors were dismissed by summary judgments because there was no proof they breached the standard of care while treating Elaine Kirt. Those judgments expressly barred allocating fault to the dismissed parties and prohibited introducing evidence at trial to establish their fault. The nurses then filed peremptory exceptions of prescription, claiming the request for a medical review panel was invalid because the Kirts failed to pay the final $100 filing fee, and prescription was not suspended for any claims. The trial court concurred with the nurses and granted an exception of prescription. The Supreme Court determined that because the Kirts paid filing fees for five of six named defendants, dismissal of one of the nurses was proper for lack of a filing fee. The Court determined the lower courts did not consider or decide the merits of the Kirts' argument that they could not have reasonable known about the claims against two of the nurse defendants until one was deposed. Because the lower courts did not consider or decide the merits of the Kirts' basis for the exception of prescription, which could have turned on factual findings, the Supreme Court pretermitted consideration of these arguments and remanded the matter to the trial court for further disposition of the exception. View "Kirt v. Metzinger" on Justia Law

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Marques Davis was an inmate at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility (“HCF”) from June 2016 until his death in April 2017. During the course of his confinement, Davis suffered from constant neurological symptoms, the cause of which went untreated by HCF medical personnel. When he eventually died from Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis, Davis’s estate (“the Estate”) brought federal and state law claims against Corizon Health, Inc. and numerous health care professionals who interacted with Davis during his incarceration. One such medical professional, Dr. Sohaib Mohiuddin, filed a qualified-immunity-based motion to dismiss the Estate’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. The district court denied the motion, concluding the complaint set out a clearly established violation of Davis’s right to be free from deliberate indifference to the need for serious medical care. Mohiuddin appealed, arguing the district court erred in determining the complaint’s conclusory and collective allegations stated a valid Eighth Amendment claim as to him. Upon de novo review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint did not state a valid deliberate indifference claim as to Mohiuddin. Thus, it reversed the denial of Mohiuddin’s motion to dismiss and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings. View "Walker v. Corizon Health" on Justia Law

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For four years, nurse practitioner Jordan treated Clanton’s severe hypertension. Jordan, an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service, failed to properly educate Clanton about his disease or to monitor its advancement. Clanton’s hypertension developed into Stage V kidney disease requiring dialysis and a transplant. Clanton successfully sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court determined that Clanton had not contributed at all to his own injuries, noting that Clanton did not understand why it was important to take his medication and to attend appointments. The court awarded $30 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding that the court erred in its analysis of comparative negligence. Clanton’s subjective understanding does not end the inquiry. Illinois law requires the court to take the additional step of comparing Clanton’s understanding of his condition to that of a reasonable person in his situation. Clanton was in the position of a person whose caregiver failed to provide information about the severity of his condition but he had external clues that he was seriously unwell: two employment-related physicals showed that he had dangerously high blood pressure. The court upheld the court’s method of calculating damages and agreed that Clanton’s Medicare benefits are collateral to his damages award under Illinois law, so the government is not entitled to a partial offset. View "Clanton v. United States" on Justia Law

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Illinois requires medical-malpractice plaintiffs to file an affidavit stating that “there is a reasonable and meritorious cause” for litigation. The plaintiff needs a physician’s report, indicating that the physician has reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records and justifying the conclusion that “a reasonable and meritorious cause” exists. This requirement applies to malpractice litigation in federal court because it is a substantive condition of liability. The suit at issue is against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says that the government is liable to the same extent as a private person, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit found the rule applicable. The court noted that a prisoner may have insuperable difficulty obtaining a favorable physician’s report before filing a complaint and concluded that a complaint in federal court cannot properly be dismissed because it lacks an affidavit and report under 5/2-622. Federal, not state, rules often apply to procedural matters—such as what ought to be attached to pleadings—in federal suits, whether they arise under federal or state law. In federal court, supporting documents come later. Illinois wants insubstantial medical-malpractice suits resolved swiftly. That goal can be achieved in federal court under summary-judgment practice. View "Young v. United States" on Justia Law

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Sarah DeMichele, M.D., was a board-certified psychiatrist licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania. From August 2011 through February 2013, Dr. DeMichele provided psychiatric care to M.R. M.R. struggled with suicidal ideations and engaged in a pattern of self-harming behavior, which she discussed regularly with Dr. DeMichele. In December 2012, M.R.’s self-inflicted injuries necessitated emergency medical treatment. M.R. ultimately was transferred to a Trauma Disorders Program in Maryland. In the program, M.R. was treated by psychiatrist Richard Loewenstein, M.D., and psychologist Catherine Fine, Ph.D. During the course of his treatment of M.R., Dr. Loewenstein obtained M.R.’s medical records from Dr. DeMichele. In 2014, Dr. Loewenstein submitted a complaint to the Professional Compliance Office of Pennsylvania’s State Board of Medicine (“Board”), in which he alleged that Dr. DeMichele’s care of M.R. was professionally deficient. Dr. Loewenstein’s complaint prompted an investigation and, ultimately, the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against Dr. DeMichele. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (“Bureau”) filed an order directing Dr. DeMichele to show cause as to why the Board should not suspend, revoke, or restrict her medical license, or impose a civil penalty or the costs of investigation. In advance of the hearing, Dr. DeMichele requested that the hearing examiner issue subpoenas for the testimony of M.R. and the medical records of Dr. Loewenstein, Dr. Fine, the program, and M.R.’s former treating psychologist, April Westfall, Ph.D. Relying upon the authority provided under 63 P.S. 2203(c), the hearing examiner issued the requested subpoenas. However, when served with the subpoenas, all of M.R.’s treatment providers refused to release their records absent a court order or M.R.’s authorization. M.R. subsequently refused to authorize the release of her records. In this direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to consider the enforceability of the subpoenas, as well as related questions regarding the scope and applicability of numerous statutes that protect a patient’s medical information. The Commonwealth Court granted the physician’s petition to enforce the subpoenas. Because the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to decide the issue, it vacated that court’s order. View "In Re: Enforcement of Subpoenas b/f the Bd of Med." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Millard Lance Lemmings (“Lance”) was born at a government-operated hospital in Ada, Oklahoma. During his birth, Lance suffered a brain injury. Lance and his parents, suing as “parents and next friends,” sued Defendants Comphealth, Inc. and Comphealth Medical Staffing, Inc. for medical malpractice under the Federal Tor Claims Act. The parties settled the case on September 28, 2001. Lance’s parents were simultaneously engaged in a state court proceeding regarding guardianship of Lance. On the morning of October 25, 2001, Lance’s parents filed an application for an order approving the agreed settlement, attorneys’ fees, and litigation costs in the state court action. The state district court appointed Lance’s parents as the guardians of Lance’s estate. Following that court order, Lance’s parents withdrew their state court application for an order approving the settlement. Later that day, Lance’s parents appeared before the federal district court for a fairness hearing regarding the settlement and represented him at the fairness hearing. The district court did not appoint a guardian ad litem. Appellants Barbara Lemmings and Oran Hurley, Jr. filed a motion fifteen years later seeking to intervene, in which they contended: (1) the parties presented materially inaccurate information to the district court in 2001 in order to obtain the district court’s approval; (2) the district court did not have jurisdiction to approve the settlement because it did not appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Lance; and (3) a conflict of interest existed between Lance and his parents which required the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Belatedly, Appellants further sought access to the 2001 sealed fairness hearing transcript. In the motion to intervene, Appellants asserted that Lance’s parents spent a large portion of the proceeds and abandoned him in 2011, leaving him in the care of his paternal grandmother, Appellant Barbara Lemmings. The state district court appointed her Lance’s guardian in January 2017. After Ms. Lemmings suffered a health issue, the state court appointed Appellant Oran Hurley, Jr. as co-guardian. Appellants sought to reopen the district court action, vacate the dismissal, intervene, and rewrite the terms of the Irrevocable Governmental Trust in order to access the proceeds contained in that trust. The United States objected. The Tenth Circuit rejected Appellants' contention that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17 required the formal appointment of a guardian ad litem, and rejected the contention that an inherent conflict of interest always existed where a minor was represented by a parent who was a party to the same lawsuit as the minor. View "Kile v. United States" on Justia Law

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Scotty, born in 1979 at Madigan Army Medical Center, suffered injuries during childbirth, resulting in brain damage, cerebral palsy, seizures, and blindness, necessitating ongoing, around-the-clock care. The Shaws sued and agreed to a settlement, which stated that payments described in paragraph 5 and the purchase of annuities described in paragraph 6 “shall constitute a complete release.” Paragraph 5 provided that the government would pay: $500,000 to the Shaws; $500,000 to Scotty's medical trust; $850,000 to the Shaws’ attorneys; and, for the purchase of annuities to provide payments set forth in paragraph 6, $2,950,000.00. Paragraph 6 set forth the terms for the annuities. Four annuities are at issue: one each for Mr. and Ms. Shaw, one for the guardianship for the benefit of Scotty, and one for the medical trust. The government made each of the specified payments, including $2,846,095 to purchase the annuities. The agreement stated that payments from the annuities for Mr. and Ms. Shaw “are guaranteed for a period of twenty (20) years.” Paragraph 7 noted that the “settlement is contingent on a total, final cost of $4,800,000.00.” The annuities were purchased from ELNY, which later encountered financial difficulties and entered into court-ordered liquidation in 2012. The Shaws's annuity payments were reduced by 20%; payments to the guardianship and the medical trust were reduced by 62.4%. The Shaws sued. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government, which was obligated to guarantee the annuity payments only for the first 20 years. The reduction in payments began after that period. The Shaws lacked standing to sue on behalf of the medical trust. View "Shaw v. United States" on Justia Law

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Appellants’ action brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671-2680, seeking compensatory damages for the allegedly negligent act of a federal employee was time-barred under the FTCA’s statute of limitations.On April 22, 2013, Appellants filed a medical malpractice complaint pursuant to the FTCA against the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). The district court granted summary judgment for USDHHS, concluding that the complaint was time-barred for failing to file compulsory administrative claims within the FTCA’s two-year statute of limitations. On appeal, Appellants argued that their claim was timely under the “discovery rule.” The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, at least by March 8, 2010, Appellants knew of sufficient facts for their cause of action to accrue, and therefore, Appellants’ action was time-barred. View "Morales-Melecio v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Board of Directors (the Board) of Bear Valley Community Hospital (Bear Valley) refused to promote Dr. Robert O. Powell from provisional to active staff membership and reappointment to Bear Valley's medical staff. Dr. Powell appealed the superior court judgment denying his petition for writ of mandate to void the Board's decision and for reinstatement of his medical staff privileges. Dr. Powell practiced medicine in both Texas and California as a general surgeon. In 2000, the medical executive committee of Brownwood Regional Medical Center (Brownwood), in Texas, found that Dr. Powell failed to advise a young boy's parents that he severed the boy's vas deferens during a hernia procedure or of the ensuing implications. Further, the committee found that Dr. Powell falsely represented to Brownwood's medical staff, on at least two occasions, that he fully disclosed the circumstances to the parents, behavior which the committee considered to be dishonest, obstructive, and which prevented appropriate follow-up care. Based on the committee's findings, Brownwood terminated Dr. Powell's staff membership and clinical privileges. In subsequent years, Dr. Powell obtained staff privileges at other medical facilities. In October 2011, Dr. Powell applied for appointment to the medical staff at Bear Valley. On his initial application form, Dr. Powell was given an opportunity to disclose whether his clinical privileges had ever been revoked by any medical facility. In administrative hearings generated by the Bear Valley Board’s decision, there was a revelation that Dr. Powell had not been completely forthcoming about the Brownwood termination, and alleged the doctor mislead the judicial review committee (“JRC”) about the circumstances leading to that termination. Under Bear Valley's bylaws, Dr. Powell had the right to an administrative appeal of the JRC's decision; he chose, however, to bypass an administrative appeal and directly petition the superior court for a writ of mandamus. In superior court, Dr. Powell filed a petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure sections 1094.5 and 1094.6, seeking to void the JRC's/Board's decision and to have his medical privileges reinstated. The trial court denied the petition, and this appeal followed. On appeal of the superior court’s denial, Dr. Powell argued he was entitled to a hearing before the lapse of his provisional staff privileges: that the Board surreptitiously terminated his staff privileges, presumably for a medical disciplinary cause, by allowing his privileges to lapse and failing to act. The Court of Appeal determined the Bear Valley Board had little to no insight into the true circumstances of Dr. Powell’s termination at Brownwood or the extent of his misrepresentations, thus the Board properly exercised independent judgment based on the information presented. In summary, the Court of Appeal concluded Bear Valley provided Dr. Powell a fair procedure in denying his request for active staff privileges and reappointment to the medical staff. View "Powell v. Bear Valley Community Hospital" on Justia Law