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Carias-Garcia v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

September 6, 2016



          RUDY LOZANO, United States District Court Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Summary Judgment filed by Defendant United States of America on February 19, 2016 (DE #55). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE #55) is GRANTED. The Clerk is ORDERED to DISMISS this case WITH PREJUDICE.


         Plaintiff Elizabeth Carias-Garcia's infant passed away in utero in 2011. Plaintiff subsequently filed this action against Defendant United States of America, Neighborhood Health Clinics, Inc. (“NHC”), and Dr. David W. Pepple, M.D. She seeks monetary damages for the alleged negligence in the pregnancy care she received from Dr. Pepple and NHC that allegedly resulted in the death of her infant. Plaintiff brings her claim against Defendant as a result of the actions of Dr. Pepple and NHC, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671, et seq.[1]Defendant now moves for summary judgment, asserting that it is not liable under the FTCA for acts or omissions of Dr. Pepple because Dr. Pepple was not an employee of NHC. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for adjudication.


         Summary judgment must be granted when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate; “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. To determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010).

         A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely on allegations in his own pleading but rather must “marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case.” Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). “[I]nferences relying on mere speculation or conjecture will not suffice.” Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 786 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which he bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. See Massey v. Johnson, 457 F.3d 711, 716 (7th Cir. 2006).


         From April 2009 through November 2009, Plaintiff received treatment at the NHC in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for her pregnancy. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Pepple provided her care and treatment during her pregnancy. Plaintiff was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and claims that she consistently complained of very little fetal movement during the end of her third trimester. On November 13, 2009, Dr. Pepple performed an emergency C-section on Plaintiff at St. Joseph Hospital. Plaintiff's baby was stillborn, and appeared to have passed away several days before the delivery.

         In 2011, Plaintiff presented a Notice of Federal Tort Claim to NHC and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). HHS denied Plaintiff's administrative tort claim in 2012. Plaintiff also filed a medical malpractice complaint against NHC and Dr. Pepple before the Indiana Insurance Commissioner (“IIC”). On January 12, 2015, the IIC Medical Review Panel found that evidence supported the conclusion that NHC and Dr. Pepple “failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care, ” and that the alleged conduct “was a factor of the resultant damages, but the panel [was] unable to determine the extent of any disability or permanent impairment.”[2] (DE #62-1 at 3.)

         Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against Defendant based on the alleged actions of NHC and Dr. Pepple. NHC is a federally deemed community health center, and is a not-for-profit corporation organized and existing under the law of the State of Indiana. Dr. Pepple is a licensed family practice physician in Fort Wayne, Indiana. NHC never employed Dr. Pepple, never had a personal contract with Dr. Pepple, and never compensated him for his services at NHC. Dr. Pepple was employed by the Northeast Regional Family Practice, P.C. (“Northeast Regional”), an entity independent of NHC.

         In 2000, Dr. Pepple entered into an Employment Agreement with the Fort Wayne Medical Education Program (“FWMEP”). FWMEP is part of the Indiana University School of Medicine, and provides training to family practice resident physicians. According to the Employment Agreement, Dr. Pepple was employed as FWMEP's Assistant Director. His duties included serving as clinical instructor and coordinator of obstetrical services and education for FWMEP's family practice residency, supervising resident obstetrics, and supervising the outpatient obstetrical clinic at NHC. (DE #56-6 at 2, 7.) Dr. Pepple and the FWMEP's residency program had their own medical malpractice insurance.

         Prior to October 5, 2009, NHC and FWMEP operated under a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”). Under the MOU, FWMEP resident physicians provided obstetrical services for all NHC prenatal patients, and NHC provided nursing, support personnel and equipment to support the physician services. On or about October 5, 2009, NHC and FWMEP entered into a Program Letter of Agreement between FWMEP's family medicine residency program and NHC (“Program Letter”). (DE #56-8.) Pursuant to the Program Letter, FWMEP assigned resident physicians to provide prenatal care and deliveries to NHC patients. (DE #56-2 at ¶¶4-5.) NHC provided nursing, support personnel and equipment to support the physician services. The Program Letter identifies Dr. Pepple as “Local Director” of the “Participating Site - [NHC], ” and Dr. James E. Buchanan as the Program Director of Family Medicine of the “Sponsoring Institution, ” FWMEP. (DE #56-8 at 1.) Dr. Pepple and Dr. Ravi Raju were responsible for supervising the resident physicians while they were ...

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