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G.F. v. St. Catherine Hospital, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 6, 2019

G.F., Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
St. Catherine Hospital, Inc., Vatsal K. Patel, D.O., and Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund, Appellees-Defendants.

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Timothy Oakes, Judge, The Honorable Caryl Dill, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 49D02-1801-PL-614

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Neal F. Eggeson, Jr. Fishers, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES A. Richard M. Blaiklock Wade D. Fulford Lewis Wagner, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana Michael A. Sarafin Johnson & Bell, P.C. Crown Point, Indiana Sharon L. Stanzione Alan M. Kus Johnson & Bell, P.C. Crown Point, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         [¶1] Appellant-Plaintiff, G.F., and Appellee/Cross-Appellant-Defendant, the Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund (the Fund), appeal the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Appellees-Defendants, St. Catherine Hospital, Inc. (St. Catherine), and Vatsal K. Patel, D.O. (Dr. Patel), concluding that, as a matter of law, the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA) applies to G.F.'s claim against Dr. Patel.

         [¶2] We reverse and remand.

         ISSUES

         [¶3] G.F. and the Fund, in separate briefs, present this court with three issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as:

(1) Whether the trial court erred by allowing St. Catherine and Dr. Patel to file a response to G.F.'s motion for summary judgment outside the time period specified in Indiana Trial Rule 56; and
(2) Whether the MMA applies to claims involving negligent dissemination of protected health information.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶4] On June 5, 2015, G.F. received in-patient treatment at St. Catherine for pneumonia-related symptoms. While G.F. was being visited by a co-worker, Dr. Patel entered the room. With the co-worker in the room, Dr. Patel informed G.F. that his "CD4 count is low . . . you need to see your infectious disease doctor as soon as you can!" (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 12). Because G.F.'s visitor had a prior family experience with HIV, she immediately understood the implication of Dr. Patel's communication to G.F. As soon as Dr. Patel exited the room, G.F.'s co-worker voiced her understanding of Dr. Patel's statement: as her step-brother had died from HIV/AIDS, she recognized the inferences of discussing CD4 counts with an infectious disease doctor. Four days later, Dr. Patel phoned G.F. to apologize for what he said in front of G.F.'s co-worker. Dr. Patel had assumed the co-worker was G.F.'s fiancée.

         [¶5] As a result of what she learned on June 5, 2015, G.F.'s co-worker has severed all ties with G.F. Though G.F. and his co-worker had been good friends prior to this incident, she now no longer calls or visits G.F., she does not return G.F.'s calls, and she even refuses to acknowledge his existence at work. Suggesting that the word is out at his workplace, G.F. observed that other co-workers now "change their path when they see [G.F.] heading in their directions." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 38).

         [¶6] On August 20, 2015, G.F. filed his Proposed Complaint for medical malpractice against St. Catherine and Dr. Patel with the Indiana Department of Insurance [IDOI], in its capacity of the Fund. Five months later, on January 21, 2016, G.F. filed an anonymous Complaint for damages against St. Catherine and Dr. Patel with the Lake County Circuit Court. On March 4, 2016, St. Catherine and Dr. Patel moved to dismiss the Lake County action for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On April 27, 2016, the Lake County Circuit Court denied the motion to dismiss.

         [¶7] On October 19, 2017, the medical review panel rendered a split decision. The panel found no breach of standard of care in favor of St. Catherine. As to Dr. Patel, the panel concluded that G.F.'s allegations hinged upon "a material issue of fact not requiring expert opinion, bearing on liability for consideration by the court or jury." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, pp. 71-73).

         [¶8] On January 6, 2018, G.F. initiated an action for declaratory judgment against St. Catherine, Dr. Patel, and the Fund in Marion County Superior Court, seeking a declaration of law that his claims fell outside the ambit of the MMA. On March 10, 2018, G.F. moved for summary judgment on his declaratory judgment claims, and the Fund joined in the motion on June 1, 2018. St. Catherine and Dr. Patel failed to respond to G.F.'s motion for summary judgment within the time allotted by Indiana Trial Rule 56(C); St. Catherine and Dr. Patel sought leave to respond on April 15, 2018. On April 17, 2018, the trial court permitted the filing of a belated response.

         [¶9] On October 3, 2018, following a hearing, the trial court issued its findings of fact and conclusions thereon, denying G.F.'s motion for declaratory judgment and concluding in pertinent part that:

[G.F.'s] claim involves health care that was provided by a physician, working in his professional capacity as a provider of medical services, to a patient, within the confines of a hospital, in furtherance and promotion of [G.F.'s] health. Further, the [c]ourt finds that [G.F.] willfully and voluntarily subjected his claim to the requirements and restrictions outlined within the MMA, proceeded through the entirety of the medical review panel process, and obtained a medical review panel opinion in accordance with the MMA. Thus, because [G.F.] has willingly and voluntarily subjected himself to the MMA the [c]ourt thereby rejects his contention that his claim is not governed by the MMA, finds that it is one of medical malpractice, governed by the requirements and restrictions of the MMA, and thereby DENIES [G.F.'s] [m]otion for [s]ummary [j]udgment in its entirety.

         [¶10] G.F. now appeals. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

         DISCUSSION AND DECISION

         I. Stand ...


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