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PW v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 5, 2019

PW, a minor, by DOMINQUE WOODSON, his mother and guardian, and DOMINQUE WOODSON, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ANONYMOUS HOSPITAL, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant United States of America's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or Alternatively Summary Judgment [ECF No. 21] in this action brought by Plaintiff Dominque Woodson individually and on behalf of her minor son, Plaintiff P.W. The Plaintiffs filed a response [ECF No. 26] on May 31, 2018. On June 28, 2018, the Defendant filed a reply [ECF No. 30]. Lastly, on July 3, 2018, the Plaintiffs filed a sur-reply [ECF No. 32]. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or Alternatively Summary Judgment [ECF No. 21].

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The central question presented in the Defendant's motion is whether the statute of limitations for the Plaintiffs' Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) bars the Plaintiffs from recovering for injuries that occurred during Dr. Keith Ramsey's delivery of Ms. Woodson's son, P.W., on December 7, 2013.

         A. Dr. Ramsey and NorthShore Health Centers

         Prior to August 2005, Dr. Ramsey was in private practice in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology. In August 2005, Dr. Ramsey began his employment with NorthShore Health Centers (“NorthShore”). When Dr. Ramsey started his employment with NorthShore, he limited his private practice to gynecology. He ceased delivering babies through his private practice. Pls.' Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss or Summ. J., Ex. E, Dr. Ramsey Dep., 14-16, 62-64, ECF No. 26-5.

         NorthShore is deemed eligible for FTCA malpractice coverage and has been so at all times relevant to underlying facts of this action. See Def.'s Mem in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss or Summ. J., Ex. H, Hicks Decl., ¶¶ 6, 8, ECF No. 22-8. Both NorthShore and Dr. Ramsey, as a NorthShore employee, are characterized as employees of the United States with respect to any tort actions seeking money damages for personal injuries resulting from alleged medical negligence. See id.

         B. December 7, 2013 Delivery of P.W.

         During her pregnancy, Ms. Woodson was treated by Dr. Ramsey at NorthShore. While providing Ms. Woodson prenatal treatment, Dr. Ramsey informed Ms. Woodson that her baby was large and that he would likely need to perform a C-section at the time of delivery.

         On December 7, 2013, Ms. Woodson went to Anonymous Hospital to give birth. Ms. Woodson described the delivery as “very traumatic.” Pls.' Resp. to Motion to Dismiss or Summ. J., Ex. A, Woodson Aff., ¶ 13 ECF No. 26-1. Despite Ms. Woodson requesting a C-section during the delivery, a C-section was not performed. At one point during the delivery, P.W. “got stuck on the way out” and “Dr. Ramsey yanked P.W. out with great force.” Id. at ¶ 13.

         When P.W. was born, Ms. Woodson noticed that P.W.'s “left arm just sagged down to his side” and that he “could not move his left arm at all.” Id. at ¶ 14. Also, “[s]hortly after the delivery, ” Ms. Woodson “knew something was wrong with P.W.'s left arm, so [she] asked Dr. Ramsey what happened to his arm.” Id. at ¶ 15. According to Ms. Woodson, Dr. Ramsey responded by saying that P.W. “may get better” and he “may grow into it.” Id. at ¶ 15.

         C. Retention of Counsel and Malpractice Claim

         After follow-up visits with Dr. Ramsey and other healthcare providers over the course of the next several months, Ms. Woodson retained Attorney Walter Sandoval on May 30, 2014, to litigate her and P.W.'s claims against Dr. Ramsey, NorthShore, and Anonymous Hospital. Ms. Woodson provided Attorney Sandoval with “some records from NorthShore and Anonymous Hospital.” Pls.' Resp., Ex. B, Sandoval Aff. ¶5, ECF No. 26-2. According to Attorney Sandoval, the records he reviewed did not identify NorthShore as a federal clinic, Dr. Ramsey as an employee of NorthShore, nor Dr. Ramsey as a government employee in any capacity. Id.

         After Attorney Sandoval reviewed the records provided by Ms. Woodson, he reviewed records in the public domain, and still did not learn that Dr. Ramsey was a federal employee or that NorthShore was a federally funded clinic. Attorney Sandoval reviewed the websites of the Indiana Department of Insurance (“IDOI”) and the Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund (“IPCF”) to determine if Dr. Ramsey was a “qualified” healthcare provider under Indiana's Medical Malpractice Act (“Indiana Act”), Ind. Code. § 34-18-1. Sandoval Aff. ¶¶ 6-7. Attorney Sandoval learned from these websites that Dr. Ramsey was qualified under the Indiana Act. Moreover, these websites indicated that Dr. Ramsey had been a named defendant in twenty other complaints filed with the IDOI. Id.

         Attorney Sandoval also searched Dr. Ramsey's independent website, NorthShore's website, and the U.S. Public Health Service's website. Attorney Sandoval attests that “[n]one of these websites indicated at any time, to [his] knowledge, that Dr. Ramsey was an ‘employee' of NorthShore, that he was a ‘government,' or federal employee, or that he could only be sued in federal court pursuant to the [FTCA].” Id. ¶ 8.[1] Furthermore, Attorney Sandoval was unaware that Dr. Ramsey was an employee of NorthShore, as NorthShore did not list him as an “employee, ” even though it listed him as a “doctor” at NorthShore. Id.

         Specifically, regarding Attorney Sandoval's knowledge of NorthShore's status as a federally funded clinic, Attorney Sandoval was unaware of NorthShore's federal status as NorthShore's website did not indicate it was an “FTCA Deemed Facility” when the Plaintiffs retained him. See Id. ¶¶11-12. Importantly, however, the NorthShore website did have a logo on its webpage, during the relevant time, that reads: “Community Health Center FQHC.”[2] See Pls.' Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss or Summ. J., Ex. C, Kowalski Aff., 3-4, ECF No. 26-3.

         On December 18, 2014, the Plaintiffs filed a proposed complaint against Dr. Ramsey and Anonymous Hospital to the IDOI and the IPCF pursuant the Indiana Act. Under the Indiana Act, a malpractice action may not be commenced against a qualified healthcare provider until a proposed complaint has been filed with the IDOI. Ind.Code. §34-18-8-4. On January 1, 2015, and October 26, 2015, the IDOI informed the Plaintiffs' counsel that Dr. Ramsey was a qualified healthcare provider under the Indiana Act when he treated Ms. Woodson. Sandoval Aff. ¶¶ 18, 23. Also, on October 26, 2015, Plaintiffs' counsel received written notice that IDOI informed Dr. Ramsey's insurance carrier, IRMIA, that Dr. Ramsey was a party to the IDOI action. Id. at ¶ 24.[3]

         On December 16, 2015, a little over two years after P.W.'s delivery, Peter Boyles, counsel for NorthShore, informed Attorney Sandoval that NorthShore is a federal clinic, and that Dr. Ramsey, as an employee of NorthShore, is considered a federal employee. Sandoval Aff. ¶ 25. Subsequently, on February 19, 2016, the Plaintiffs, through Attorney Sandoval, filed their tort claim with the Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). Id. at ¶ 27. On May 1, 2017, Attorney Sandoval received DHHS's written denial of the Plaintiffs' tort claim. Id. at ¶ 30. The Plaintiffs' filed the instant action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) on October 26, 2017. Id. at ¶ 31.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Defendants have moved for dismissal pursuant to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). Therefore, the Court must provide the legal standards for both and determine the appropriate standard to apply to the instant Motion.

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. In considering motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “[courts] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded facts alleged, and drawing all possible inferences in her favor.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). In ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, courts generally must confine their inquiry to the factual allegations set forth within the operative complaint. Rosenblum v. Travelbyus.com Ltd., 299 F.3d 657, 661 (7th Cir. 2002). “A plaintiff . . . must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief.” Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1083 (quotation marks and citations omitted). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, it must provide the grounds of the claimant's entitlement to relief, contain more than labels, conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action, and allege enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Legal conclusions can provide a complaint's framework, but unless well-pleaded factual allegations move the claims from conceivable to plausible, they are insufficient to state a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679-81 (2009) “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring a court to draw on its experience and common sense. Id. In addition, a plaintiff can plead himself out of court if it would be necessary to contradict the complaint in order to prevail on the merits. Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1086.

         When parties seeking dismissal submit documents with their motions to dismiss, courts can either exclude the documents or convert the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Tierney v. Vahle, 304 F.3d 734, 738 (7th Cir. 2002); Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993). Under Rule 10(c), a “copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c).

         Here, the Defendant has already moved, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56, and the Plaintiffs have responded by framing their arguments within the Rule 56 framework. Additionally, the Plaintiffs have designated their own documents, including deposition testimony. Therefore, the Court will treat the Defendant's motion as a motion for summary judgment.

         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that 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). The non-moving party must marshal and present a court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in their favor. Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). A court must deny a motion for summary judgment when the nonmoving party presents admissible evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Luster v. Ill. Dep't of Corrs., 652 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 2011). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment “is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. The court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Facts that are outcome determinative under the applicable law are material for summary judgment purposes. Smith ex rel. Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 427 (7th Cir. 1997). Although a bare contention that an issue of material fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, view all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491-92 (7th ...


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