LORI FRANKS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TUTRIX OF HER MINOR CHILDREN, A.F. AND C.F.
THE LOUISIANA PATIENT'S COMPENSATION FUND OVERSIGHT BOARD, CHARLOTTE A. HOLLMAN, M.D., AND DEBORAH KAY GAHAGAN
Appeal from The 19th Judicial District Court,
Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Trial Court
No. C641926 The Honorable Todd Hernandez, Judge Presiding
J. David M. Palmer Lambert Rachel A. Sternlieb New Orleans,
Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff /Appellant, Lori Franks,
Individually and as Tutrix of Her Minor Children, A.F. and C.
A. Wooldridge Brent J. Bourgeois Carlton Jones III Baton
Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendant/Appellee, Louisiana
Patient's Compensation Fund Oversight Board.
A. Gibbs Deborah J. Juneau Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys
for Defendants /Appellees, Charlotte A. Hollman, M.D. and
Deborah Kay Gahagan.
BEFORE: WELCH, CRAIN, AND HOLDRIDGE, JJ.
plaintiff appeals a judgment denying her petition for
declaratory and mandamus relief in connection with a medical
review panel proceeding. We affirm in part, reverse in part,
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
issue in this appeal is whether the Louisiana Patient's
Compensation Fund Oversight Board (PCF) exceeded its
statutory authority while processing a request for a medical
review panel. The relevant facts are not in dispute. Lori
Franks has twin minor sons, referred to herein as
"A.F." and "C.F., " who received medical
treatment for several years from Charlotte A. Hollman, M.D.,
and Deborah K. Gahagan, a nurse practitioner in Dr.
Hollman's office. In January of 2015, Franks mailed a
single letter to the Division of Administration requesting a
medical review panel be formed to review the care provided by
Dr. Hollman and Gahagan to both A.F. and C.F. The pro
se request included a check for $200 for payment of the
filing fee, which, under the Medical Malpractice Act, is one
hundred dollars per named defendant qualified under the Act.
See La. R.S. 40:1231.8A(1)(c).
also provides that a request "shall contain . . . [t]he
name of only one patient for whom, or on whose behalf, the
request for review is being filed." See La.
R.S. 40:1231.8A(1)(b)(ii). Upon receipt of Frank's
request, the PCF assigned two file numbers to the matter, one
number for A.F.'s claim and a different number for
C.F.'s claim, effectively splitting the request into two
separate proceedings. The PCF then applied Frank's $200
check to the filing fee for A.F.'s claim against Dr.
Hollman and Gahagan, and forwarded a letter to Frank
acknowledging receipt of the claim and instructing her to
proceed with the appointment of an attorney chairman. In a
separate letter that referenced only C.F.'s claim, mailed
on the same date, the PCF advised Franks a filing fee of $200
was due for that claim and had to be paid within forty-five
days of the date the notice was mailed pursuant to Louisiana
Revised Statute 40:1231.8A(1)(c).When no additional funds were
received, the PCF sent a letter to Franks informing her the
delay for paying the fee had expired and C.F.'s claim was
considered invalid and without effect.
filed the present proceeding seeking declaratory and mandamus
relief against the PCF, Dr. Hollman, and
Gahagan. Franks alleged that the PCF exceeded its
authority by sua sponte dividing her request for a
medical review panel into two separate claims and then
applying the $200 check "randomly in favor of one
patient's claim over another." The check, according
to Franks, should have been applied to pay the fee for both
of her sons' claims against Dr. Hollman, and the claims
against Gahagan should be dismissed. Franks requested a
judgment declaring the PCF exceeded its authority in the
processing of her request and that both claims against Dr.
Hollman were timely filed. Franks further requested the PCF
be ordered to reinstate C.F.'s request for a medical
review panel proceeding against Dr. Hollman and the claims
against Gahagan be dismissed.
response, the defendants maintained the PCF undertook
reasonable measures to process a claim improperly filed on
behalf of two patients. According to the defendants, when the
PCF was presented with Frank's request filed on behalf of
A.F. and C.F., the PCF reasonably assigned separate file
numbers to each claim, allocated the $200 check to one of the
claims, and notified Franks that a $200 filing fee was due
for the other claim.
hearing on the matter, the trial court ruled in favor of the
defendants, explaining in written reasons:
The law imposes the duty upon the PCF to facilitate the
medical review panel process and these duties are clerical
and ministerial in nature. The Medical Malpractice Act
recognizes [a] request for review by only one patient.
Request[s] for medical review received from patients by the
PCF cannot be processed using multiple patients in a single
request. The law is clear on that point. The law is likewise
clear that the failure to pay the filing fee to the PCF
timely renders any such request invalid and without effect.
The plaintiff, who was self-represented at the time of making
her request to the PCF, failed to comply with the unambiguous
statutory requirements of the Louisiana Medical Malpractice
Act by failing to request a review on behalf of each son
separately and paying the statutor[ily] required fee for
each. As such, based upon the law and evidence, the court
denies the declaratory and mandamus relief sought in
judgment was signed in accordance with those reasons. Franks
appeals and assigns as error the trial court's finding
the PCF did not exceed its authority, and the trial
court's denial of her petition for declaratory and
person is entitled to a declaratory judgment when her rights
are uncertain or disputed in an immediate and genuine
situation, and the declaratory judgment will remove the
uncertainty or terminate the dispute. See La. Code
Civ. Pro. arts. 1871, 1875; In re Succession of
Beard, 13-1717 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/6/14), 147 So.3d 753,
762. A writ of mandamus may be directed to a public officer
to compel the performance of a ministerial duty required by
law. See La. Code Civ. Pro. arts. 3861-63;
Berthelot v. Patients' Compensation Fund Oversight
Board, 07-0112 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/2/07), 977 So.2d 967,
973 n.6, writ denied, 07-2328 (La. 2/1/08), 976
So.2d 720. In mandamus proceedings against a public officer
involving the performance of official duty, nothing can be
inquired into but the question of duty on the face of the
statute and the ministerial character of the duty he is
charged to perform. Keating v. Van Deventer, 14-0157
(La.App. 1 Cir. 9/19/14), 153 So.3d 1200, 1205 n.6, writs
denied, 14-2188 (La. 1/9/15), 157 So.3d 598, 599, and
declaratory and mandamus proceeding, the issue is the extent
of the PCF's authority to process requests for medical
review panels. The resolution of that issue turns on the
proper interpretation of the Medical Malpractice Act. The
starting point for interpretation of any statute is the
language of the statute itself, as the text of the law is the
best evidence of legislative intent. See La. R.S.
24:177 B(1); Rando v. Anco Insulations, Inc.,
08-1163 (La. 5/22/09), 16 So.3d 1065');">16 So.3d 1065, 1075. The Medical
Malpractice Act constitutes special legislation in derogation
of the general rights available to tort victims and,
therefore, must be strictly construed. See Dupuy v. NMC
Operating Company, L.L.C., 15-1754 (La. 3/15/16), 187
So.3d 436, 439; Galloway v. Baton Rouge General
Hosp., 602 So.2d 1003, 1005 (La. 1992). The
interpretation of a statute is a question of law that is
reviewed on appeal under the de novo standard of
review. See Red Stick Studio Development, L.L.C. v. State
ex rel. Department of Economic Development, 10-0193 (La.
1/19/11), 56 So.3d 181, 187.
request for review of a medical malpractice claim involving a
qualified healthcare provider is governed by Section
40:1231.8 of the Medical Malpractice Act. Subparagraph
A(1)(b) of that ...