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Juge v. Springfield Wellness, L.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 28, 2019

ALLISON JUGE
v.
SPRINGFIELD WELLNESS, L.L.C. d/b/a SPRINGFIELD WELLNESS CENTER/THERAPIA ASSOCIATES AND DR. RICHARD MESTAYER, III

          On Appeal from the Twenty-First Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Livingston State of Louisiana Docket No. 142352 Honorable M. Douglas Hughes, Judge Presiding

          R. Ray Orri I I, Jr. Bobby Ray T. Malbrough Metairie, Louisiana Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant Allison Juge

          Ron S. Macaluso Hammond, Louisiana Counsel for Defendants/ Appellees Springfield Wellness, L. L. C. d/ b/ a Springfield Wellness Center/Therapia Associates and Dr. Richard Mestayer, III

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

          McCLENDON, J.

         The plaintiff appeals the trial court judgment that granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff's claims with prejudice. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 19, 2013, the plaintiff, Allison Juge, filed a Petition for Damages in Medical Malpractice, Negligence and Invasion of Privacy against the defendants, Springfield Wellness, LLC d/b/a Springfield Wellness Center Therapia Associates (Springfield) and Dr. Richard Mestayer, III. Therein, she alleged that on March 6, 2013, she paid $10, 000.00 in advance for ten treatment sessions at Springfield for the treatment of her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses. She further asserted that although she received ten intravenous co-enzyme therapy treatments, she did not receive any individualized or group therapy, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, or counseling.[1] Ms. Juge further asserted that Dr. Mestayer billed her health insurance company for services he never performed. As a result, Ms. Juge contends that she has suffered injuries and damages, including exacerbation and aggravation of anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as loss of employment, loss of income, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, and medical expenses.

         In her petition Ms. Juge also asserted an invasion of privacy cause of action against Springfield only.[2] She alleged that, while at Springfield, she took a leave of absence from her position as a paralegal with the law firm of Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, L.L.P. (Beirne) and that Beirne requested information regarding the anticipated length of her short-term disability. She further contended that Springfield forwarded to Beirne private and confidential records that contained a diagnosis that Ms. Juge was "alcohol dependent," which misinformation resulted in her being fired from her position and caused her greater anxiety and depression. Ms. Juge maintained that the private and confidential information was disclosed to her employer without her consent and was intended by her to be disclosed only to her health care providers or their representatives and to her health and disability insurance carrier. Therefore, Ms. Juge urged that she suffered injuries and damages, including loss of employment, earnings, and income, with a loss of benefits, damage to her reputation, humiliation and embarrassment, mental anguish, and aggravation and exacerbation of her anxiety and depression.

         On January 17, 2017, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Particularly, with regard to Ms. Juge's first cause of action for medical malpractice and negligence, the defendants asserted that she had not produced or offered any expert testimony or expert reports as to the standard of care required of the defendants or that the alleged breach of the standard of care caused injury or damages to Ms. Juge. As to Ms. Juge's second cause of action, Springfield argued that, not only did Ms. Juge consent to the disclosure to her employer, she presented no records, documents, or other admissible evidence that substantiated her allegation that the alleged disclosure resulted in Ms. Juge's termination from employment. Rather, Springfield urged, Ms. Juge's termination was the result of a reduction in work force.

         Ms. Juge opposed the motion for summary judgment, and following a hearing on March 20, 2017, the trial court took the matter under advisement.[3] On November 29, 2017, the trial court issued written Reasons for Judgment, granting the motion for summary judgment. On January 3, 2018, the trial court signed its judgment, and Ms. Juge appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         A motion for summary judgment is a procedural device used to avoid a full-scale trial when there is no genuine issue of material fact. Georgia-Pacific Consumer Operations, LLC v. City of Baton Rouge, 17-1553 (La.App. 1 Cir. 7/18/18), 255 So.3d 16, 21, writ denied, 18-1397 (La. 12/3/18), 257 So.3d 194; Crosstex Energy Services, LP v. Texas Brine Company, LLC, 17-0895 (La.App. 1 Or. 12/21/17), 240 So.3d 932, 935, writ denied, 18-0145 (La. 3/23/18), 238 So.3d 963. After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. LSA-C.C.P. art. 966A(3).

         The burden of proof rests with the mover. Nevertheless, if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue that is before the court on the motion for summary judgment, the mover's burden on the motion does not require him to negate all essential claims of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, but rather to point out to the court the absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense. The burden is on the adverse party to produce factual support sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. LSA-C.C.P. art. 966D(1).

         Appellate courts review evidence de novo using the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Georgia-Pacific Consumer Operations, LLC, 255 So.3d at 22. Thus, appellate courts ask the same questions: whether there is any genuine issue of material fact and whether the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Because it is the applicable substantive law that determines materiality, whether a particular fact in dispute is material can be seen only in light of the substantive law applicable to the case. Id. The Medical Malpractice Claim[4]

         To establish a claim for medical malpractice, a plaintiff must prove the following by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) the standard of care applicable to the defendant; (2) the defendant breached that standard of care; and (3) there was a causal connection between the breach and the resulting injury. LSA-R.S. 9:2794A; Schultz v. Guoth, 10-0343 (La. 1/19/11), 57 So.3d 1002, 1006. It is also well established that to meet the burden of proof in a medical malpractice action, the plaintiff generally is required to produce expert medical testimony as a matter of law. Fagan v. LeBlanc, 04-2743 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2/10/06), 928 So.2d 571, 575. Notably, the jurisprudence recognizes limited exceptions to the requirement of expert testimony in those instances where the claim arises out of an "obviously careless act" from which a lay person can infer negligence.[5]Pfiffner v. Correa, 94-0924 (La. 10/17/94), 643 So.2d 1228, 1233. Normally, in cases involving patients with complicated medical histories and complex medical conditions, causation is simply beyond the province of lay persons to assess without the assistance of expert medical ...


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