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Poe v. Fuller

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

September 3, 2019





         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment on the medical malpractice claim urged by Plaintiff Archie Poe (“Poe”) against Drs. Bruce Fuller (“Fuller”) and Pamela Hearn (“Hearn”) (collectively, “Defendants”) regarding the care that they provided him at David Wade Correctional Center (“DWCC”). [Record Document 78]. Because it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, this Court is unable to rule on the motion's merits. Poe's medical malpractice claim seeks a money judgment which, under the applicable statute, must be rendered against the State of Louisiana rather than against Defendants. La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1237.1(A)(8); Detiller v. Kenner Reg'l Med. Ctr., 2003-3259, p. 16 (La. 7/6/04); 877 So.2d 100, 111. This requirement makes the State of Louisiana a necessary party to this proceeding. Joinder of the State on a claim for money damages would violate the Eleventh Amendment, and so this Court cannot join the State. Because Poe has no remedy in the State's absence, the claim against Defendants for their role at DWCC is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Record Document 78] and Poe's motion to strike [Record Document 82] are DENIED AS MOOT. Hearn's motion for summary judgment on claims related to her work at the Lincoln Parish Detention Center (“LPDC”) [Record Document 75] will be addressed in a separate ruling.

         I. Background

         The Court has fully discussed the factual background of this case in its prior ruling, [Record Document 57 at 1-5], so will recap only the most salient facts here. Poe needed a total hip replacement revision. [Id. at 1]. He was incarcerated before he could have the surgery. [Id. at 2]. He was initially housed at LPDC, where he was treated by Hearn. [Id.]. He was later transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, to DWCC, and ultimately to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”). [Id. at 3, 5]. Hearn and Fuller both provided medical care to Poe while he was at DWCC, but he did not have the surgery until after his transfer to LSP. [Id. at 3-5].

         Dissatisfied with his care at DWCC, Poe filed an Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) request. [Record Document 37-6 at 4, 7].[1] Following completion of the ARP process, Poe filed the instant suit, alleging that Defendants' treatment of him constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and negligence under Article 2315 of the Louisiana Civil Code. [Record Document 1 at 7-9]. After appropriate discovery, this Court granted summary judgment on the Eighth Amendment claim arising from Defendants' treatment of Poe at DWCC. [Record Document 57]. Because the factual record was insufficient to support summary judgment as to the care Hearn provided at LPDC, the Court denied the motion as to that claim. [Id. at 10-12]. The Court also declined to grant summary judgment on Poe's negligence claims because Defendants' motion did not address them. [Id. at 15].

         Defendants have filed a second summary judgment motion in which they argue that they were not negligent when treating Poe at DWCC. [Record Document 78]. They support their motion by pointing to evidence that they did not deliberately refuse to provide Poe with some treatment while he was at DWCC. [Record Document 78-1 at 8-9]. They also challenge the admissibility of the testimony of Poe's medical experts. [Id. at 9-11]. Poe's opposition emphasizes his belief that his claims sound in general negligence rather than medical malpractice. [Record Document 83 at 12-15]. In support, he points to opinions from two medical experts that Defendants' treatment of him exacerbated his pain and worsened his injuries. [Id. at 12-13]. He also relates the allegedly deficient medical care Defendants provided to seven other DWCC inmates. [Id. at 16-18].[2]

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to “grant summary judgment if 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.”[3] Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party, the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See Id. at 322-23.

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for trial by going “beyond the pleadings” and “designat[ing] specific facts” for support. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). “This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere “scintilla of evidence.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1985) (citing Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary judgment where the critical evidence in support of the nonmovant is so “weak or tenuous” that it could not support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor. Armstrong v. City of Dall., 997 F.2d 62, 67 (5th Cir. 1993).

         Additionally, Local Rule 56.1 requires the movant to file a statement of material facts as to which it “contends there is no genuine issue to be tried.” The opposing party must then set forth a “short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried.” W.D. La. R. 56.2. All material facts set forth in the movant's statement “will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule.” Id.

         III. Law and Analysis

         Before evaluating the merits of Defendants' motion, this Court must assure itself of its jurisdiction over the claim at issue. See Torres v. S. Peru Copper Corp., 113 F.3d 540, 542 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Trizec Props., Inc. v. U.S. Mineral Prods. Co., 974 F.2d 602 (5th Cir. 1992); MCG, Inc. v. Great W. Energy Corp., 896 F.2d 170 (5th Cir. 1990); Save the Bay, Inc. v. U.S. Army, 639 F.2d 1100 (5th Cir. 1981)) (“We repeatedly have instructed that before proceeding with a case, federal trial and appellate courts have the duty to examine the basis for their subject matter jurisdiction, doing so on their own motion if necessary.”).

         A. The Classification of Poe's Negligence Claim

         When a claim arises under state law, federal courts must apply that state's substantive law as interpreted by that state's courts. Keen v. Miller Envt'l Grp., Inc., 702 F.3d 239, 243 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Mid-Continent Cas. Co. v. Swift Energy Co., 206 F.3d 487, 491 (5th Cir. 2000)). In Louisiana, medical malpractice claims are controlled by two statutory schemes: the Medical Malpractice Act (“MMA”) and the Malpractice Liability for State Services Act (“MLSSA”). La. Stat. Ann. §§ 40:1231.1-.10, 40:1237.1-.4; see Spradlin v. Acadia-St. Landry Med. Found., 1998-1977, p. 6 n.5 (La. 2/29/00); 758 So.2d 116, 120 n.5. The MLSSA controls malpractice claims against “state health care providers, ” while the MMA applies to all other health care providers, [4]Vanderhoff v. Beary, 2003-0912, p. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/20/03); 853 So.2d 752, 754 (citing La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1299.39(A) (recodified at La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1237.1(A)); La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1299.41(A) (recodified at La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1231.1(A)). Under the MLSSA, malpractice claims against state health care providers must pass through an administrative review process before suit can be brought (unless the State waives that procedure), and recovery is limited to $500, 000 exclusive of costs of future medical care. La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1237.1(E)-(F). “[B]ecause the MLSSA limits the liability of certain health care providers in derogation of the general rights of tort victims, any ambiguities in the Act should be strictly construed against coverage.” Ruiz v. Oniate, 97-2412, p. 4 (La. 6/19/98); 713 So.2d 442, 444 (citing Kelty v. Brumfield, 93-1142, p. 9 (La. 2/25/94); 633 So.2d 1210, 1216; Hutchinson v. Patel, 93-2156, p. 5 (La. 5/23/94); 637 So.2d 415, 420), called into question on other grounds by Batson v. S. La. Med. Ctr., 2002-2381 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/27/03); 858 So.2d 653.

         The MLSSA applies to medical malpractice only. La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1237.1(D)(1); see Herrin v. East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, No. CV 15-00082-SDD-EWD, 2016 WL 4408999, at *6 (M.D. La. July 6, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 WL 4432698 (M.D. La. Aug. 17, 2016). The statute defines malpractice as “the failure to exercise the reasonable standard of care . . . in the provision of health care, when such failure proximately causes injury to a patient . . . .” La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1237.1(A)(4). In Coleman v. Deno, the Louisiana Supreme Court adopted a six-factor test for determining whether a claim falls under the MMA:

[1] whether the particular wrong is ‘treatment related' or caused by a dereliction of professional skill,
[2] whether the wrong requires expert medical evidence to determine whether the appropriate standard of care was breached, and
[3] whether the pertinent act or omission involved assessment of the patient's condition. . . . .
[4] whether an incident occurred in the context of a physician-patient relationship, or was within the scope of activities which a hospital is licensed to perform,
[5] whether the injury would have occurred if the patient had not sought treatment, and
[6] whether the tort alleged was intentional.

Coleman v. Deno, 2001-1517, pp. 14-15 (La. 1/25/02); 813 So.2d 303, 315-16 (internal quotation marks omitted) (first quoting Sewell v. Doctors Hosp., 600 So.2d 577, 579 n.3 (La. 1992); then quoting Holly P. Rockwell, Annotation, What Patient Claims Against Doctor, Hospital, or Similar Health Care Provider Are Not Subject to Statutes Specifically Governing Actions and Damages for Medical Malpractice, 89 A.L.R.4th 887, 898 (1991)). Louisiana courts apply these factors by analogy to MLSSA cases. See, e.g., Crum v. State, 41, 059, p. 8 (La.App. 2 Cir. 5/17/06); 931 So.2d 400, 404.

         Poe argues that his claim sounds in general negligence rather than medical malpractice. [Record Document 83 at 12-15]. However, he fails to even address the factors identified by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Instead he points to a set of mostly irrelevant caselaw. In Bedingfield ex rel. Bedingfield v. Deen, 487 Fed.Appx. 219 (5th Cir. 2012), Robinson v. Stalder, 98-0558 (La.App. 1 Cir. 4/1/99); 734 So.2d 810, and the relevant portion of Authement v. Par. of Terrebonne, No. CIV.A. 09-4618, 2010 WL 5093866, at *10-12 (E.D. La. Dec. 8, 2010), the defendants were not health care providers but rather were prison officials. The negligence of a prison official who is not a health care provider is not an issue in this case as Poe has only sued his doctors. Admittedly, one of the defendants in Jackson v. Bailey was a nurse and in that case the court did apply the duty-risk analysis appropriate for general negligence claims in Louisiana. Jackson v. Bailey, No. CIVA 06-1083, 2008 WL 652136, at *3 (W.D. La. Mar. 11, 2008), aff'd, 305 Fed.Appx. 246 (5th Cir. 2008). Nevertheless, it is not clear that the nurse in Jackson asked the court to treat the claim as one for medical malpractice, and when dismissing the negligence claim, the court only considered the duty owed by “prison authorities” and did not separately analyze the nurse's duty as a health care provider. Id. Poe has not sued any prison authority; he has sued two physicians regarding their medical decisions. Moreover, the MLSSA has specific provisions for the “medical malpractice claims of prisoners related to health care rendered in a correctional facility, ” La. Stat. Ann. § 40:1237.1(E)(1), thereby indicating that Louisiana law recognizes claims against prison doctors as medical malpractice claims. As Poe has failed to apply the correct factors and failed to point this Court towards authority convincingly demonstrating that his claim regarding Defendants' allegedly inappropriate care does not sound in medical malpractice, this Court concludes that his claim is a medical malpractice claim.

         B. Defendants' Status as State ...

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