Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Kile v. United States
Plaintiff Millard Lance Lemmings (“Lance”) was born at a government-operated hospital in Ada, Oklahoma. During his birth, Lance suffered a brain injury. Lance and his parents, suing as “parents and next friends,” sued Defendants Comphealth, Inc. and Comphealth Medical Staffing, Inc. for medical malpractice under the Federal Tor Claims Act. The parties settled the case on September 28, 2001. Lance’s parents were simultaneously engaged in a state court proceeding regarding guardianship of Lance. On the morning of October 25, 2001, Lance’s parents filed an application for an order approving the agreed settlement, attorneys’ fees, and litigation costs in the state court action. The state district court appointed Lance’s parents as the guardians of Lance’s estate. Following that court order, Lance’s parents withdrew their state court application for an order approving the settlement. Later that day, Lance’s parents appeared before the federal district court for a fairness hearing regarding the settlement and represented him at the fairness hearing. The district court did not appoint a guardian ad litem. Appellants Barbara Lemmings and Oran Hurley, Jr. filed a motion fifteen years later seeking to intervene, in which they contended: (1) the parties presented materially inaccurate information to the district court in 2001 in order to obtain the district court’s approval; (2) the district court did not have jurisdiction to approve the settlement because it did not appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Lance; and (3) a conflict of interest existed between Lance and his parents which required the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Belatedly, Appellants further sought access to the 2001 sealed fairness hearing transcript. In the motion to intervene, Appellants asserted that Lance’s parents spent a large portion of the proceeds and abandoned him in 2011, leaving him in the care of his paternal grandmother, Appellant Barbara Lemmings. The state district court appointed her Lance’s guardian in January 2017. After Ms. Lemmings suffered a health issue, the state court appointed Appellant Oran Hurley, Jr. as co-guardian. Appellants sought to reopen the district court action, vacate the dismissal, intervene, and rewrite the terms of the Irrevocable Governmental Trust in order to access the proceeds contained in that trust. The United States objected. The Tenth Circuit rejected Appellants' contention that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17 required the formal appointment of a guardian ad litem, and rejected the contention that an inherent conflict of interest always existed where a minor was represented by a parent who was a party to the same lawsuit as the minor. View "Kile v. United States" on Justia Law
Lopez v. United States
Plaintiff Leonard Lopez appealed after a bench trial on his medical negligence claims. Lopez underwent lower back surgery at the Veterans Administration Medical Center of Denver, Colorado (VA Hospital), in order to alleviate longstanding sciatic pain. Immediately following surgery, however, Lopez began experiencing excruciating pain in his left foot. Lopez has since been diagnosed with neuropathic pain syndrome. Lopez filed suit against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act alleging, in pertinent part, that: (1) Dr. Samuel Waller was negligent in performing the surgery; and (2) that the hospital was negligent in credentialing and privileging Dr. Glenn Kindt, the supervising physician involved in the surgery. At the conclusion of the trial the district court found in favor of the government on both claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of the United States on Lopez’s claim of medical negligence involving Waller, but reversed the district court’s judgment on the negligent credentialing and privileging claim. The case was remanded with directions to dismiss that claim for lack of jurisdiction. View "Lopez v. United States" on Justia Law
Ortiz v. United States
Captain Heather Ortiz was an active-duty service member in the United States Air Force. In March 2009, Captain Ortiz was admitted to Evans Army Community Hospital for a scheduled Caesarean section. Complications caused by the medical staff’s administering of drugs in preparation for the surgery caused a precipitous drop in Captain Ortiz’s blood pressure, leading to hypotension. As a result of Captain Ortiz’s hypotension, her baby, “I.O.,” was deprived of oxygen in utero, leading to severe injuries. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the federal government was immune from damages for injuries its agents caused to the baby during childbirth. Resolution of the issues in this case was controlled by the Supreme Court’s decision in "Feres v. United States," which found that military service members were barred from bringing claims against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for injuries incident to their military service. Under the Feres doctrine, federal courts lose their subject matter jurisdiction over claims like this because the Tenth Circuit concluded the injured child’s in utero injuries were unmistakably derivative of an injury to her mother, an active service-member who gave birth at an Army Base hospital. "Feres is not ours to overrule. Applying controlling law, the government is not liable under the FTCA for the claims of negligence in this case." View "Ortiz v. United States" on Justia Law
Pratt v. Petelin
Plaintiff-Appellee Jennifer Pratt sued Joseph Petelin, M.D. for medical negligence. The district court submitted four factual theories of negligence to the jury, which returned a general verdict against Dr. Petelin. Dr. Petelin appealed, claiming three of the four factual contentions submitted to the jury were unsupported by sufficient evidence. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Dr. Petelin waived this argument by not objecting to the general verdict form and requesting a special verdict. View "Pratt v. Petelin" on Justia Law
Talavera v. Wiley, et al
Plaintiff Carmen Talavera suffered a stroke while visiting a store, incurring permanent disabilities that she attributed to the medical malpractice of personnel at the Southwest Medical Center (SWMC). Plaintiff brought claims against a number of the medical personnel defendants alleging that they should have diagnosed and immediately treated her stroke symptoms with blood-clotting therapy or proceeded with early surgical intervention to prevent damage caused by swelling in her brain. The district court granted summary judgment finding Plaintiff failed to demonstrate their negligence caused her injuries. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err. Plaintiff failed to: establish a dispute of fact that she would have qualified for blood-clotting therapy, or show that any doctor owed her a duty of care when this therapy was still a viable treatment option. View "Talavera v. Wiley, et al" on Justia Law
Cohlmia, Jr. v. St. John Medical Center, Inc.
Dr. George Cohlmia, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, sued St. John Medical Center (SJMC) alleging a number of federal and state antitrust and business tort claims. His claims followed SJMC's suspension of his medical privileges after a pair of surgeries, one resulting in death and another in permanent disfigurement. In response, SJMC asserted an affirmative defense that it was immune under federal law from damages pursuant to the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA). SJMC also moved for summary judgment on the antitrust and tort claims, arguing they failed for lack of evidentiary support. The district court granted summary judgment on all claims, finding SJMC was immune from damages under the HCQIA, and further that Dr. Cohlmia had not met his burden of showing disputed facts that would demonstrate anticompetitive conduct or injury. After a thorough de novo review of the record, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grants of summary judgment. View "Cohlmia, Jr. v. St. John Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law
MacKay v. DEA
Petitioner Dewey MacKay, M.D. petitioned the Tenth Circuit to review a decision of the Deputy Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that revoked his registration to dispense controlled substances and denied all pending requests for renewal of modification. This case concerned Petitioner's prescribing behavior from 2005 to 2009 when his practice focused primarily on chronic pain management. The DEA began investigating Petitioner after receiving information from local authorities that he was issuing unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances. the Deputy Administrator of the DEA issued an order to show cause why it should not revoke Petitioner's registration, alleging that Petitioner "issued numerous purported prescriptions for controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose outside the usual course of professional practice." The Tenth Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review: "Petitioner never admitted any fault or taken responsibility for his misconduct. Nor [could] he point to any evidence that he reformed his habits. Instead, he continued to illegitimately dispense controlled substances even when he knew the DEA was investigating him. The Deputy Administrator’s revocation of [Petitioner's] registration is consistent with the DEA’s policy and practice of revoking registration under such circumstances."