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Frazier v. University of Mississippi Medical Center

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

October 24, 2018




         In this medical-negligence case, the defendants affiliated with Sta-Home Health and Hospice, Inc., seek dismissal of, or summary judgment on, the negligence per se claims asserted against them, as well as the claims against Sta-Home's officers and directors. Mot. [141]. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied without prejudice as to the claims against the officers and directors; granted as to the negligence per se claims based on federal regulations; and granted in part as to the negligence per se claims based on state regulations.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Plaintiff J.L.F., the minor daughter of Michael and Jessica Frazier, was a preterm infant born on April 17, 2004, with hydrocephalus (a buildup of excess cerebrospinal fluid in the brain). The Fraziers reside in Meridian, Mississippi.

         J.L.F.'s relevant treatment history began in Mississippi on January 21, 2009, when she received a ventricular shunt implant to drain cerebrospinal fluid from her brain into her abdomen. Seven years later, she developed complications and was eventually transferred by ambulance to Children's Hospital in New Orleans, where pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Lori McBride performed surgery to change the valve in her shunt.

         According to the Amended Complaint, on March 8, 2016, discharge planners at Children's Hospital arranged for J.L.F.'s discharge to Sta-Home Health and Hospice, Inc. The contract for home-health services in Mississippi showed Dr. McBride, a Louisiana-licensed doctor, as the admitting physician.

         J.L.F. continued to suffer various symptoms and was readmitted for several months of inpatient hospital care at Children's Hospital in New Orleans and a hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. She was ultimately “discharged home with permanent brain injuries requiring tube feedings and nursing care in the home 16 hours per day.” Am. Compl. [9] ¶ 63.

         The Fraziers filed this lawsuit on behalf of J.L.F. on December 21, 2016, asserting claims for medical malpractice against a slew of medical providers. Among the Defendants are Sta-Home Health and Hospice, Inc.; Sta-Home Health Agency of Carthage, Inc.; Sta-Home Health Agency of Carthage, LLC; Sta-Home nurses Candace Hoffer, RN, Katrina Trosper, RN, and Kasonya Boyd, RN; and Sta-Home corporate officers Vincent Caracci, Rhonda Hamilton, and Barry Davis (referred to collectively as the “Sta-Home Defendants”).

         Counts II through V of the Amended Complaint are aimed at the Sta-Home Defendants. Count II asserts a claim for “negligence per se[, ] corporate negligence[, ] and/or breach of contract” against the three Sta-Home entities “and their officers and directors in their respective individual and official capacities.” Id. at 23 (capitalization altered). Count III alleges negligence and gross negligence on the part of the three Sta-Home entities. And Counts IV and V assert claims for negligence per se, negligence, and gross negligence against the three Sta-Home nurses-Hoffer, Trosper, and Boyd.

         Through their motion [141], the Sta-Home Defendants seek dismissal of, or summary judgment on, claims premised on “alleged violations [of] federal and/or state regulations/law” as well as the claims against Caracci, Hamilton, and Davis.[1] Defs.' Mem. [142] at 8, 9. The matters raised in the Sta-Home Defendants' motion have been fully briefed.

         II. Standards

         The Sta-Home Defendants style their motion as one under either Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56. But their motion comes roughly 10 months after they answered Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, so any relief under Rule 12 would fall under Rule 12(c). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) (providing for motion for judgment on the pleadings that may be filed “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial”). But in ruling on a motion under Rule 12(c), “the district court is confined to the pleadings and must accept all allegations contained therein as true.” Hughes v. Tobacco Inst., Inc., 278 F.3d 417, 420 (5th Cir. 2001). In this case, both sides submitted evidence on the Sta-Home Defendants' motion, which is styled alternatively as one for summary judgment. And Plaintiffs did not object to treating the motion as a summary-judgment motion; instead, they submitted evidence they say supports their claims. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) (“If, on a motion under Rule . . . 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.”). The Sta-Home Defendants' motion is therefore properly considered under Rule 56.

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

         III. Analysis

         A. Negligence Per Se Claims

         “Mississippi recognizes the doctrine of negligence per se, which essentially provides that a breach of a statute or ordinance may render the offender liable in tort without proof of lack of due care.” Dallas v. Premier Vehicle Transp., Inc., No. 1:16-CV-358-LG-RHW, 2017 WL 3389793, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Aug. 7, 2017).

[T]he negligence per se doctrine does not create a new cause of action. Rather, it is a form of ordinary negligence, that enables the courts to use a penal statute to define a reasonably prudent person's standard of care. . . .
[. . . .]
The effect of declaring conduct negligent per se is to render the conduct negligent as a matter of law. Thus, a person whose conduct is negligent per se cannot escape liability by attempting to prove that he or she acted reasonably under the circumstances. However, a finding of negligence per se is not equivalent to a finding of liability per se. Plaintiffs in negligence per se cases must still establish causation in fact, legal cause, and damages.

Williams ex rel. Raymond v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., 99 So.3d 112, 116 (Miss. 2012) (quoting Rains v. Bend of the River, 124 S.W.3d 580, 589-90 (Tenn.App. 2003)) (emphasis in original). “Violation of a statute or ordinance constitutes negligence per se and will support a cause of action in tort where (1) the plaintiff is within the class protected by the statute, and (2) the harm sustained is the type sought to be prevented by the statute.” Dallas, 2017 WL 3389793, at *2. Here, the Sta-Home Defendants say the Fraziers' negligence per se claims fail as a matter of law because the defendants violated no federal or state laws or regulations in their care for J.L.F.

         1. Federal Regulations

         Starting with federal law, the ...

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