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Tyler-Bennett v. United States

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 27, 2018

OLIVIA TYLER-BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          Jane Paulson, Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC, Peter R. Mersereau, Mersereau Shannon, LLP, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Susanne Luse, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Of Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.

         On August 24, 2012, Plaintiff Olivia Tyler-Bennett, then a minor, received medical treatment at La Clinica del Valle Family Health Care Center (La Clinica). Plaintiff alleges that La Clinica negligently failed to diagnose Plaintiff's condition and timely refer her to emergency treatment, causing Plaintiff to suffer additional damage. As explained below, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), Plaintiff's exclusive remedy for the medical malpractice allegedly committed by La Clinica is against the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b). In addition, the FTCA requires that a tort claim against the United States be brought within two years after the accrual of that claim. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). On October 14, 2015, Plaintiff sued La Clinica in state court. The United States intervened, removed the case to federal court, and obtained substitution in place of La Clinica. After the United States moved to dismiss, arguing among other things that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies and was asserting a claim that was time-barred, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of that lawsuit. On December 12, 2016, after Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a new lawsuit against the United States based on the same operative facts, alleging medical negligence by La Clinica. The United States has moved for summary judgment against Plaintiff's second lawsuit, arguing, among other things, that Plaintiff's claim is barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations for tort actions. Because Plaintiff's lawsuit was commenced against the United States within two years of the “accrual” of her malpractice claim, the Court denies Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         STANDARDS

         A party is entitled to 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         BACKGROUND

         A. Statutory Framework Under the FTCA and FSHCAA

         The FTCA waives the United States' sovereign immunity for tort actions and vests federal district courts with exclusive jurisdiction over suits arising from the negligence of government employees. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-80; see also D.L. by and through Junio v. Vassilev, 858 F.3d 1242, 1244 (9th Cir. 2017). “Before a plaintiff can file an FTCA action in federal court, however, he must exhaust the administrative remedies for his claim. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a).” Id. “An administrative claim is deemed exhausted once the relevant agency finally denies it in writing, or if the agency fails to make a final disposition of the claim within six months of the claim's filing.” Id. The FTCA also contains a two-year statute of limitations for tort claims. The FTCA provides, in relevant part:

A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, by certified or registered mail, of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.

28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) (emphasis added).

         The Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Acts (FSHCAA) of 1992 (Pub. L. 102-501) and 1995 (Pub. L. 104-73) extend the protections of the FTCA to eligible grantees under the Health Center FTCA Medical Malpractice Program (Program), established by the Public Health Service Act under 42 U.S.C. § 254b. 42 U.S.C. § 233(g); see also D.L., 858 F.3d at 1244. These grantees include Community Health Centers, Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless Health Centers, and Public Housing Primary Care Health Centers. The intent of the Program is to increase the availability of funds to grantee Health Centers by reducing or eliminating their medical malpractice insurance premiums. With more available funds, Health Centers can provide more primary health care services to those in need. La Clinica is an eligible grantee Health Center under the Program. Thus, it is deemed to be a Public Health Service employee under 42 U.S.C. § 233(g)-(n). In addition, all of La Clinica's licensed staff members are deemed to be employees of the Public Health Service for purposes of the medical malpractice coverage and limitations provided by the FTCA.

         B. Facts

         On August 24, 2012, Plaintiff, who was then 15 years old and suffered from muscular dystrophy, experienced vomiting, diarrhea, a sore throat, and general malaise. ECF 21 at 2, ¶ 6. Three days later, on August 27, 2012, Plaintiff's mother, Hannah Tyler (“Tyler”), took Plaintiff to La Clinica, where she was seen by Dr. Karen Sauer. ECF 21 at 2, ¶ 7-8. La Clinica's health care providers performed a strep test and drew Plaintiff's blood for testing. Dr. Sauer prescribed Zofran, ...


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