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LOVE v. RANCOCAS HOSPITAL

July 16, 2003

DAISY LOVE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RANCOCAS HOSPITAL, STEVEN OXLER, M.D., SUNSET ROAD MEDICAL ASSOC., P.A., JOSEPH B. LEVIN, D.O., GARY D. GREENBERG, P.A.-C., JOHN DOE, MARY DOE, ABC PARTNERSHIPS, AND XYZ CORPORATIONS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph E. Irenas, District Judge

OPINION

Several days before the statute of limitations expired, Plaintiff, Daisy Love, amended her claim of medical malpractice to include the physician, Andrew J. Blank, M.D., whom she mistakenly believed treated her just days before she suffered a debilitating stroke. By the time the mistake was discovered and Plaintiff amended her complaint to include the proper defendant, Joseph B. Levin, M.D., the statute of limitations had passed by more than four months. On that basis, Dr. Levin has now moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Plaintiff, however, contends that her claims against Levin are safeguarded under the "relation-back" doctrine.

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, based upon complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the requisite amount in controversy. Oral arguments on this matter were held on July 14, 2003. For the reasons that follow, this Court shall grant Dr. Levin's motion for summary judgment.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The factual background of this case is somewhat obscured by several tragic circumstances. First, Plaintiff's counsel, Stuart Agins, Esq., who had handled this case from its inception, passed away on July 1, 2003. As a result, Mr. Agins' partner, Richard S. Seidel, Esq., has had to step in without Mr. Agin's intimate knowledge of the details of the case. Second, Plaintiff's debilitating condition has left her in a state where, according to Mr. Seidel, she has been and still is unable to communicate the circumstances under which her claims arose. The factual record, therefore, has been built from the recollection of Plaintiff's family members.

After experiencing a fainting spell on March 9, 2000, Plaintiff went to see her family practitioner, Andrew J. Blank, M.D. at Sunset Road Medical Associates, P.A. Because Dr. Blank was unavailable at the time, Plaintiff was instead seen by Joseph B. Levin, M.D. and Gary D. Greenberg, P.A.-C. Plaintiff was diagnosed with high blood pressure and sent home.

On March 10, 2000, Plaintiff called an ambulance after she experienced episodes of syncope and falling. Plaintiff was taken to Defendant Rancocas Hospital's Emergency Department and was seen by Defendant Steven Oxler, M.D. Plaintiff was once again diagnosed with high blood pressure and discharged from the hospital.

On March 12, 2000, Plaintiff again was taken to the Rancocas Hospital Emergency Department after experiencing similar symptoms, as well as experiencing weakness on her right side, slurred speech, and "facial drop." After hospital staff determined that she had suffered a stroke, she was admitted as an inpatient until March 16, 2000. On March 16, 2000, she was transferred to Our Lady Lourdes for rehabilitation.

Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the stoke and its symptoms, she has had to undergo extensive rehabilitation therapy. Moreover, she asserts that she is permanently disabled throughout the right side of her body and has difficulty with speech.

On November 28, 2001, Plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action against Defendants, Rancocas Hospital and Steven Oxler, M.D., as well as several fictitious defendants, John Doe, Mary Doe, ABC Partnerships, and XYZ Corporations, who Plaintiff described as "employees, servants, and agents" of Rancocas Hospital. Thereafter, on March 7, 2002, Plaintiff amended the complaint naming as additional parties Sunset Road Medical Association, P.A., Andrew J. Blank, M.D., and Gary D. Greenberg, P.A.-C. Plaintiff's counsel, Mr. Agins, filed the claims against Dr. Blank because Plaintiff's family mistakenly believed that Plaintiff had seen Dr. Blank, her regular physician. Once Plaintiff's counsel discovered the mistake, on July 16, 2002, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint in which she added as a defendant Dr. Levin, and she dismissed as a defendant Dr. Blank.*fn1

Dr. Levin has now moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, contending that because he was not named as a defendant until nearly eight months after Plaintiff filed her original complaint and approximately four months after the two- year statute of limitations expired under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

II. LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Abramsom v. William Paterson Coll. of N.J., 260 F.3d 265, 276 (3d Cir. 2001). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the Court must view the underlying facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See, e.g., Abramsom, 260 F.3d at 276 (citing Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000)).

A movant must be awarded summary judgment on all properly supported issues identified in its motion, except those for which the non-moving party has provided admissible evidence or affidavits to show that a question of material fact remains. See, e.g., Gleason v. Norwest Mortgage, Inc., 242 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Becton Dickinson & Co. v. Wolckenhauer, 215 F.3d 340, 343 (3d Cir. 2000)). To defeat summary judgment, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). See also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 ("By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of ...


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