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Mendoza v. Inspira Medical Center Vineland

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 24, 2019

GLADYS MENDOZA, personal representative of ELIAS MENDOZA, Plaintiff,
v.
INSPIRA MEDICAL CENTER VINELAND, SOUTH JERSEY HEALTH CARE, INSPIRA HEALTH NETWORK, INC., ANDREW ZINN, M.D., THE HEART HOUSE, NAEEM M. AMIN, M.D., and KIDNEY AND HYPERTENSION SPECIALISTS, P.A. Defendants.

          JAMES R. RADMORE TWO PENN CENTER, SUITE 312 Attorney for Plaintiff Gladys Mendoza.

          THOMAS J HEAVEY GROSSMAN & HEAVEY Attorney for Defendants Inspira Medical Center Vineland, South Jersey Health Care, and Inspira Health Network, Inc.

          DAVID P. BRIGHAM STAHL & DELAURENTIS Attorney for Andrew Zinn, M.D. and The Heart House.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This is a medical malpractice action against a hospital and a cardiologist for their care of Elias Mendoza in March 2014. Presently before the Court are four motions: (1) Inspira Defendants'[1] Motion to Preclude the Expert Testimony of Drs. Bruce D. Charash and T. Anthony Cumbo (“Motion to Preclude”), (2) Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment as to IHN, (3) Inspira Defendants' Cross-Motion to Amend the Caption of the Amended Complaint (“Motion to Amend”), and (4) Andrew Zinn, M.D. and The Heart House's (collectively, the “Cardiology Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment.

         For the following reasons, the Motion to Preclude will be granted, in part, and denied, without prejudice, in part; Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied, without prejudice; the Motion to Amend will be denied, in part, with prejudice and in part, without prejudice; and the Cardiology Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied, without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         The Court takes its facts from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the parties' various filings, and the procedural history of the case. On March 11, 2014, Elias Mendoza went to the Emergency Room at the Inspira Medical Center in Vineland, New Jersey complaining of shortness of breath and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. According to the expert reports[2] of Bruce D. Charash, M.D., F.A.C.C. (the “Charash Reports”), Mr. Mendoza was visiting New Jersey from Georgia, and had proactively scheduled dialysis sessions during the time he was in New Jersey.

         Mr. Mendoza was not only suffering from end-stage renal disease (requiring the previously mentioned dialysis) but also insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure. It appears that a chest x-ray taken that day showed a fluid overload in Mr. Mendoza's lungs. Mr. Mendoza was given a cardiology consultation by Zinn and a nephrology consultation by Naeem M. Amin, M.D.

         On March 15, 2014, Mr. Mendoza suffered both a respiratory and cardiac arrest which led to a permanent anoxic brain injury caused by lack of oxygen. Mr. Mendoza passed away less than a year later from acute respiratory failure, stemming from a cardiac arrest, and coronary artery disease. Plaintiff asserts, as Mr. Mendoza's personal representative, that Mr. Mendoza's allegedly negligent treatment at the Inspira Medical Center in Vineland was a contributing factor to his death.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint on March 9, 2016. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on March 22, 2016. The Amended Complaint asserts claims against three sets of Defendants, the Inspira Defendants and Cardiology Defendants mentioned supra, as well as Amin and the Kidney and Hypertension Specialists, P.A. (the “Nephrology Defendants”). Plaintiff asserts direct liability claims of negligence against the Inspira Defendants, Zinn, and Amin. Plaintiff also asserts vicarious liability claims of negligence against the Inspira Defendants, The Heart House, and the Kidney and Hypertension Specialists, P.A.

         An Affidavit of Merit, as required by New Jersey law, was filed with the Court on April 27, 2016 by Plaintiff's expert Charash. This was challenged in August 2016 Motions for Summary Judgment brought by the Nephrology Defendants and IMC. After full briefing, this Court decided these motions on March 30, 2017. The Court granted Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff's claims against Nephrology Defendants were dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to comply with the Affidavit of Merit requirements. The same reasoning applied to IMC's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment, which focused solely on the direct claims of negligence brought against IMC.

         Of central importance to the present motions was the contours of the Court's decision as to the Inspira Defendants. The Court notes here and discusses further infra that the Partial Motion for Summary Judgment discussed supra was brought by IMC, at least on its face. The Court also notes that the Inspira Defendants answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint stated that the Inspira Defendants were wrongly named, and that the only party correctly before this Court was IMC, which operated the hospital at-issue in Vineland, New Jersey.

         Plaintiff timely filed a Motion for Reconsideration, or in the alternative, a motion to certify the March 30, 2017 Order for interlocutory appeal. After full briefing, Plaintiff's requests were denied by this Court on November 13, 2017. Discovery continued.

         On September 6, 2018, the Inspira Defendants filed the pending Motion to Preclude. On October 10, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Partial Motion for Summary Judgment solely against IHN. On November 1, 2018, the Inspira Defendants filed a cross-motion, the Motion to Amend, and response. On January 11, 2019, Cardiology Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment. On January 30, 2019, Plaintiff filed a letter requesting leave to file an attached proposed sur-reply brief to the Cardiology Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Cardiology Defendants filed no response. Accordingly, all motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         B. Motion to Preclude Expert Testimony

         IMC[3] has moved to preclude plaintiff's experts, Dr. Charash and Dr. Cumbo, from testifying as to any direct or vicarious liability claims against IMC that have already been dismissed by this Court. IMC argues that all direct claims against it have been dismissed and that only one claim of vicarious liability - based on the actions of Zinn and the Heart House - remains. Therefore, any expert testimony relevant only to direct claims or the vicarious liability claim based on the Nephrology Defendants conduct is irrelevant and should be barred.

         To provide appropriate context, the Court notes here that the dismissal of the claims discussed supra was based on the Affidavit of Merit Statute. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2A:53A-26-29. The direct and vicarious (to the extent they were asserted) liability claims based on the Nephrology Defendants actions were dismissed because Plaintiff did not present an expert within the appropriate specialty who could provide an affidavit of merit. The direct and vicarious (to the extent they were asserted) liability claims based on inadequate staffing were also dismissed because Plaintiff did not present an expert within the appropriate specialty who could provide an affidavit of merit. This motion was filed by and granted for IMC.[4]

         Complicating any decision on this motion is Plaintiff's opposition. Plaintiff does not disagree that using this expert testimony against IMC would be improper based on the Court's previous rulings. But, Plaintiff asserts two other arguments: (1) IMC's previous partial motion for summary judgment was not brought on behalf of Inspira Health Network, Inc. (“IHN”) and (2) the expert testimony may be used to support a claim based on inadequate staffing against IHN because IHN does not fall under the Affidavit of Merit Statute.

         Which Defendants filed what motions and are the beneficiaries of the relief previously granted by this Court is a threshold question. The answer, this Court finds, is unclear. It is undeniable that IMC has represented to Plaintiff on multiple occasions that Plaintiff's caption was incorrect. The first such occasion of record is IMC's Answer. (IMC Answer 1 (defining IMC as “incorrectly pled on Complaint as ‘Inspira Medical Center Vineland', ‘South Jersey Health Care', and ‘Inspira Health Network, Inc'”).) It also appears that IMC stated in an interrogatory response on September 7, 2016 that the Inspira Defendants' correct corporate name is IMC. (IMC Reply Br., Ex. A ¶ 1.) Other instances likely exist, but these are the most important examples cited by Plaintiff.

         On the other hand, Plaintiff is correct that IMC's briefing has not been precise. The previous motion for partial summary judgment did not state whether it was brought on behalf of Inspira Defendants or just IMC. While one may assume, based on IMC's previous representations, that it was, it is not clear from the face of the papers. This Court's corresponding Opinion and Order only explicitly referenced IMC. Even IMC's instant motion was not clearly brought on behalf of all Inspira Defendants until IMC clarified its position in its reply brief.[5]

         Moreover, IMC cannot state, unilaterally, which entities Plaintiff intended to sue or not to sue. Plaintiff is the master of his own complaint. Judon v. Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am., 773 F.3d 495, 505 (3d Cir. 2014). While there are many situations in which Defendants' informal response may be appropriate (e.g., misspelling of a name), it is not appropriate here.[6] IMC does not state that IHN is not a real entity or that its name has been misspelled. It merely states Plaintiff should have solely sued IMC. Saying it does not make it so.

         Plaintiff has been similarly imprecise in its briefing, failing to bring up this issue in opposition briefs or in its motion for reconsideration. Plaintiff has been silent on this issue until over a year and a half after the facts animating this argument arose. ...


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