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Mendoza v. Inspira Medical Center Vinelan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 17, 2019

GLADYS MENDOZA, personal representative of ELIAS MENDOZA, Plaintiff,
v.
INSPIRA MEDICAL CENTER VINELAN; 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 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 brought against a hospital and a cardiologist arising out of their care of Elias Mendoza (“Mendoza”) in March 2014. Currently before the Court are six motions:

(1) Inspira Health Network's[1] Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 83);
(2) Dr. Andrew Zinn, M.D. (“Dr. Zinn”) and The Heart House's (collectively, the “Cardiology Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 86);
(3) Plaintiff Gladys Mendoza's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to IHN (ECF No. 87);
(4) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Preclude IHN From Relying on the Testimony of Dr. Tobia John Mercuro (ECF No. 104);
(5) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Preclude IHN from Relying on Any Expert Testimony at Trial (ECF No. 105); and
(6) The Cardiology Defendants' Motion in Limine to Limit the Trial Testimony of Dr. Bruce D. Charash, M.D. (ECF No. 106).

         For the reasons set forth in this Opinion, IHN's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 83) will be granted; the Cardiology Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 86) will be granted; Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 87) will be denied; and the parties' Motions in Limine (ECF Nos. 104, 105, and 106) will be denied as moot.

         BACKGROUND

         The Court takes its facts from the parties' statements of undisputed material fact and this Court's prior decisions in this matter. The Court will note factual disputes where relevant.

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         On March 11, 2014, Mendoza went to the Emergency Room at IMC Vineland complaining of shortness of breath. Shortly thereafter, Mendoza was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. At the time of his admission, Mendoza had long suffered from end-stage renal disease, insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure.

         Upon admission to IMC, Plaintiff was chiefly cared for by the internal medicine group. (ECF No. 86-6, ¶¶4-7). A chest x-ray taken at IMC appeared to show a fluid overload in Mendoza's lungs. As a result, Mendoza's supervising physicians ordered a cardiology consultation, which was ultimately performed by Dr. Andrew Zinn, M.D. (“Dr. Zinn”), and a nephrology consultation, which was performed by Dr. Naeem M. Amin, M.D. (“Dr. Amin”).

         On March 15, 2014, Mendoza suffered both a respiratory and cardiac arrest which led to a permanent anoxic brain injury caused by lack of oxygen. Plaintiff alleges that Mendoza's medical episode was the result of medical negligence. Specifically, Plaintiff's case appears to be principally based on a note entered in the Mendoza's discharge summary, which states in relevant part:

HOSPITAL COURSE: Over the course of the patient's hospital stay, he tolerated BiPAP and required dialysis. Unfortunately[, ] he was unable to tolerate full treatments and continued to build up fluid. The patient unfortunately had some difficulty receiving dialysis in our intensive care unit due to staffing limitations, which continued to exacerbate his continued difficulties with his fluid overload state.

         Mr. Mendoza passed away less than a year later from acute respiratory failure, stemming from a cardiac arrest and coronary artery disease.

         II. Relevant Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an initial complaint on March 9, 2016 (ECF No. 1), and later filed an amended complaint on March 22, 2016 (ECF No. 5) (the “Amended Complaint”). The Amended Complaint asserts claims against three sets of Defendants, the Inspira Defendants and Cardiology Defendants mentioned supra, as well as Dr. Amin and the Kidney and Hypertension Specialists, P.A. (the “Nephrology Defendants”).

         In August 2016, the Nephrology Defendants and IMC moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Affidavit of Merit Statute, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:53A-27 et seq., required dismissal. This Court granted that motion on March 30, 2017 (the “March 30, 2017 Order”). (ECF No. 31).

         Plaintiff timely filed a Motion for Reconsideration, or in the alternative, a motion to certify the March 30, 2017 Order for interlocutory appeal. (ECF No. 33). After full briefing, Plaintiff's requests were denied by this Court on November 13, 2017. (ECF No. 42).

         On October 10, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Partial Motion for Summary Judgment solely against IHN (the “October 10 Motion”). (ECF No. 59). Plaintiff acknowledged that the Court previously dismissed IMC, but argued that IHN is a separate entity with distinct liability not previously resolved by the Court's prior decisions.

         On November 1, 2018, the Inspira Defendants filed a Cross-Motion to Amend the caption of this matter along with their opposition to Plaintiff's October 10 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 63).

         On January 11, 2019, Cardiology Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 71). Cardiology Defendants alleged that Plaintiff had not established that Cardiology Defendants deviated from the requisite standard of care.

         By Opinion and Order dated April 24, 2019 (ECF No. 76) (the “April 21 Opinion and Order”), this Court granted in part and denied in part the Motion to Preclude filed by the Inspira Defendants (ECF No. 57); denied Plaintiff's first Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, without prejudice (ECF No. 59); denied the Inspira Defendants' Motion to Amend (ECF No. 63); and denied the Cardiology Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, without prejudice (ECF No. 71).

         Ultimately, the Court invited the parties to submit supplemental briefing on several issues. See (ECF No. 75 at 10). The Court guided the parties on what it expected in any supplemental filings. Particularly, the Court encouraged IHN to address why - as a matter of law, and, if applicable, as a matter of undisputed fact - direct or vicarious liability claims must be dismissed against IHN to the same extent they were dismissed against IMC. The Court also asked the parties to clarify whether the Affidavit of Merit Statute applies to IHN.

         In light of the standard of care offered by Dr. Charash, discussed in further detail infra, of the Cardiology Defendants and Plaintiff, the Court requested clarification on what role, if any, the Cardiology Defendants had in directing care for Mendoza. The Court focused the parties on the issue of whether the Cardiology Defendants had any decision-making role regarding Mendoza's care.

         Following issuance of the April 24, 2019 Opinion and Order, the parties filed renewed motions for summary judgment, which are presently before the Court.

         III. The Present Motions

         As for Plaintiff's claims against the Cardiology Defendants, Plaintiff relies upon the expert reports[2] of Bruce D. Charash, M.D., F.A.C.C. (“Dr. Charash”). This Court previously examined Dr. Charash's expert opinion. The Court summarized Dr. Charash's standard of care as “requir[ing] treating Mr. Mendoza as if he could be impacted by an acute coronary event, which further placed him at risk for acute decompensation.” Mendoza v. Inspira Med. Ctr. Vineland, South Jersey Health Care, No. 16-1337, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69402, *15 (D.N.J. April 24, 2019) (Hillman, J.) (the “April 24 Opinion”). The Court noted that in Dr. Charash's deposition, he stated: “[f]rom a cardiac point of view this patient was drowning and a cardiologist would have the responsibility to protect the airway and to get the patient dialyzed.” Id.

         The Court further analyzed Dr. Charash's deposition testimony, which includes the following remarks:

Q: . . . You would agree with me, would you not, Doctor, that in your two reports you do not criticize Dr. Zinn or any member of CADV [(The Heart House)] directly?
A: Correct. Because I was not provided any discovery deposition testimony I had no foundation to know who was ...

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