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Timmons v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

January 26, 2017

James Timmons, Individually and as Parent and Natural Guardian of X.T., Shelly Timmons, Individually and as Parent and Natural Guardian of X.T., Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America and Conway Medical Center, Inc., Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant United States of America's [ECF No. 31] motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and Defendant Conway Medical Center, Inc.'s [ECF No. 32] motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and under the doctrine of abstention.[1] This Court converted the pending motions to dismiss to motions for summary judgment by Text Order on November 30, 2016.

         Procedural History

         This medical malpractice action was filed on February 12, 2015 and brought pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671 - 2680. Plaintiffs alleged claims for negligence against Defendants United States of America, Olukayode Akinlaja, M.D., Health Care Partners of South Carolina, Inc. (HCPSC), and Conway Medical Center, Inc. Defendant Conway Medical Center (“CMC”) moved to dismiss the complaint on March 30, 2015, arguing that a similar action was pending in state court and that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel require dismissal of the federal lawsuit against it. On May 11, 2015, Defendants Akinlaja, HCPSC, and the United States moved to dismiss the complaint arguing the claim was due to be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to file suit within six months of receiving the agency denial and equitable tolling does not apply as a matter of law.

         On February 24, 2016, the Court denied Defendants motions to dismiss without prejudice and permitted the parties to engage in limited discovery for a period of 90 days on the issues of the statute of limitations, equitable tolling, and whether CMC is a federal entity for subject matter jurisdiction purposes. At the close of the limited discovery period, on June 10, 2016, Defendants refiled their motions to dismiss. Defendants Akinlaja, HCPSC, and the United States filed their motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) again arguing Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to file a complaint against the United States within six months after Plaintiffs received the agency's final denial of the claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). Defendant CMC filed its motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) arguing lacking of subject matter jurisdiction and abstention.

         On November 15, 2016, by Consent Order, the parties acknowledged that the United States is the only federal defendant to be named pursuant to the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 233(a) and (g)-(n) and dismissed Defendants Akinlaja and HCPSC with prejudice.

         Defendants attached a stipulation of facts, declarations, affidavits, and other documents to their motions to dismiss. Upon initial review of Defendants' motions and Plaintiffs' response, the Court recognized the need to refer to matters outside the pleadings. On November 30, 2016, the Court entered a Text Order placing the parties on notice of its intent to convert Defendants' motions to dismiss into motions for summary judgment under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court invited Plaintiffs to supplement the record with any appropriate materials outside the pleadings that should be considered in determining whether the United States is entitled to summary judgment based on Plaintiffs' alleged failure to file the Complaint within the prescribed statute of limitations and whether equitable tolling should apply.

         On December 23, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a memorandum indicating that they intended to rely on materials already before the Court and did not plan to submit any additional materials to the Court in consideration of the pending motions for summary judgment.

         Stipulated Facts

         Following the limited period of discovery, the parties stipulated to the following facts:

         1. Health Care Partners of South Carolina, Inc. (HCPSC) is a nonprofit organization consisting of physicians and health care professionals who serve the health care needs of individuals and families in the coastal area of South Carolina. These services include the care and treatment of prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care.

         2. Health Care Partners of South Carolina, Inc. was deemed to be an employee of the Public Health Service pursuant to the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act (FSHCAA), 42 U.S.C. § 233(g)-(n), on October 15, 1993, redeemed on June 23, 1996, and from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. At all times relevant to the allegations contained in the complaint of this matter Olukayode Akinlaja, M.D. (Akinlaja) was an employee of HCPSC. Therefore, Dr. Akinlaja and HCPSC are entitled to coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) for claims for personal injury, including death, resulting from the performance of medical, surgical, dental, or related functions, within the scope of employment. 42 U.S.C. § 233(a).

         3. At the time of the pregnancy of Shelley Timmons (Timmons), she was provided care by HCPSC for herself and her unborn child. Part of this care was provided by Dr. Akinlaja at a HCPSC facility.

         4. Conway Medical Center (CMC) is a nonprofit medical center located at 300 Singleton Bridge Road, Conway, South Carolina. CMC is not a federally supported health care center under FSHCAA.

         5. Dr. Akinlaja had medical staff privileges in obstetrics and gynecology at CMC at all times relevant to the allegations contained in the complaint. These privileges permitted Dr. Akinlaja to admit his patients into CMC and provide medical care and treatment to these patients while at CMC.

         6. At all times relevant to the allegations contained in the complaint, Dr. Akinlaja had privileges at CMC, but he was not an employee or contractor of or by CMC. During Plaintiffs' labor and delivery, CMC employees followed directions/instructions given to them by Dr. Akinlaja regarding Plaintiffs' treatment.

         7. On October 18, 2011 Timmons was admitted to CMC by Dr. Akinlaja as her treating physician, and remained her attending and treating physician for the birth of Timmons' son (XT) on October 19, 2011.

         8. On October 18, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a Notice of Intent to File Suit against all parties named in the suit, save for the United States. The suit was filed in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas for Horry County under the case number 2013-CP-26-06934. On October 29, 2013, the plaintiffs, through her counsel, sent a letter to Clifford Portis (Retired CFO of HCPSC) that included the Notice of Intent to Sue and the affidavit of Richard L. Stokes, M.D. This case was closed without resolution on May 29, 2014.

         9. On October 16, 2013, plaintiffs, James Timmons and Shelley Timmons, filed an administrative tort claim with the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Region IV Office of General Counsel located in Atlanta, Georgia. On October 17, 2013, the Region IV Office of General Counsel forwarded the original documents including the original mailing envelope to the General Law Division of the Office of ...


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