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Knox v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

June 1, 2017

Zekiya Knox, Plaintiff,
The United States of America; AMISUB of SC, INC., d/b/a Piedmont Medical Center; South Carolina Emergency Physicians; Jeffrey Warden, MD; Brian Fleet, PA; Piedmont General Surgery Associates, LLC; Alex Espinal, MD; Bret Garretson, MD; and Digestive Disease Associates, Defendants.


          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE Senior United States District Judge

          Opinion and Order Denying Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant United States This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's complaint alleging medical malpractice against medical care providers, including providers at a federally funded community health care center, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq. ECF No. 1. Defendant United States of America (“United States”) filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, alleging the action is barred by the statute of limitations. ECF No. 56. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on April 17, 2017. ECF No. 63. Defendant United States filed its response on April 24, 2017. ECF No. 65. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


         Plaintiff alleges injury after her abdominal pain, which she alleges was never properly treated, developed into “significant damage to her intestines and caused a life threatening infection, ” sepsis. ECF No. 45, Am. Compl. ¶ 37. Plaintiff originally presented to the Piedmont Medical Center Emergency Room (“Piedmont ER”) (operated by Defendant Amisub of S.C., Inc.) on September 13, 2013, complaining of persistent abdominal pain. Id. at ¶ 9. She was seen by Defendant Dr. Warden, who performed a physical examination, lab testing, ultrasound of the lower abdomen, and CT scan. Id. at ¶¶ 9-11. No surgical consult was ordered, and Plaintiff was discharged with narcotic pain killers and an instruction to follow up with a gastroenterologist. Id. at ¶ 14. On September 19, 2013, Plaintiff had an appointment with Defendant Dr. Garrison, a gastroenterologist, who scheduled and conducted a colonoscopy on September 25, 2013. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. Defendant Garrison sent Plaintiff to a surgeon, Defendant Espinal, the same day as her colonoscopy. Defendant Espinal ordered a CT scan, the results of which Plaintiff alleges she was never informed. Id. at ¶ 18. On September 26, 2013, Plaintiff went to see April Logan, a physician's assistant, at North Central Family Medical Center (“NCFMC”), a federally funded community health care center in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Ms. Logan ordered an ultrasound and referral to urology. Id. at 19.

         Plaintiff was next seen by Ms. Logan on January 14, 2014, for abdominal pain. Id. at ¶ 24. Ms. Logan referred Plaintiff back to Defendant Espinal, who saw Plaintiff in February 2014. Plaintiff was prescribed prednisone at that appointment. Id. at ¶ 26. On March 21, 2014, Plaintiff returned to NCFMC complaining of abdominal pain. Id. at ¶ 28. The physician she saw ordered another ultrasound, which “noted tubular structures and encouraged a CT scan.” Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30. Plaintiff was to follow up at NCFMC on April 14 for her ultrasound results, but due to pain she returned to the Piedmont ER by ambulance that day. Id. at ¶ 31. Defendant Warden prescribed antibiotics for a urinary tract infection. Id. at ¶ 34. Defendant Fleet ordered an additional antibiotic after a culture on April 18, 2014. Id. at ¶ 36.

         On May 4, 2014, Plaintiff returned to the Piedmont ER for continuing abdominal pain and had a CT scan. Id. at ¶ 37. She was diagnosed with “either an infected inflamed appendix or a flare up of IBD that was never properly discovered or treated.” Id. Having been untreated for a period of time, these led to sepsis and ultimately the amputation of three limbs. Id. at ¶ 39.


         Defendant United States has filed its motion as one to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, arguing Plaintiff filed her claim outside the two-year statute of limitations for FTCA actions. See 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). Plaintiff's claim was filed with the appropriate agency on June 14, 2016, more than two years after the United States argues the statute accrued on May 4, 2014. As the court has considered documents attached to the motion and response that are not “integral to the complaint, ” it will consider this motion as one for summary judgment. See Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).


         Summary judgment should be granted 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). It is well established that summary judgment should be granted “only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts.” Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and the court must view the evidence before it and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The Federal Tort Claims Act waives the sovereign immunity of the United States for civil actions in federal court for injuries “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). “The United States shall be liable, respecting the provisions of this title relating to tort claims, in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 2674.


         Various medical records were attached by the parties to the motion and responses. The records are from Plaintiff's hospitalization at Carolinas Medical Center (“CMC”) and following treatment at NCFMC.

         Admission to CMC

          Plaintiff was admitted to CMC on May 6, 2014 as a transfer from Piedmont ER. ECF No. 65-1 at 1. On May 14, 2014, she was seen by an orthopedist who noted her history and diagnosis as “s/p SBO and perforation with peritonitis and sepsis requiring vasopressors and subsequent sever (sic) dry gangrene to ...

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