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Egan v. United States

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

March 13, 2018

George Egan and Diane Egan, Plaintiffs,
United States of America Defendant.


          Donald C. Coggins, Jr.United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Standard of Care and Causation. ECF No. 54. Defendant filed a Response in Opposition, ECF No. 61, and Plaintiffs filed a Reply, ECF No. 62. Accordingly, the Motion is ripe for consideration.


         Plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice action against Defendant pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-80. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that Plaintiff George Egan (“Mr. Egan”) received medical care at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Administration Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina (“VAMC”) for a back injury received during the Vietnam War. Id. at 1-3. In October 2010, Mr. Egan's primary care physician at the VAMC ordered an MRI of the lumbar spine, which showed a severe disc extrusion that was causing compression of various nerves. Id. at 3. Mr. Egan was then evaluated and treated by a number of VAMC medical providers for worsening back pain and eventual neurological deficits. In April 2012, a neurosurgery nurse practitioner on staff at the VAMC diagnosed Mr. Egan with cauda equine syndrome. Id. at 22. Immediately after this diagnosis, Mr. Egan underwent decompression surgery at a non-VA hospital. Id. This surgery was not successful in restoring Mr. Egan's neurological strength or function below his waist. Id. Mr. Egan now alleges that this delay in diagnosis and treatment caused his permanent neurological issues.

         Plaintiffs disclosed ten retained experts[1] and served the applicable expert reports on Defendant. ECF No. 31. Defendant filed an expert disclosure, stating as follows:

The United States names the following expert medical providers pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2)(C). These providers will testify as to their treatment of Mr. George Egan. These witnesses are not required to provide a written report:
(1) Dr. Jeswinder Chauhan, Dr. Jay Ginsburg, Dr. Richard Killingsworth, Dr. Amy Lucus, Dr. Emett Maas, Dr. James McCallum, Dr. Richard Osborne, Dr. Amit Singh, Dr. John Steedman, Dr. Joseph Thompson, Dr. Yedatore Venkatesh, all providers at Dorn Veteran Affairs Memorial Center.
(2) Health care providers at Augusta Veteran Affairs Memorial Center.
(3) All other health care providers of George Egan.

ECF No. 34. Believing these expert disclosures to be deficient, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Exclude Defendant from Offering Expert Testimony. ECF No. 40. The Court held that Defendant's expert disclosures were insufficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(A) and (C) as well as the Fourth Amended Scheduling Order because Defendant did not adequately identify its proposed experts and did not disclose “a summary of the facts and opinions to which the witness is expected to testify.” ECF No. 48 at 6 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(2)(C)). However, the Court held that “these insufficiencies do not warrant the sanction of dismissal and can be cured.” Id. Thus, the Court limited Defendant to calling at trial those experts specifically named in the expert disclosure and directed Defendant to cure the deficiencies in its disclosures within twenty days. Id. at 9. On the twentieth day after the Court's order, Defendant filed “Defendant's Court Ordered Response Pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2)(C).” ECF No. 49. This disclosure includes the names, addresses, and phone numbers for each of the treating physicians previously designated by Defendant. Id. Additionally, the disclosure includes a short description of each physician's involvement in Plaintiff's treatment. Id.

         Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Standard of Care and Causation. ECF No. 54. Plaintiffs argue that, “[i]f Defendant intended for the Dorn VAMC providers to contend that the standard of care is different than what Plaintiffs' experts have established it to be, that they otherwise complied with the standard of care, or that no violation of the standard of care harmed Mr. Egan, then Defendant was required to provide the statements and summaries required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(2)(C).” ECF No. 55 at 23. Plaintiffs include an extensive factual recitation in support of their Motion, ECF No. 55, and include substantial documentary support by way of affidavits, medical records, and deposition testimony. See ECF Nos. 55-1-55-13. Defendant filed a Response in Opposition in which it argues that its amended expert disclosures were sufficient, and contends that Rule 26(a)(2)(C) contains no requirement that Defendant provide Plaintiffs with any information about its non-retained experts' opinions. ECF No. 61. Additionally, Defendant references several short excerpts of deposition testimony, which it contends create genuine issues of material fact. Id. at 8-10. In Reply, Plaintiffs argue that, irrespective of the sufficiency of Defendant's amended disclosures, Defendant has failed to adduce any evidence to rebut Plaintiffs' experts' opinions on standard of care or causation. ECF No. 62.


         One of the principal purposes of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. To that end, “Rule 56 states “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect disposition of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. When determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude granting the summary judgment motion. Ross v. Commc'ns Satellite Corp., 759 F.2d 355, 365 (4th Cir. 1985), overruled on other grounds, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Further, Rule 56 provides in pertinent part:

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), ...

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