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Denise Thornton et al. v. Maryland General Hospital et al.

May 8, 2013

DENISE THORNTON ET AL.
v.
MARYLAND GENERAL HOSPITAL ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Nickerson Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion to Sever, ECF No. 27, and Third-Party Defendant Dana Lee, M.D.'s ("Dr. Lee") Motion to Dismiss and Remand to State Court, or Alternatively, Motion to Substitute, Sever, and Stay Action. ECF No. 29. The motions are fully briefed. Upon consideration of the pleadings and applicable law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that the Third Party Complaint against Dr. Lee will be dismissed but the action will not be remanded to state court. Plaintiffs' Motion to Sever will be denied as moot.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This lawsuit has an unusual procedural history. It arises from the death of Cierra Randolph while a patient at Maryland General Hospital ("MGH"). Plaintiffs initially filed this medical malpractice/wrongful death action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City naming MGH as the sole defendant. ECF No. 2.

After learning that two of the physicians involved in Ms. Randolph's care, Dr. Harold T. Rowson and Dr. Dana Lee, were not MGH employees, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint naming Drs. Rowson and Lee as additional defendants. ECF No. 15.

Plaintiffs subsequently learned that Dr. Lee was employed at all times relevant by the People's Community Health Center, a federally-funded community health center. As such, he is deemed a federal employee under the provisions of the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act (FSHCAA). See Wilson v. Big Sandy Healthcare, Inc., 553 F. Supp. 2d 825, 829-30 (E.D. Ky. 2008) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 233). The United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, as representative of the Attorney General of the United States, filed a certification pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d) that Dr. Lee was acting within the scope of his federal employment at the time of the incident out of which Plaintiffs' claim arose and notified Plaintiffs that the government would be defending Dr. Lee and would be removing the case to this Court. To avoid removal, Plaintiffs dismissed the claims against Dr. Lee, without prejudice, on November 19, 2012. Plaintiffs still seek recovery for Dr. Lee's alleged negligent acts, but now from MGH under a theory of "ostensible agency." ECF No. 27 at 5.

MGH subsequently filed a third-party complaint against Dr. Lee in January 2013 for indemnity and contribution. ECF No. 23.

Dr. Lee then removed the case to this Court on January 15, 2013, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a), which states that "[a] civil action . . . that is commenced in a State court . . . may be removed . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place wherein it is pending" where the claim is brought against "any officer (or any person acting under that officer) of the United States or of any agency thereof, in an official or individual capacity, for or relating to any act under color of such office or on account of any right, title or authority claimed under any Act of Congress." On January 22, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their motion to sever Dr. Lee from the case, arguing that MGH's third-party complaint against Dr. Lee was not timely. ECF No. 27. The following day, Dr. Lee filed the present motion to dismiss and remand the case to state court, or alternatively, to substitute, sever, and stay the claims against him. ECF No. 29. Plaintiffs responded supporting Dr. Lee's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 33. MGH and Dr. Rowson opposed both Dr. Lee's motion to dismiss and Dr. Lee's and Plaintiffs' motions to sever. ECF Nos. 35-38.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction Over Claims Against Dr. Lee

Dr. Lee argues that the claims against him must be dismissed under the derivative jurisdiction doctrine.*fn1 "The doctrine of derivative jurisdiction requires that a federal court's jurisdiction over a removed case mirror the jurisdiction that the state court had over the action prior to removal." Palmer v. City Nat'l Bank, of West Virginia, 498 F.3d 236, 239 (4th Cir. 2007). Because federal employees acting within the scope of their employment are immune from suit in state courts except where immunity has been waived, the state court had no jurisdiction over the claims against Dr. Lee. Relying on the Fourth Circuit's affirmation in Palmer of the continued viability of the doctrine of derivative jurisdiction, the government argues that, because the state court had no jurisdiction over the claims against Dr. Lee, this Court has no jurisdiction over those claims.

In Palmer, Defendant City National Bank of West Virginia served a third-party complaint on two federal agencies: the Farms Service Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Id. The federal agencies filed a notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), based on their federal agency status. Id. Following removal, the federal agencies filed a motion to dismiss the third-party complaint, arguing that the doctrine of derivative jurisdiction applied and that, under that doctrine, the federal court also lacked jurisdiction over the federal agencies. Id. The Fourth Circuit agreed and affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims against the federal agencies for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. at 246.

In reaching this conclusion, the Fourth Circuit acknowledged the somewhat anomalous result of the dismissal of removed actions that would have been within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts had they been originally filed in federal court. Id. at 245. The court also noted the criticism leveled at the doctrine by other courts. Id. (quoting, inter alia, Welsh v. Cunard Lines, Ltd., 595 F. Supp. 844 (D. Ariz. 1984), which deemed the derivative jurisdiction doctrine as "'an archaic concept that impedes justice'" and "'is out of tune with the federal rules.'"). Nonetheless, the Fourth Circuit concluded that Congress had never altered this longstanding rule, at least as to removals under § 1442. The Fourth Circuit observed that a then-recent amendment to the general removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, actually confirmed the continued viability of the doctrine as applied to removals under § 1442. In 2002, Congress amended § 1441 to provide:

"'The court to which a civil action is removed under this section is not precluded from hearing and determining any claim in such civil action because the State court from which such civil action is removed did not have jurisdiction over that claim.'" Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. ยง 1441(f), emphasis added by Fourth Circuit). The court concluded from the language used in that amendment that Congress's abrogation of derivative jurisdiction was ...


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