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St. Joseph Medical Center, Inc. v. Turnbull

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 24, 2013


Circuit Court for Baltimore County

Bell, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, Barbera, McDonald, JJ.


Greene, J.

On March 15, 2013, we vacated two Orders issued by the Honorable John Grason Turnbull, II, the Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, which related to the bifurcation or severance of claims and the reassignment of two cases pending in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. St. Joseph Medical Center v. Turnbull, __ Md. __, __ A.3d __ (2013). We remanded the cases, Weinberg v. Midei, et al., case number 03 C 10 12603, and Sullivan, et al. v. St. Joseph Medical Center, Inc., et al., case number 03 C 10 12624, to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. We vacated the Order to reassign the cases because the Administrative Judge's decision to reassign the cases appears to flow directly from his decision to review and vacate the trial judge's Orders bifurcating the Sullivan and Weinberg trials. In addition, we reinstated the Orders of Judge Nancy M. Purpura to bifurcate the Weinberg and Sullivan trials. The effect of our Orders is to restore these cases to the status quo just prior to the actions taken by Judge Turnbull. In addition, we vacated a previous Order of this Court which stayed proceedings, pending in the Circuit Court, in the Metzdorf case.[1] Now we explain the reasons for our Orders in this case.

Petitioners, St. Joseph Medical Center, Inc., Mark G . Midei, M .D. and Midatlantic Cardiovascular Associates, P.A., filed in this Court a petition for writ of mandamus or writ of prohibition (collectively a "prerogative writ") to reverse the November 2 and 28, 2012 Orders of Judge Turnbull, Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Respondent, Judge Turnbull, filed a response asking this Court to deny the petition. Carl and Dorothy Sullivan, Ronald Metzdorf and Glenn Weinberg, plaintiffs in the underlying cases, through counsels, also filed briefs as amici curiae asserting that we should not grant the petition. The Order of Judge Turnbull dated November 2, 2012 provided:

The above cases were specially assigned [to] Judge Nancy M. Purpura for trial by the Family Law Administrator, Richard Abbott, with the approval of the Administrative Judge.
During the months of June, July and September, the Defendants filed Motions to Bifurcate Count 1 and requested that this count be tried separately from the remaining counts.
The question of bifurcation directly effects the case flow management of this Court, and as such the Motions to Bifurcate should have been forwarded by the Clerk's Office to the Administrative Judge for a ruling. It is apparent that the Clerk's Office, noting that the cases were specially assigned, forwarded these requests directly to the Trial Judge and not the Administrative Judge as is required. When dealing with issues involving case management, requests for a stay of a case, postponements, changes in scheduling orders and Motions to Bifurcate that directly effect the case flow shall be ruled upon by the Administrative Judge.
The Administrative Judge has reviewed the Motions to Bifurcate and the Opinions of Judge Purpura, and while this Court has the utmost respect for Judge Purpura, the Administrative Judge deems that a bifurcation is not necessary and will cause additional trials to be held which is not in the interest of judicial economy, and will adversely effect the case flow management.
For the aforegoing reasons, the Court strikes the Orders of October 18, 2012 in Weinberg vs. Midei, et al, case number 03 C 10 12603[, ] and Sullivan, et al vs. St. Joseph Medical Center, Inc., et al, case number, 03 C 10 12624, and further Orders that the Defendants' Requests for Bifurcation be, and the same are hereby denied.

Judge Turnbull also indicated in his Order that, "at the request of Judge Purpura . . . these case[s] shall be reassigned to Judge Susan Souder for Trial."[2]

Petitioners contend that by striking Judge Purpura's Orders in the Weinberg and Sullivan cases that the "trial[s] be bifurcated so that count 1 (medical negligence) is tried first and the remaining counts tried thereafter in a separate proceeding[, ]" Judge Turnbull exceeded his administrative authority and further divested his coordinate trial judges and this State's appellate courts of their jurisdiction.

This case began when Glenn Weinberg, individually, and Carl and Dorothy Sullivan, his wife, in separate lawsuits, sued Dr. Midei and St. Joseph Medical Center[3] alleging that the cardiac stents that Glenn Weinberg and Carl Sullivan received during cardiac catheterization procedures performed by Dr. Midei at St. Joseph Medical Center were medically unnecessary. Weinberg and the Sullivans each alleged causes of action for, among other things, medical negligence, lack of informed consent and fraud based on the premise that their respective stents were medically unnecessary. Prior to the trial date, Dr. Midei and St. Joseph Medical Center filed motions to bifurcate the trials.[4] After a full hearing on the motions in open court, Judge Purpura, on September 28, 2012, in the Weinberg case, granted Dr. Midei and St. Joseph Medical Center's motions to bifurcate and announced orally from the bench that without bifurcation of "the medical negligence count" from the other counts, "a single unified trial would be incredibly unwieldy, " would adversely affect judicial economy, and would result in extreme prejudice to Dr. Midei. In a written Order dated October 18, 2012, Judge Purpura directed that the Weinberg trial be bifurcated as indicated on September 28. Thereafter, as to similar motions to bifurcate the Sullivan trial, Judge Purpura filed on October 19, 2012 a written opinion dated October 18. She stated in her opinion that the "trial will proceed in two phases: (1) Claim I-Medical Negligence, (2)

Claims II-XI."[5]

In the Sullivan case, Judge Purpura addressed the potential for unfair prejudice. She pointed out:

The [Circuit] Court finds that the bifurcation of the sole medical negligence claim (Count I) from the other counts is appropriate to avoid unfair prejudice to the Defendants. Evidence of a conspiracy and intentional harm is unrelated to the medical negligence claim, despite Plaintiffs' argument to the contrary, and would be highly prejudicial to the Defend ants. As in Myers [v. Celotex Corp., 88 Md.App. 442, 594 A.2d 1248 (1991)], a jury will first decide the underlying issue in the case and will not consider unrelated evidence that could prove unfairly prejudicial. This course will avoid requiring a jury to ignore evidence of other alleged intentional harms while considering whether Defendants acted negligently toward Mr. Sullivan on July 21, 2005.

Judge Purpura also discussed the convenience to the trial court, jury and parties stating in the Sullivan case:

Furthermore, a bifurcated trial will also serve the convenience of the [c]ourt, the parties and the jury. A unified trial would prove unwieldy as it would be continuously interrupted by the parties arguing, out of the presence of the jury, over the admissibility of evidence repeatedly throughout the trial . . . . This approach will minimize interruptions and negate the need to adjudicate th e other claim s if the jury finds Dr. Midei was not negligent while caring for Mr. Sullivan.

Judge Purpura further explained:

This procedure will not limit in any way the relevant evidence that plaintiffs may introduce to prove the fraud counts. It does, however, limit the very great risk of unfair prejudice that would result from a unified trial. Further, the [c]ourt is persuaded that judicial economy will also be served by a bifurcated trial. A decision on negligence may foreclose the necessity of a second trial either because there is no finding of negligence or because after a finding of negligence the parties are able to reach a settlement as to the remaining claims. Trial in a unified case would take 4 to 6 weeks as opposed to 1 week for a medical negligence case.

It is undisputed that Judge Purpura acted pursuant to Rule 2-503(b) in granting the motions to bifurcate the trial in the Weinberg and Sullivan cases. Section (b) of Rule 2-503 provides:

(b) Separate trials. In furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, the court, on motion or on its own initiative, may order a separate trial of any claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, or of any separate issue, or of any number of ...

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