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Scarbrough v. Transplant Resource Center of Maryland

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 29, 2019

KAREN D. SCARBROUGH
v.
TRANSPLANT RESOURCE CENTER OF MARYLAND

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-18-000148

          Fader, C.J., Graeff, Eyler, James R., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Fader, C.J.

         We are asked to decide whether two Maryland statutes that provide immunity for certain actions related to the recovery and donation of organs apply to an organ procurement organization's conduct in recovering organs for transplantation. The appellant, Karen Scarbrough, alleges that the appellee, Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, through two of its employees, negligently packaged, preserved, and transported a kidney intended for her. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City dismissed Ms. Scarbrough's complaint on the ground that Transplant Resource Center enjoys good faith immunity from suit. Ms. Scarbrough contends that the circuit court erred in dismissing her suit because the statutory immunity does not extend to conduct that occurs after an organ is removed from the donor. Because we agree with the circuit court's interpretation of the scope of the immunity, we will affirm.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Transplant Resource Center is an organ procurement organization that harvests, preserves, packages, and transports donated organs to hospitals around the United States for transplantation. In June 2014, Ms. Scarbrough was on the waitlist for a kidney transplant at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital (the "Hospital") when two employees of Transplant Resource Center, Dennis Edwards and Peter Quackenbush, "harvested, received, collected, handled, preserved and/or packaged" a kidney from a deceased donor at University of Maryland Medical Center. Transplant Resource Center gave the donated kidney to a courier service that transported it to the Hospital.

         The day after the kidney was removed, the Hospital informed Ms. Scarbrough that it was available for transplant. She traveled from her home in Florida to the Hospital, where she was prepared for surgery. Upon receiving and examining the donated kidney, however, Hospital staff observed that it "was hard and cold to the touch, with patchy discoloration that appeared to resemble 'freezer burn, '" and determined that it was not suitable for transplant. The Hospital canceled Ms. Scarbrough's transplant surgery.

         Ms. Scarbrough sued Transplant Resource Center and Messrs. Edwards and Quackenbush (collectively, "Transplant Resource Center") for negligence, seeking recovery for "both mental and physical" injuries as well as "the economic losses suffered . . . as a result of the negligence . . . ." She asserted that the defendants "were negligent with respect to the collection, packaging, preservation, transportation, and/or handling of the donated kidney," which resulted in "irreversible damage" to the kidney making it unsuitable for transplant. Ms. Scarbrough included with her complaint a letter from Dr. Kristin Mekeel, who wrote that it was her "opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that in this case the kidney was improperly packaged . . . ." Ms. Scarbrough did not allege that any of the defendants acted in bad faith.

         Transplant Resource Center moved to dismiss the suit on the ground that it enjoys good faith immunity under both § 19-310 of the Health-General Article (Repl. 2015) and the Maryland Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, §§ 4-501 - 522 of the Estates & Trusts Article (Repl. 2017; Supp. 2018) (the "Anatomical Gift Act" or the "Act"). Ms. Scarbrough opposed the motion, arguing that those statutes provide immunity only for those who remove the organ from a donor's body or where consent is in dispute. The immunity provisions, she argued, were not intended to apply to those who negligently preserve, package, and transport the organ.

         After a hearing, the court granted the motion to dismiss. In its oral ruling, the court interpreted the statutes more broadly than Ms. Scarbrough. The court concluded that the immunity provided by the statutes "is designed to protect organizations such as the [Transplant Resource Center] in this case, and it[]s employees in this case, because of the fact that they have to move with such speed to preserve those organs." Because of that, "there are times when a mistake may be made that would not be made had a group or an individual had more time to consider his or her actions in tak[ing] a course of action[.]" In its written order, the court stated that, under both statutes, "the good faith immunity applies, as here, where Defendants' alleged negligent post-removal conduct was done in good faith." Ms. Scarbrough appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Anatomical Gift Act and Section 19-310 of the Health- General Article Extend Immunity to an Organ Procurement Organization's Good Faith Actions in Recovering an Organ for Transplant.

         This case presents a question of statutory interpretation. Transplant Resource Center contends, and the circuit court agreed, that the two immunity provisions extend to the good faith efforts of an organ procurement organization in recovering an organ for transplant, including the packaging, preservation, and transportation of the organ. Ms. Scarbrough argues that the immunity provided by the statutes ends with the removal of the organ. Based on the plain language of the statute, we agree with Transplant Resource Center and the circuit court.

         When interpreting a statute, "[w]e assume that the legislature's intent is expressed in the statutory language and thus our statutory interpretation focuses primarily on the language of the statute to determine the purpose and intent of the General Assembly." Phillips v. State, 451 Md. 180, 196 (2017). Thus, "we begin 'with the plain language of the statute, and ordinary, popular understanding of the English language dictates interpretation of its terminology.'" Blackstone v. Sharma, 461 Md. 87, 113 (2018) (quoting Schreyer v. Chaplain, 416 Md. 94, 101 (2010)). In reading the plain language, "we will not add or delete words from the statute." Melton v. State, 379 Md. 471, 477 (2004). "We read 'the statute as a whole to ensure that no word, clause, sentence or phrase is rendered surplusage, superfluous, meaningless or nugatory.'" Conaway v. State, ___ Md.___, No. 69, Sept. Term, 2018, 2019 WL 3024706, *9 (July 11, 2019) (quoting Ingram v. State, 461 Md. 650, 661 (2018)). "In parsing whether plain meaning or ambiguity is the case, we view the relevant statutory scheme as a whole, rather than seizing on a single provision." Conaway, 2019 WL 3024706, *9. "If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, our analysis may end," id.; however, even where that is the case, "we often look to legislative intent and purpose to determine if they ratify our analysis and interpretation of a statute," Hammonds v. State, 436 Md. 22, 37 (2013).

         A. The Anatomical Gift Act Confers Immunity on Organ Procurement Organizations for Actions Taken to Recover a Donated Organ.

         The Anatomical Gift Act, enacted in 2011 to replace the 1968 Maryland Anatomical Gift Act, "is a modified version of the 2006 Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act . . . recommended for enactment in all states by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws[.]" Md. Dept. of Leg. Servs., Fiscal & Policy Note Revised, S.B. 756, at 4 (2011). The Act applies to an "anatomical gift," which it defines as the "donation of all or part of a human body to take effect after the donor's death for the purpose of transplantation, therapy, research, or education." Estates & Trusts § 4-501(c).

         Organ procurement organizations play a critical role under the Act. The Act defines such an organization as a "person" designated as such by the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Estates & Trusts § 4-501(r).[2] Federal law, in turn, establishes requirements for organ procurement organizations, which must: (1) be nonprofit entities; (2) maintain accounting and fiscal procedures specified by the Secretary; (3)have an agreement with the Secretary to be reimbursed for the procurement of kidneys; (4)meet the requirements of federal law and have been certified by the Secretary within the prior four years "as meeting the performance standards to be a qualified organ procurement organization"; (5) have "a defined service area that is of sufficient size to assure maximum effectiveness in the procurement and equitable distribution of organs"; (6)have sufficient staff "to effectively obtain organs from donors in its service area"; and (7)have a board of directors that includes hospital administrators, members of the public, representatives of transplant centers, and physicians practicing in certain areas. 42 U.S.C. § 273(b)(1).

         Federal law also requires organ procurement organizations to:

(A)have effective agreements, to identify potential organ donors, with a substantial majority of the hospitals and other health care entities in its service area which have facilities for organ donations,
(B)conduct and participate in systematic efforts, including professional education, to acquire all useable organs ...

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