Barton v. United States of America

Filing 23

ORDERED that the United States's 16 Motion for More Definite Statement is granted in part and denied in part as further set out in order. Signed by Honorable William Keith Watkins on 12/2/08. (sl, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION J A N E T BARTON, individually and as re p re se n ta tiv e of the estate of B ru c e Barton, P la in tif f , v. U N IT E D STATES OF AMERICA, D e f e n d a n t. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO. 2:08-CV-120-WKW [WO] ORDER B e f o re the court is Defendant United States of America's ("United States") motion f o r a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (D o c . # 16.) Plaintiff Janet Barton ("Barton") filed a response. (Doc. # 19.) For the reasons to follow, the United States's motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part. Earlier in this case, the United States filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. # 8), which was d e n ie d for challenging the pleading sufficiency of Barton's complaint under state, rather than fe d era l, rules of pleading (Opinion (Doc. # 14)). Now the United States requests a more d e f in ite statement from Barton because her complaint fails to provide sufficient notice under R u le 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Mot. 3, 13.) A party may "move for a m o re definite statement" under Rule 12(e) when a pleading is "so vague or ambiguous that t h e party cannot reasonably prepare a response." 1 Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Barton is not o p p o se d to filing an amended complaint "with more detail as to the medical care in q u e s tio n ." 2 (Resp. 4.) The dispute is over how much detail Barton must supply in her a m e n d e d complaint. The United States proposes the following. It will give Barton's counsel a copy of B ru c e Barton's medical chart from the Department of Veteran's Affairs ("VA")3 once the U n ited States receives a proper HIPAA medical release and/or a protective order.4 (Mot. 13.) But the United States wants Barton to replead her complaint once she has the medical c h a rt. The United States asks that Barton be required to replead with sufficient particularity to identify the following: (1) the standard of care the VA breached; (2) how the VA breached t h a t standard; (3) where among the three identified VA facilities the breach occurred; (4) w h en over the alleged eight-year period the breach occurred; and (5) which healthcare District courts also have the "inherent authority to require the [plaintiff] to file a more definite statement" if not by Rule 12(e), then by their authority "to narrow issues in the case in order to speed its orderly, efficient, and economic disposition." Fikes v. City of Daphne, 79 F.3d 1079, 1083 n.6 (11th Cir. 1996). 2 1 However, Barton does not concede that her complaint is insufficient under Rule 8. (Resp. 3.) Bruce Barton is Barton's deceased husband; Barton is suing the VA under the Federal Tort Claims Act for its alleged negligent diagnosis and treatment of Bruce Barton's colon cancer. (Compl. 7 (Doc. # 1).) The United States acknowledges that Barton claims she "lacks the records necessary to frame an adequate complaint," and thus offers to give Barton's counsel a copy of the medical chart. (Mot. 13.) Barton has made no comment about the United States's offer. 4 3 2 p ro v id e rs employed by the VA committed the breach. (Mot. 13.) Barton opposes being re q u ire d to include any of these details in her amended complaint. (Resp. 5.) B a rto n 's amended complaint will have to satisfy Rule 8. To state a sufficient claim f o r relief under Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must include only a "short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. Rule 8 nevertheless " re q u ire s more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a c a u s e of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). " F a c tu a l allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on th e assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id . (citations and footnote omitted). These requirements ensure a defendant has "fair notice o f what [the plaintiff's] claims are and the grounds upon which they rest." Swierkiewicz v. S o r e m a N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 507 (2002). In light of these standards, Barton's amended complaint must sufficiently allege a c a u se of action under Alabama law, even though the requisite detail for her allegations is d e te rm in e d by federal law. (See Opinion 8-9.) Under Alabama law, a plaintiff alleging n e g lig e n t medical malpractice must establish the following elements: "(1) the appropriate s ta n d a r d of care; (2) a breach of that standard of care; and (3) a proximate connection b etw ee n the defendant's [provider's] act or omission constituting the breach and the injury 3 s u s ta in e d by the plaintiff.'" Prowell v. Children's Hosp. of Ala., 949 So. 2d 117, 126 (Ala. 2 0 0 6 ) . Barton has alleged all of those elements.5 B e c a u se Barton is suing the VA for the negligence of its providers, however, it is only f a ir to notify the United States of which providers committed negligence. This requirement is not onerous if the United States provides Barton's counsel with a copy of Bruce Barton's co m p lete medical chart, as it has agreed to do. If Barton identifies which providers co m m itted negligence, where and when the breach allegedly occurred will become more c le a r. Because Barton specifically alleges that it was the diagnosis and treatment of Bruce B a rto n 's colon cancer that was negligent, Barton need not provide any further details. Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the United States's motion for a more definite s ta te m e n t (Doc. # 16) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as follows: (1 ) T h e United States's motion is GRANTED with respect to directing Barton to f ile an amended complaint once the United States has provided her counsel with a copy of B ru c e Barton's VA medical chart. The parties are DIRECTED to confer with respect to the n e c es s a ry protective order/release to comply with HIPAA. The amended complaint shall be f ile d within 60 days of when the medical records are sent to Barton's counsel. Eventually, Barton will have to prove a more detailed standard of care, likely through expert testimony. Sorrell v. King, 946 So. 2d 854, 861 (Ala. 2006) (quoting the standard of care from 6-5548(a) of the Code of Alabama). 5 4 (2 ) T h e United States's motion is GRANTED with respect to requesting that the am en ded complaint contain sufficient particularity to identify which VA healthcare providers a lle g e d ly committed the breach. It is DENIED in all other respects. D O N E this 2nd day of December, 2008. /s/ W. Keith Watkins UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 5

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