Barnes v. United States of America et al

Filing 65

ORDER granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 58 ). ORDERED denying Plaintiff's "Counter Motion for Summary Judgment" (Doc. 61 ) as construed by the Court. ORDERED granting Defendant's Motion to Strike (Doc. 63 ) as set forth in this Order. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall enter judgment accordingly and terminate this action. Signed by Judge Diane J Humetewa on 11/18/2020. (See Order for details.) (LFIG)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 Ricky Carl Barnes, 9 Plaintiff, 10 11 ORDER v. 12 No. CV-18-02636-PHX-DJH United States of America, 13 Defendant. 14 15 Pending before the Court is Defendant United States’ Motion for Summary 16 Judgment (Doc. 58). Plaintiff filed a document in response (Doc. 61),1 and Defendant filed 17 a Reply (Doc. 64). The matter is fully briefed. 18 I. Background 19 This medical malpractice case is about pro se Plaintiff Ricky Barnes, his right 20 shoulder, and the treatment he received from Veteran’s Administration (“VA”) physician 21 Dr. Christopher Cranford. As alleged in the Complaint, Plaintiff injured his shoulder in a 22 1 23 24 25 26 27 28 Plaintiff captions this document his “Counter Motion for Summary and Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Motion for Summary.” (Doc. 61). Defendant has moved to strike the portions of Plaintiff’s filing that may be considered a separate motion for summary judgment because Plaintiff made the filing eight days after the deadline for dispositive motions. (Doc. 63 at 2). All courts are obligated to construe pro se filings liberally, which “means courts must frequently look to the contents of a pro se filing rather than its form.” Ross v. Williams, 950 F.3d 1160, 1173 n.19 (9th Cir. 2020). Upon review, the Court finds that the content of Plaintiff’s filing is really that of a response, not a counter motion for summary judgment. The fact that Plaintiff made this filing after the deadline for dispositive motions and his assertion that “there is genuine dispute over material facts, which will be proven during court proceedings” support this conclusion. (Doc. 61 at 2). The Court will therefore construe Plaintiff’s filing as a response. Thus, the Court will grant Defendant’s Motion to Strike (Doc. 63) to the extent that the Court will disregard language in Plaintiff’s filing (Doc. 61) that asserts a counter motion for summary judgment. 1 2012 car accident. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 16). For part of his treatment, Plaintiff went to the VA 2 Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona and saw several doctors, including Dr. Cranford. (Id. 3 at ¶¶ 5, 17, 33). 4 Plaintiff alleges that in March 2013, he requested an arthroscopy right shoulder 5 surgery, and Dr. Cranford agreed to discuss the procedure. (Id. at ¶¶ 33, 36). Medical 6 records provided by Defendant also show Dr. Cranford suggested Plaintiff consider the 7 arthroscopy. (Doc. 58-1 at 5). The same records show that in August 2013, Plaintiff elected 8 to have the arthroscopy surgery done by Dr. Amit Sahasrabudhe, an outside provider and 9 Plaintiff’s expert witness in this case. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff requested that the VA pay for this 10 surgery, and VA staff advised Plaintiff he would receive an authorization by mail once 11 approved. (Id.) Plaintiff still had not undergone arthroscopy surgery when, in 2016, he 12 visited Dr. Cranford to determine the cause of further deterioration in his shoulder’s 13 condition. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 80). At that meeting, Plaintiff alleges Dr. Cranford said he would 14 need total shoulder replacement surgery due to Plaintiff refusing prior arthroscopy surgery. 15 (Id.) 16 After Plaintiff filed his August 2018 Complaint, Defendant filed a Motion to 17 Dismiss in which it argued, in part, that the Court lacked jurisdiction “to the extent Plaintiff 18 is challenging the timeliness of the processing of his request for authorization of payment 19 for non-VA shoulder treatment” because the Board of Veterans’ Appeals has sole 20 jurisdiction to review such claims. (Doc. 16 at 1–2). On February 12, 2019, the Court heard 21 oral argument on the matter and, after Plaintiff conceded he was not making a complaint 22 related to payment or non-payment for medical treatment, granted Defendant’s Motion. 23 (Doc. 30). As a result of that Order, Plaintiff’s only claim is for Dr. Cranford’s alleged 24 medical malpractice. (Id.) 25 Plaintiff brings this claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). (Doc. 1 at 26 ¶ 1). He claims Dr. Cranford committed malpractice by failing to comply with the standard 27 of care, resulting in damage to Plaintiff’s shoulder. (Id. at ¶ 94). Defendant moves for 28 summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff lacks sufficient evidence to prove that Dr. -2- 1 Cranford’s actions fell below the standard of care. (Doc. 58 at 1–2). Plaintiff argues he has 2 presented sufficient facts to substantiate his claim. (Doc. 61 at 26). 3 II. Summary Judgment Standard 4 A court will grant summary judgment if the movant shows there is no genuine 5 dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. 6 Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986). A factual dispute is 7 genuine when a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson 8 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Here a court does not weigh evidence to 9 discern the truth of the matter; it only determines whether there is a genuine issue for trial. 10 Jesinger v. Nevada Fed. Credit Union, 24 F.3d 1127, 1131 (9th Cir. 1994). A fact is 11 material when identified as such by substantive law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Only facts 12 that might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law can preclude an entry of 13 summary judgment. Id. 14 The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying portions of the record, 15 including pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits, 16 that show there is no genuine factual dispute. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once shown, the 17 burden shifts to the non-moving party, which must sufficiently establish the existence of a 18 genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio 19 Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585–86 (1986). The evidence of the non-movant is “to be believed, 20 and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. But 21 if the non-movant identifies “evidence [that] is merely colorable or is not significantly 22 probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Id. at 249–50 (citations omitted). 23 III. Medical Malpractice Standard 24 Under the FTCA, the United States is liable for the negligence of its employees, 25 acting with the scope of their employment, according to the law of the place where the 26 negligent act or omission occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Here, the alleged wrongdoing 27 underlying Plaintiff’s claim of medical malpractice took place in Arizona. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 2). 28 Arizona statute governs medical malpractice claims, which are defined as actions brought -3- 1 against licensed health care providers for negligently providing health care. A.R.S. § 12- 2 561(2). Such is the case here. 3 Under the statute, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) that the “health care 4 provider failed to exercise that degree of care, skill and learning expected of a reasonable, 5 prudent health care provider in the profession or class to which he belongs within the state 6 acting in the same or similar circumstances;” and (2) that “[s]uch failure was a proximate 7 cause of the injury.” A.R.S. § 12-563. 8 As to this first element, “[u]nless malpractice is grossly apparent, the standard of 9 care must be established by expert medical testimony.” Rasor v. Nw. Hosp., LLC, 403 P.3d 10 572, 575 (Ariz. 2017). To establish the standard of care, a plaintiff must present evidence 11 of accepted professional conduct such that a jury could determine the applicable standard. 12 Bell v. Maricopa Medical Center, 755 P.2d 1180, 1182 (Ariz. Ct. App 1988). Simply 13 showing that a doctor disagrees with another doctor’s course of treatment does not establish 14 the standard of care because there may be more than one accepted school of thought among 15 the medical community. Borja v. Phx. Gen. Hosp., Inc., 727 P.2d 355, 357 (Ariz. Ct. App 16 1986). 17 For the second element, “unless a causal relationship is readily apparent to the trier 18 of fact, expert medical testimony is normally required to establish proximate cause.” Ryan 19 v. S.F. Peaks Trucking Co., 262 P.3d 863, 870 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2011). Clearly, under 20 Arizona medical malpractice law, expert opinions are critical to a party’s claim. 21 IV. Discussion 22 Plaintiff’s sole expert is Dr. Sahasrabudhe, who has authored several opinions for 23 this case. (Docs. 58-1 at 42–48; 62-1 at 23–30; 62-4 at 36–39). Defendant makes two 24 arguments concerning these opinions. One addresses their substance, and the other points 25 out pro se Plaintiff’s technical and procedural deficiencies in providing these opinions. As 26 to the opinion’s substance, Defendant argues that Dr. Sahasrabudhe, in fact, agrees with 27 the course of treatment Dr. Cranford suggested in 2013. (Doc. 58 at 12). Defendant also 28 argues that Dr. Sahasrabudhe does not show how Dr. Cranford’s actions fell below the -4- 1 standard of care. (Doc. 64 at 6). For the following reasons, the Court agrees with Defendant. 2 Dr. Sahasrabudhe opines that, after Plaintiff’s 2012 accident, physical therapy, 3 “medication management,” or “an ultrasound guided biceps tendon sheath injection would 4 have likely been beneficial.” (Doc. 62-1 at 27). And if those procedures did not help, 5 “surgery with an arthroscopic biceps tenotomy would have been appropriate.” (Id.) 6 Defendant provides medical records showing that Dr. Cranford suggested Plaintiff 7 consider “scope” surgery (shorthand for arthroscopic surgery) in 2013. (Doc. 58-1 at 5). 8 While Plaintiff claims his medical records were altered (Doc. 61 at 14), he provides no 9 evidence indicating that the record containing the advice Dr. Cranford gave Plaintiff in 10 March 2013 was altered. Furthermore, Plaintiff’s own Complaint acknowledges that Dr. 11 Cranford suggested considering arthroscopic surgery. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 36) (“Dr. Cranford 12 concluded . . . a scope surgery could be discussed.”). The record plainly shows that 13 Plaintiff’s only expert would give essentially identical medical advice to that which Dr. 14 Cranford gave Plaintiff in 2013. As such, the Court finds that no reasonable jury could find 15 Dr. Cranford’s 2013 advice was negligent. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. 16 Dr. Sahasrabudhe also claims that “Phoenix VA doctors ignored the option of right 17 shoulder arthroscopic surgery to address the source of [Plaintiff’s] symptoms . . . and only 18 offered him a total shoulder replacement.” (Doc. 62-1 at 27). While Dr. Sahasrabudhe does 19 not specify when the “VA doctors” made this offer, the Court will draw the inference that 20 this refers to the 2016 meeting with Dr. Cranford as alleged in Paragraph 80 in the 21 Complaint. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (requiring the Court to draw justifiable 22 inferences in a non-movant’s favor). Dr. Sahasrabudhe opines that total shoulder 23 replacement “would have been a great dis-service” to Plaintiff. (Doc. 62-1 at 27). Instead, 24 Dr. Sahasrabudhe is “of the opinion that Mr. Barnes would benefit” from arthroscopy 25 surgery, which he himself performed on Plaintiff in 2019. (Id.) 26 While Dr. Sahasrabudhe certainly disagrees with Dr. Cranford’s allegedly proposed 27 course of treatment, disagreement between two doctors, without more, does not establish a 28 deviation from the standard of care. See Borja, 727 P.2d at 357; Evans v. Bernhard, 533 -5- 1 P.2d 721, 724 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1975) (“The personal and individualistic method of practice 2 of this one doctor is not sufficient to establish a reasonable basis for any inference that 3 [another doctor] has departed from the general medical custom and practice in the 4 community . . . .”); Harris v. Campbell, 409 P.2d 67, 71 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1965) (finding that 5 disagreement among surgeons as to a particular course of treatment is not proof that one 6 has breached the standard of care). Nowhere in his opinions does Dr. Sahasrabudhe 7 establish what conduct is acceptable in Arizona’s medical community or how Dr. Cranford 8 in particular fell below this standard or care. See Potter v. H. Kern Wisner, M.D., P.C., 823 9 P.2d 1339, 1347 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1991) (accepting a patient’s own physician’s practice as 10 some evidence of the standard of care when the physician testified that his practice is 11 standard across the Arizona medical community). Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s 12 expert fails to show how Dr. Cranford breached the standard of care necessary for a medical 13 malpractice claim. 14 Overall, the record shows Plaintiff’s only expert would give essentially identical 15 medical advice to that which Dr. Cranford gave Plaintiff in 2013. The record also fails to 16 establish how Dr. Cranford’s conduct fell below the standard of care when he proposed 17 shoulder replacement surgery in 2016. Based on these facts, no reasonable jury could find 18 that Dr. Cranford’s actions fell below the standard of care. See A.R.S. § 12-563. It follows 19 that Plaintiff fails to establish his medical malpractice claim because there is no genuine 20 factual dispute that Dr. Cranford committed malpractice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); 21 Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. As this is Plaintiff’s only claim, the Court need not discuss the 22 matter further. 23 Accordingly, 24 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment 25 (Doc. 58) is hereby GRANTED. 26 IT FURTHER ORDERED that because the content of Plaintiff’s “Counter Motion 27 for Summary Judgment” (Doc. 61) resembles that of a response to Defendant’s Motion 28 (Doc. 58), the Court will construe it as such, and it will DENY counter motions for -6- 1 summary judgment therein. 2 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to Strike (Doc. 63) is 3 GRANTED to the extent that the Court will disregard language in Plaintiff’s filing (Doc. 4 61) that asserts a counter motion for summary judgment. 5 6 7 IT IS FINALLY ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall enter judgment accordingly and terminate this action. Dated this 18th day of November, 2020. 8 9 10 11 Honorable Diane J. Humetewa United States District Judge 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -7-

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