Pankey v. Mississippi State University
ORDER granting 45 Motion in Limine. Signed by Magistrate Judge David A. Sanders on 9/19/2016. (rrz)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO: 1:15CV56-DAS
MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY
This matter is before the court on the defendant’s motion in limine  to exclude
evidence of certain damages. Specifically, the defendant requests an order addressing the scope
of relief available and the scope of testimony and other evidence that will be allowed, as well as
barring any testimony or evidence relating to damages falling outside of the “appropriate
equitable relief” allowed by the Public Health Services Act (“PHSA”), 42 U.S.C. 300bb-7. In
addition, the defendant requests the court to find as follows:
1. Pankey cannot recover any damages associated with past medical treatments that she
received, e.g., reimbursement for medical bills or incidental expenses.
2. Pankey cannot recover any damages alleged to arise from missing or foregoing any
medical treatments in the past.
3. Pankey cannot recovery any monetary amounts from Mississippi State University
4. Because the matters are not relevant, Pankey may not present any evidence regarding her
health conditions, her past or future medical treatments, or her past or future medical
Doc. 46, p. 1-2.
Plaintiff’s response argues “there is no bright-line definition of what is ‘appropriate
equitable relief.’” Doc. 48, p. 1. Citing Mansfield v. Chicago Park Dist. Group Plan, 946 F.
Supp. 586 (N.D. Ill. 1996), plaintiff argues “equitable relief may include an award of money as
restitution for pecuniary losses…necessary to make a plaintiff whole.” Id. at 2. Therefore,
plaintiff contends restitution can include the amount of medical expenses that were not
reimbursed as a result of her coverage being terminated without proper COBRA notice.
However, plaintiff’s reliance on Mansfield is misplaced.1
Mansfield was decided before Great-West Life & Annuity Ins. Co v. Knudson, wherein
the Supreme Court explained the distinction between restitution at law and restitution in equity.
534 U.S. 204, 212-13 (2002). Because the PHSA limits plaintiff’s recovery to “appropriate
equitable relief,” she is limited to pursuing equitable restitution. According to Great-West,
whether restitution is legal or equitable depends on (1) “the basis for the plaintiff’s claim” and
(2) “the nature of the underlying remedies sought.” Id. at 213. Generally, equitable restitution is
in the form of a constructive trust or equitable lien, where “money or property identified as
belonging in good conscience to the plaintiff could clearly be traced to particular funds or
property in the defendant’s possession.” Id. “Thus, for restitution to lie in equity, the action
generally must seek not to impose personal liability on the defendant, but to restore to the
plaintiff particular funds or property in the defendant’s possession.” Id. at 213-14.
Here, plaintiff has failed to identify any particular funds in the defendant’s possession,
which in good conscience, rightfully belong to her. She also concedes in her response that she is
not entitled to compensatory damages, yet she fails to distinguish the relief she seeks—
In a similar case interpreting the Public Health Services Act, a district court noted that the Mansfield v. Chicago
Park Dist. Group Plan decision was no longer valid after the Court clarified the distinction between restitution at
law and restitution in equity. Lyons v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Wisconsin Sys., 2015 WL 59425, at *3 (E.D.
Wis. Jan. 5, 2015).
reimbursement for medical expenses—from the impermissible category of compensatory
damages. There is a good reason for plaintiff’s inability to make this distinction: claims for
medical costs and expenses are claims for compensatory damages. See, e.g., Lyons v. Bd. of
Regents of the Univ. of Wisconsin Sys., 2015 WL 59425 (E.D. Wis. Jan. 5, 2015) (finding
plaintiff’s “claim for monetary compensation for medical bills he incurred was a claim at law
and thus not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 300bb-7”); Carstetter v. Adams Cty. Transit Auth.,
2008 WL 2704596, at *12-13 (M.D. Pa. July 8, 2008) (granting summary judgment against
plaintiff’s PHSA claim for “out of pocket medical expenses that would have been covered had he
participated in a COBRA plan”). Thus, plaintiff is clearly seeking to impose personal liability on
the defendant. Pankey’s claims, if granted, would force the defendant to pay her out of pocket
medical expenses from its own general assets.2 Therefore, her claims can only be construed as a
form of restitution at law, and as a consequence, improper under 42 U.S.C. § 300bb-7. .
As noted above, plaintiff is limited to asserting a claim for restitution in equity. To prove
her claim, she is required to trace identifiable funds in the defendant’s possession that rightfully
belong to her. Thus, the evidence relevant to prosecuting her claim is rather narrow. According
to the defendant, evidence relating to medical treatment plaintiff received following her
termination, bills she incurred or paid, medical bills she expects to incur in the future, her
inability to pay for certain treatments or procedures, or her physical condition in general is not
relevant to a claim for restitution in equity and should be excluded. In response, plaintiff argues
that she should be allowed to present any and all evidence as to what would make her whole.
Pankey’s only claim for relief to survive defendant’s motion for summary judgment is as follows: “Plaintiff was
unaware of failure to provide a coverage notice letter until recently, when she discovered that she had no insurance
and that no notice had been given. Plaintiff has incurred significant medicals and has significant health issues for
which coverage could have been available had the Defendants provided the required notices.” Doc. 4, p. 2
The court agrees with the defendant and finds admitting the aforementioned evidence
would serve only to mislead a jury hearing this case. Contrary to plaintiff’s assertion, the court
is not entitled to “fashion an appropriate equitable remedy that it feels makes the Plaintiff
whole,” after allowing plaintiff to “present any and all evidence as to what would make her
whole.” Only relevant evidence is admissible, and plaintiff has failed to demonstrate how
evidence of past and future medical expenses, foregone medical procedures, or the general state
of her health is relevant to a claim for restitution in equity.
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED THAT:
1. Plaintiff’s recovery, if any, is predicated upon her being able to articulate a claim for
restitution in equity.
2. Plaintiff is barred from presenting evidence concerning:
a. any damages associated with past medical treatments that she received, e.g.,
reimbursement for medical bills or incidental expenses;
b. any damages alleged to arise from missing or foregoing any medical
treatments in the past; or
c. her health conditions, her past or future medical treatments, or her past or
future medical expenses.
3. Plaintiff shall show cause as to why this action should not be dismissed for failing to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, plaintiff shall offer proof
that defendant is in possession of identifiable funds, which in good conscience
rightfully belong to plaintiff, or face dismissal.
SO ORDERED this, the 19th day of September, 2016.
/s/ David A. Sanders
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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