Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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Myrtis Hill sued Fairfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC ("Fairfield"); D&N, LLC ("D&N"); DTD HC, LLC ("DTD"); Donald T. Denz; Norbert A. Bennett; Aurora Cares, LLC; and Aurora Healthcare, LLC (collectively referred to as "the defendants"). Hill stated claims based upon the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA"), arising out of the fact that she suffered a broken leg while being helped out of bed by a nursing assistant at a nursing home owned and operated by Fairfield ("Fairfield Nursing Home"). Before trial, on motion of the defendants, the trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of all the defendants except Fairfield. At trial, at the conclusion of Hill's case-in-chief, the trial court entered a judgment as a matter of law in favor of Fairfield. Hill appealed the judgments of the trial court as to all the defendants. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed: Hill presented substantial evidence, including the testimony of a registered nurse and doctor that she suffered a broken leg and that this injury was caused by a breach of the applicable standard of care. Consequently, the trial court erred in entering a judgment as a matter of law in favor of Fairfield, and that judgment was due to be reversed. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Hill v. Fairfield Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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Alanna Nail, Paul Watson, and Gennie Farragher, all registered nurses, petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Calhoun Circuit Court to vacate its order denying the summary-judgment motion they filed, which raised a statute-of-limitations defense. George Dulin was admitted to the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center ("the Center") in May 2005 for treatment of "crush injuries to his chest." Dulin's tracheostomy tube allegedly became dislodged during a bath administered by the nursing staff, resulting in the loss of oxygen for an undetermined period. He allegedly suffered brain damage as the result of oxygen deprivation. One month later, Vivian Dulin, George's wife, obtained and reviewed the hospital records. Included in the records was a "Cardiopulmonary Pulmonary Arrest Flow Sheet," purported to identify, by handwritten entries, eight members of a "Code Team" involved in the incident. The Dulins commenced a medical malpractice action against the Center and 17 fictitiously named defendants. Subsequently, Nail, Watson, and Farragher moved for a summary judgment on the ground that the amended complaint, which purported to substitute their names for certain fictitiously named defendants, was filed more than two years after the alleged incident on June 3, 2005, and did not relate back to the filing of the original complaint, because, they argued, the Dulins failed to exercise "due diligence" in ascertaining the nurses' identities. The trial court denied the nurses' motion, and they filed this petition. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that "[d]ue diligence means ordinary, rather than extraordinary, diligence." Under the circumstances of this case, including (1) the Dulins' prompt acquisition of the medical records, (2) the state of the names of the nurses in the room with George Dulin in his medical records, and (3) the promptness of discovery and of the substitution, the Court could not say, as a matter of law, that the Dulins failed to exercise due diligence in substituting the nurses for the fictitiously named defendants. The Court denied the nurses' application for a writ of mandamus. View "Dulin v. Northeast Alabama Regional Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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American Family Care, Inc. (AFC) petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order staying a civil action filed by AFC against Anita Salters. Salters was a former employee of AFC, acting as the director of the center from 2007 to June 2010 before her employment was terminated. As director, she was responsible for handling billing issues and claim audits performed by insurance companies and governmental agencies. In some instances, Salters had the only copies of communications related to billing inquiries and claim audits. In April 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at AFC's corporate office. The FBI removed mostly billing records. After the search warrant was executed, AFC determined that it was missing corporate records it would need to defend itself against any criminal charges that might be filed as a result of the FBI investigation. According to AFC, several of its employees reported that Salters had been seen removing files and records from the corporate offices shortly before she was fired. AFC made written demand upon Salters for the return of the records, but she did not respond. AFC then sued Salters seeking the return of any business records she might have. Salters answered the complaint, denying that she had removed any AFC records from its offices. The trial court, sua sponte, entered an order staying AFC's action "until further notice." The trial court expressed no reason for entering the indefinite stay. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the indefinite stay ordered by the trial court, with no stated justification for it, was "immoderate" and beyond the scope of the trial court's discretion. For that reason, the Court granted AFC's petition and issued a writ of mandamus ordering the trial court to vacate its order staying AFC's action against Salters. View "American Family Care, Inc., v. Salters" on Justia Law

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Sacred Heart Health System, Inc., the defendant in a declaratory-judgment action filed by Infirmary Health System, Inc. (IHS) and South Baldwin Regional Medical Center appealed to the Supreme Court from one aspect of a final judgment entered by a circuit court in favor of IHS and South Baldwin. IHS and South Baldwin cross-appealed from another aspect of the trial court's judgment held in favor of Sacred Heart. The Supreme Court transferred the appeal and cross-appeal to the Court of Civil Appeals, and that court reversed the judgment of the trial court. Sacred Heart owns "Sacred Heart Medical Group" (SHMG) which consists of 143 multi-specialty physicians who practice in the area served by Sacred Heart. All SHMG physicians have uniform employment contracts with SHMG. Six of those physicians practice in southern Baldwin County. When the Baldwin County practice saw an increase in patients, Sacred Heart sought to expand existing leased space for additional physicians and facilities. The contested issue between the parties was whether the portion of the medical-building project Sacred Heart leased for its Baldwin County physicians to use was subject to Sacred Heart's first obtaining a "Certificate of Need" to expand its facilities from the State Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA). Finding that the trial did not engage in a five-part inquiry (as expressed in 22-21-260(6) Ala. Code 1975) on whether the proposed expanded practice required a CON in order to proceed, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Infirmary Health System v. Sacred Heart Health System, Inc." on Justia Law

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Main & Associates, Inc., d/b/a Southern Springs Healthcare Facility, filed an action in the Bullock Circuit Court, on behalf of itself and a putative class of Alabama nursing homes, against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBS), asserting claims of breach of contract, intentional interference with business relations, negligence and/or wantonness, and unjust enrichment and seeking injunctive relief. BCBS removed the case to the the federal court, arguing among other things, that Southern Springs' claims arose under the Medicare Act and that the Medicare Act, as amended by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (the MMA) completely preempted Southern Springs' state-law claims. Southern Springs moved the federal court to remand the case to the circuit court, arguing that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over its claims. The federal court granted the motion and remanded the case to the Bullock Circuit Court. After remand, BCBS moved the circuit court for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Southern Springs had not exhausted its administrative remedies and that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. The circuit court denied BCBS's motion, and BCBS petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to dismiss Southern Springs' claims. Upon review, the Court concluded that Southern Springs' claims were inextricably intertwined with claims for coverage and benefits under the Medicare Act and that they were subject to the Act's mandatory administrative procedures and limited judicial review. Southern Springs did not exhaust its administrative remedies, and the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over its claims. Therefore, the Court granted BCBS's petition and issue a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to dismiss the claims against BCBS.

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Amy Hamilton, individually and on behalf of her stillborn son, sued Dr. John Blakely Isbell, Dr. Steven Coulter, Dr. Warren Scott, and the Isbell Medical Group (IMG), as well as several fictitiously named defendants, claiming that their negligent and wanton acts had wrongfully caused the death of her son and also caused her to suffer emotional distress. The DeKalb Circuit Court entered a summary judgment in favor of the defendants, holding that a wrongful-death action could not be maintained for the death of an unborn child who died before he was viable. The trial court also held that Hamilton was not in the "zone of danger" and, thus, could not recover damages for emotional distress. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed in part, and affirmed in part. The Court found that in applying "Mack v. Carmack," ([Ms. 1091040, Sept. 9, 2011] _So. 3d_ (Ala. 2011)), the Court concluded that summary judgment, insofar as it held that damages for the wrongful death of a previable unborn child were not recoverable "must be reversed" for reconsideration of the defendants' summary-judgment motions.

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Ninety-year-old Mary Shaw was admitted to the emergency room at the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center in 2008. After surgery, she developed pressure sores while a patient at the Center. She was transferred to Defendant Infirmary Health System, Inc.'s (IHS) long term acute care center. Within a day of her transfer, she died. The Shaw family wanted to sue IHS for its alleged negligent care of Ms. Shaw. According to the attorney, The Shaws' counsel called IHS's counsel to ask which entity the Shaws should sue. IHS's counsel allegedly told him to sue IHS, and "the identity of the proper parties would be sorted out later." Subsequently the Shaws filed suit against IHS, which went unanswered. The Shaws attempted to amend their complaint to reflect the proper legal entity to sue, but IHS moved to dismiss, citing the expiration of the statute of limitations applicable in wrongful-death cases. The trial court denied IHS's motion. IHS in turn petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel dismissal of the case. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the Shaws' attorney did not exercise due diligence in attempting to ascertain the proper party to sue. The Court found that IHS established a clear right to have the wrongful-death action against it dismissed. Accordingly, the Court issued the writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to enter judgment in IHS's favor.