Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Plaintiff-appellee Christina Smith was the mother of Joshua England. Her claims arose from the death of England from a ruptured appendix in May 2018, while England was housed at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center (JHCC), an Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) facility in Lexington, Oklahoma. England was a 21-year-old prisoner at JHCC who was a few months away from release when he submitted multiple sick call requests. At the fifth such request, England complained his stomach hurt and he was short of breath. Unable to bear the pain while waiting at the clinic, England died in his cell from a ruptured appendix with acute peritonitis. Defendants-Appellants Joe Allbaugh, the Director of the Department of Corrections at the time this claim arose, and Carl Bear, the Warden of Joseph Harp Correctional Center (collectively, Defendants) appealed the district court’s order denying their motion to dismiss Smith's subsequent lawsuit relating to England's death on grounds of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding Smith alleged only that JHCC medical staff failed to follow procedure, not that Defendants failed to enforce those policies. Furthermore, the Court determined Smith failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to support deliberate indifference on the part of these defendants. Likewise, Smith failed to sufficiently plead Defendants improperly hired, supervised, and retained certain medical staff employees. View "Smith v. Allbaugh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Amber Brooks and Jamie Gale brought tort claims based on injuries they sustained when their breast implants began to deteriorate. The district court found they failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and dismissed their complaint with prejudice. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that though Congress heavily regulated the production and use of medical devices, there was a narrow preemption by which plaintiffs could plead their claim arising from the failure of that medical device. They also alleged the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion for leave to amend their complaint. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that federal law preempted all of plaintiffs' claims, and any any state-law claims were insufficiently pled. With respect to the trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice, the Tenth Circuit determined plaintiffs elected to "stand by their 'primary position,' and took no available avenue to amend their complaint. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit declined to grant their request now, and found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Plaintiffs' request for leave to amend. View "Brooks v. Mentor Worldwide" on Justia Law

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Martin Crowson was an inmate at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility (the “Jail”) when he began suffering from symptoms of toxic metabolic encephalopathy. Nurse Michael Johnson and Dr. Judd LaRowe, two of the medical staff members responsible for Crowson’s care, wrongly concluded Crowson was experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawal. On the seventh day of medical observation, Crowson’s condition deteriorated and he was transported to the hospital, where he was accurately diagnosed. After Crowson recovered, he sued Johnson, LaRowe, and Washington County under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court denied motions for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity by Johnson and LaRowe, concluding a reasonable jury could find both were deliberately indifferent to Crowson’s serious medical needs, and that it was clearly established their conduct amounted to a constitutional violation. The district court also denied the County’s motion for summary judgment, concluding a reasonable jury could find the treatment failures were an obvious consequence of the County’s reliance on LaRowe’s infrequent visits to the Jail and the County’s lack of written protocols for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating inmates. Johnson, LaRowe, and the County filed consolidated interlocutory appeals, raising threshold questions of jurisdiction. Johnson and LaRowe challenged the denial of qualified immunity, while the County contended the Tenth Circuit should exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of its summary judgment motion. The Tenth Circuit exercised limited jurisdiction over Johnson’s and LaRowe’s appeals pursuant to the exception to 28 U.S.C. 1291, carved out for purely legal issues of qualified immunity through the collateral order doctrine. The Court held Johnson’s conduct did not violate Crowson’s rights and, assuming without deciding LaRowe’s conduct did, the Court concluded LaRowe’s conduct did not violate any clearly established rights. The Court's holding was "inextricably intertwined with the County’s liability on a failure-to-train theory," so the Court exercised pendent appellate jurisdiction to the extent Crowson’s claims against the County rested on that theory. However, under Tenth Circuit binding precedent, the Court's holdings on the individual defendants’ appeals were not inextricably intertwined with Crowson’s claims against the County to the extent he advanced a systemic failure theory. The district court's denial of summary judgment to Johnson, LaRowe, and the County on the failure-to-train theory was reversed, and the remainder of the County’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Crowson v. Washington County State, Utah" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Terri Baker appealed the dismissal of this putative class action for lack of standing. She sued on behalf of herself and her son, S.F.B., to challenge Kansas laws and school district policies that: (1) required children to be vaccinated to attend school and participate in child care programs; and (2) provided a religious exemption from these requirements. She claimed these immunization laws and policies violated various federal and state constitutional provisions and statutes. Baker argued she and S.F.B. had standing because the immunization requirements and religious exemptions injured them in two ways: (1) the District misapplied Kansas law when it granted a religious exemption for S.F.B. to attend preschool despite being unvaccinated - her fear that the District would revoke S.F.B.'s religious exemption was an injury in fact that established standing; and (2) Baker "would like the option" of placing S.F.B. in a non-accredited private school (i.e., home school), school programs, or licensed child care - she contended Kansas law inhibited her from exercising these options and caused an injury in fact because she would be unable to secure a religious exemption for S.F.B. if she tried. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Baker v. USD 229 Blue Valley" on Justia Law

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An employee of a federally supported health center failed to properly administer a drug to Alexis Stokes while she gave birth to Baby Stokes. As a result, Baby Stokes suffered from “cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia,” along with other disabilities, and his life expectancy was 22 years. The district court awarded damages to Baby Boy D.S. (Baby Stokes) and his parents, Alexis Stokes and Taylor Stokes, (collectively, the Stokes) in this Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) action. The government appealed, arguing that the district court erred in structuring damage payments. The Stokes cross appealed, arguing that the district court erred both by miscalculating the present value of a portion of the award and by awarding too little in noneconomic damages. After review, the Tenth Circuit: (1) vacated and remanded the portion of the district court’s order structuring a trust with respect to Baby Stokes’s future-care award, with instructions to fully approximate section 9.3 of the FTCA; (2) vacated and remanded the portion of the district court’s order calculating the present value of Baby Stokes’s future-care award, with instructions to apply Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Pfeifer, 462 U.S. 523 (1983); and (3) affirmed the portion of the district court’s order regarding noneconomic damages. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Stokes v. United States" on Justia Law

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The parents of a teenage girl (L.M.) sued Premera Blue Cross under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), claiming improper denial of medical benefits. L.M. experienced mental illness since she was a young girl. L.M. was eventually placed in Eva Carlston Academy, where she obtained long-term psychiatric residential treatment. For this treatment, the parents submitted a claim to Premera under the ERISA plan’s coverage for psychiatric residential treatment. Premera denied the claim ten days into L.M.’s stay. But Premera agreed to cover the first eleven days of L.M.’s treatment, explaining the temporary coverage as a "courtesy." The parents appealed the denial of subsequent coverage, and Premera affirmed the denial based on a physician's medical opinion. The parents filed a claim for reimbursement of over $80,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for L.M.’s residential treatment at the Academy. Both parties moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment to Premera based on two conclusions: (1) Premera’s decision was subject to the arbitrary-and- capricious standard of review; and (2) Premera had not acted arbitrarily or capriciously in determining that L.M.’s residential treatment was medically unnecessary. The district court granted summary judgment to Premera, and the parents appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred by applying the arbitrary-and-capricious standard and in concluding Premera had properly applied its criteria for medical necessity. Given these conclusions, the Court reversed and remanded the matter back to the district court for de novo reevaluation of the parents’ claim. View "M. v. Premera Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a group of fourteen diversity cases that were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and transferred to the Northern District of Oklahoma. The plaintiffs in all fourteen cases were cancer treatment providers who purchased multi-dose vials of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, from defendant Genentech, Inc. (Genentech). Plaintiffs alleged that Genentech violated state law by failing to ensure that each vial of Herceptin contained the labeled amount of the active ingredient, and by misstating the drug concentration and volume on the product labeling. After the cases were consolidated, Genentech moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs’ claims were pre-empted by federal law. The district court agreed with Genentech and granted its motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs' claims were preempted, and consequently, reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: MDL 2700 Genentech" on Justia Law

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The insured, Brenda Sandoval, submitted a claim to her insurer, Unum Life Insurance Company of America, which initially paid benefits but then terminated them. The termination of benefits led Sandoval to sue Unum for: (1) a common-law tort (bad faith breach of insurance contract); (2) a statutory tort (unreasonable conduct under Colo. Rev. Stat. sec. 10-3-1115 to 1116); and (3) breach of contract. The district court granted Unum’s motion for partial summary judgment on the tort claims. The contract claim went to trial, where the jury rendered a verdict for Sandoval. The district court later denied Unum’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. Sandoval appealed the grant of Unum’s motion for partial summary judgment, and Unum cross-appealed the denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the award of partial summary judgment on the tort claims because Unum conducted a reasonable investigation. On the contract claim, the Court also affirmed the denial of Unum’s motion for judgment as a matter of law: the policy contained two alternative tests for a disability, and the evidence permitted a reasonable finding that Sandoval had satisfied at least one of these definitions. View "Sandoval v. UNUM Life Insurance" on Justia Law

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Stacey Janssen alleged Lawrence Memorial Hospital ("LMH") engaged in two healthcare schemes to fraudulently receive money from the United States. Janssen first contended LMH falsified patients’ arrival times in order to increase its Medicare reimbursement under certain pay-for-reporting and pay-for-performance programs the Government used to study and improve hospitals’ quality of care. Second, Janssen contended LMH falsely certified compliance with the Deficit Reduction Act in order to receive Medicare reimbursements to which it was otherwise not entitled. LMH moved for summary judgment below, arguing Janssen failed to show her allegations satisfied the Act’s materiality requirement - that the alleged falsehoods influenced the Government’s payment decision as required under the FCA. The district court granted LMH summary judgment on all of Janssen’s claims on this basis, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

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Marques Davis was an inmate at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility (“HCF”) from June 2016 until his death in April 2017. During the course of his confinement, Davis suffered from constant neurological symptoms, the cause of which went untreated by HCF medical personnel. When he eventually died from Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis, Davis’s estate (“the Estate”) brought federal and state law claims against Corizon Health, Inc. and numerous health care professionals who interacted with Davis during his incarceration. One such medical professional, Dr. Sohaib Mohiuddin, filed a qualified-immunity-based motion to dismiss the Estate’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. The district court denied the motion, concluding the complaint set out a clearly established violation of Davis’s right to be free from deliberate indifference to the need for serious medical care. Mohiuddin appealed, arguing the district court erred in determining the complaint’s conclusory and collective allegations stated a valid Eighth Amendment claim as to him. Upon de novo review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint did not state a valid deliberate indifference claim as to Mohiuddin. Thus, it reversed the denial of Mohiuddin’s motion to dismiss and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings. View "Walker v. Corizon Health" on Justia Law