E-Alert Case Updates
Federal Court Examines Civil Claims Against Physicians and State Regulatory Agencies
Mary Lou Fieni v. Dr. John B. Townsend, III and Division of Professional Regulation
Mary Lou Fieni v. Dr. John B. Townsend, III and Division of Professional Regulation involved a lawsuit filed by a Plaintiff against a physician that had performed a medical examination of the Plaintiff in relation to her workers’ compensation claim and the Delaware State professional regulatory agency responsible for oversight of medical professionals.The Plaintiff alleged that the physician had committed perjury by lying about her medical condition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1621 and 28 U.S.C. § 1746, and that the regulatory agency failed to investigate the Plaintiff’s complaints against the physician in violation of the Plaintiff’s civil rights. The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that the Plaintiff’s claims against the regulatory agency were barred by sovereign immunity, and that the Plaintiff had not pled or established a private right of action under 18 U.S.C. § 1621 or 28 U.S.C. § 1746.Accordingly, the Court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss the Plaintiff’s claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
By way of factual background, Plaintiff Mary Lou Fieni (“Plaintiff”) had a history of sustaining work-related injuries. On January 16, 2013, in relation to one of Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claims, Defendant John B. Townsend, III, M.D. (“Dr. Townsend”) examined Plaintiff as part of a defense medical exam. After the exam, Dr. Townsend prepared a written evaluation of Plaintiff's medical conditions and history. Dr. Townsend was also deposed regarding his examination of Plaintiff.
During 2014 and 2015, Plaintiff filed numerous complaints with Defendant State of Delaware Division of Professional Regulation (“DPR”), a professional regulatory agency responsible for oversight of medical professionals, alleging that Dr. Townsend engaged in unprofessional conduct, misrepresented her medical condition to others, and lied during his deposition. On February 5, 2015, DPR sent a letter to Plaintiff stating that its investigation of Dr. Townsend had uncovered no violations of Delaware’s Medical Practice Act.
From February 25, 2015 through April 8, 2015, Plaintiff wrote three (3) letters to the Delaware Secretary of State concerning her allegations against Dr. Townsend and criticizing DPR’s handling of the matter. On November 6, 2015, DPR sent Plaintiff a second letter reiterating its findings, concluding that Dr. Townsend had not violated the Medical Practice Act, and closing the matter.
On February 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware against Dr. Townsend and DPR, alleging that Dr. Townsend committed perjury under 18 U.S.C. § 1621 and violated 28 U.S.C. § 1746, and that DPR failed in its investigation of Plaintiff’s complaints against Dr. Townsend in violation of Plaintiff’s civil rights. Dr. Townsend and DPR filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
The Court began its analysis by noting that Plaintiff brought her claim against DPR, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for DPR’s allegedly improper handling of Plaintiff’s complaints against Dr. Townsend. The Court found that Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim against DPR was barred by sovereign immunity, as “DPR had neither consented to Plaintiff’s suit, nor waived its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.” The Court explained that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution “protects an unconsenting State or state agency from a suit brought in federal court by one of its own citizens, regardless of the relief sought.” See Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984). Furthermore, the Court noted that “§ 1983 claims for monetary damages against a State, state agency, or a state official in his official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.” See Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Ali v. Howard, 353 Fed.Appx. 667, 672 (3d Cir. 2009). Accordingly, the Court concluded that Plaintiff was not entitled to relief against DPR under § 1983.
Regarding Plaintiff’s claims against Dr. Townsend, the Court noted that Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Townsend committed perjury under 18 U.S.C. § 1621, and violated 28 U.S.C. § 1746, by misrepresenting Plaintiff’s medical condition and lying during his deposition. The Court explained that Plaintiff’s claim under 18 U.S.C. § 1621 involved a criminal statute, however, the case at bar was a civil proceeding and Plaintiff had not pled or established a private right of action under this criminal statute. Next, the Court explained that “Plaintiff’s claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1746 related to unsworn declarations under penalty of perjury in the federal judiciary,” but Plaintiff had “not alleged that any of Dr. Townsend’s declarations were made in connection with a federal administrative or judicial proceeding that would fall within the scope of the statute.” Accordingly, the Court concluded that Plaintiff had not pled any plausible claim against Dr. Townsend.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court granted Dr. Townsend’s and DPR’s motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims.
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