E-Alert Case Updates
Delaware Federal Court Examines Requirements for Claims Against State Hospitals
Matthew Jones v. Dr. Khalid Mirza, et al.
Matthew Jones v. Dr. Khalid Mirza, et al. involved a medical malpractice claim, inter alia, against two (2) Delaware hospitals and his treating physician for acts that occurred while he was being held on court committal. The United States District Court for the District of Delaware granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and on the grounds that the Defendants were immune from suit, that the claims were time-barred, and that the lawsuit failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Thus, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s Complaint, but gave the Plaintiff leave to amend.
By way of factual background, on November 4, 2015, Plaintiff Matthew Jones (“Plaintiff”) filed a lawsuit against Dr. Khaled Mirza (improperly named as Dr. Khalid Mirza), Dover Behavioral Health, and Delaware Psychiatric Center (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Mirza first treated him at the Delaware Psychiatric Center and that medication administered in high doses by Dr. Mirza resulted in dramatic weight gain and high blood pressure that could have killed him. Dr. Mirza subsequently remained Plaintiff’s physician at Dover Behavioral Health despite their poor history and Plaintiff’s repeated requests for a new physician. Plaintiff stated that he was held on court committal at both hospitals. He alleged that, at some point during his committal, a judge ordered his discharge, but Dover Behavioral Health disregarded the order. Plaintiff further alleged that he was prevented from attending important medical appointments due to his hospitalization. The Complaint stated that the claims occurred in 2007 and 2015. Medical records attached to the Complaint indicated that Plaintiff was hospitalized at the Delaware Psychiatric Center from February 13, 2007 through April 5, 2007, and treated by Dr. Mirza during that time. Plaintiff asserted jurisdiction by reason of a federal question and sought compensatory damages. Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and on the grounds that Defendants were immune from suit, that the claims were time-barred, and that the lawsuit failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
Regarding subject matter jurisdiction, the Court concluded that, as pled, the Complaint did not raise a federal question. The Court explained that, at most, Plaintiff alleged medical negligence, and that it was “well-established that allegations of medical malpractice are not sufficient to establish a constitutional violation.” See White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 108-09 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 332-34 (1986) (negligence is not compensable as a constitutional deprivation). Because the Complaint did not raise a federal question, the Court found that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court further concluded that it did not have jurisdiction by reason of diversity. The Complaint stated that Plaintiff and Defendants were citizens of the State of Delaware, and therefore, the requisites for diversity jurisdiction were not met. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Accordingly, the Court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the Court addressed the other grounds for relief because Plaintiff would be given leave to amend his Complaint.
Regarding immunity, the Court concluded that it was appropriate to dismiss all claims against Delaware Psychiatric Center because it was immune from suit. The Court explained that “the Eleventh Amendment of 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); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974). Accordingly, the Court found that, as an agency of the State of Delaware, the Delaware Psychiatric Center was entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. See e.g. State of Delaware Dep’t of Health and Social Services v. Sheppard, 864 A.2d 929 (Del. 2004). Thus, the Court granted Delaware Psychiatric Center’s motion to dismiss as it was immune from suit.
Regarding the allegations against Dover Behavioral Health, the Court concluded that to the extent Plaintiff sought to raise a § 1983 claim, it failed. The Court noted that, as discussed above, the Complaint did not raise constitutional violations. The Court further explained that “when bringing a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a federal right, and that the person who caused the deprivation acted under color of state law.” See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Because there were no allegations that Dover Behavioral Health acted under color of law, the Court held that dismissal as to the § 1983 claims was appropriate.
Regarding the allegations against Dr. Mirza, the Court noted that Dr. Mirza was mentioned in Plaintiff’s medical records as providing him care when Plaintiff was hospitalized at the Delaware Psychiatric Center and, therefore, that he could be considered a state actor. The Court found, however, that the claims against Dr. Mirza were time-barred. Plaintiff commenced the action on November 4, 2015. Plaintiff’s medical records, attached to the Complaint, were from 2007 and 2008. According to the Court, although the Complaint stated that acts took place in 2007 and 2015, neither the allegations in the Complaint, nor the medical records submitted as exhibits, made reference to any acts occurring in 2015. The Court explained that § 1983 claims are characterized as personal injury actions for purposes of the statute of limitations, and are subject to a two (2)-year limitations period in Delaware. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275 (1983); Johnson v. Cullen, 925 F.Supp. 244, 248 (D. Del. 1996); 10 Del. C. § 8119. The Court found that Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred as evident from the face of the Complaint. Thus, the Court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims as time-barred, but noted that Plaintiff would be given leave to amend, given that his Complaint, though deficiently pled, alleged wrongful acts that took place in 2015.
For the above reasons, the Court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss, but gave Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint.
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