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United States District Court Finds that Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office is Given Broad Discretion in Granting Filing Extensions for Expert Certification

Smith v. Palin
United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Civil No. 12-1776 (D. Md. September 11, 2012)

by Wayne Heavener, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In Smith v. Palin, Judge James K. Bredar of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland found that the Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office (HCADRO), acting through its director (the Director), did not abuse his discretion when by permitting a plaintiff four time extension to file a statutorily required expert certification in a medical malpractice action. The Court held that the Director’s extensions were substantiated by good cause and did not constitute an abuse of discretion. Furthermore, the Court decided that the defendant’s challenge to the plaintiff’s extensions were interlocutory issues that should have been brought before HCADRO, and not the Court. Therefore, the Court denied the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, which argued that the Director abused his discretion in granting the plaintiff’s extensions.

This case arose out a medical malpractice suit brought by Caitlin Smith (Plaintiff) against William E. Palin, Jr., M.D. (Defendant). In May 2006, Defendant recommended that Plaintiff undergo bilateral breast augmentation as a treatment for a condition known as tubular breast deformity. After the procedure, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant performed the augmentation procedure negligently, and failed to obtain proper informed consent. Plaintiff alleged that, as a result of Plaintiff’s negligence, she suffered injury, and was forced to undergo additional surgery to replace the implants.

As required by Maryland law, Plaintiff filed a statement of claim with HCADRO on February 11, 2011. On May 5, 2011, Plaintiff filed a motion to extend the time for filing a statutorily required expert certification. The Director granted the motion, extending Plaintiff’s deadline to submit an expert certification to August 9, 2011. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed three additional motions to extend the deadline to submit an expert certification, which the Director granted. On February 6, 2012, Plaintiff filed her expert report with HCADRO. Plaintiff subsequently filed an election to waive arbitration, and filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on June 15, 2012. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff failed to file the requisite expert certificate within time limit because the Director abused his discretion is granting Plaintiff a second, third, and fourth extension to file an expert certification.

The Court held that the Director did not abuse his discretion in granting Plaintiff four extensions on the statutorily required expert certification. The Court first noted that HCADRO is an administrative agency. The Court found that Maryland law requires that the Director must be afforded the same deference as any other administrative agency in making discretionary decisions. Looking to Maryland statute, the Court observed that HCADRO is required to grant an automatic extension upon the first failure of a plaintiff to submit an expert certification where (1) the applicable limitations period expired and (2) plaintiff’s failure to file was neither willful nor grossly negligent. MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 3-2A-04(b)(1)(i)—(ii). Any extension thereafter may be given for good cause. In this case, the Court found that Defendant failed to establish that the Director did not have good cause to grant Plaintiff’s extensions. While Plaintiff’s motions requesting extensions to the statutory time limit contained very brief statements of facts, the Director nonetheless had the statutory authority to establish the minimum factual showing necessary to constitute a prima facie showing of good cause. As Plaintiff’s factual representations went unchallenged, the Director lacked good cause. Given that the Director did not lack cause to grant the extension, the Director could not have abused his discretion in awarding the extensions.

Additionally, the Court noted that Defendant’s challenge was to an interlocutory issue, which the Court was not prepared to address absent a clear violation of the law. Rather, the proper forum for Defendant’s challenge was HCADRO. Therefore, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.

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