United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MELAYAH LOCKETT-JOHNSON, a minor, by her mother and next friend, SYDNIE WILLIAMSON, and SYDNIE WILLIAMSON, individually, Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and SILVER CROSS HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTERS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOHNSON COLEMAN United States District Court Judge
plaintiff, Sydnie Williamson, on behalf of herself and her
daughter Melayah Lockett-Johnson, brought this action arising
from a birth-injury against the United States and Silver
Cross Hospital and Medical Centers. The United States now
moves this Court to grant summary judgment in its favor based
on Williamson's failure to comply with the Federal Tort
Claims Act's statute of limitations. For the reasons set
forth herein, that motion  is granted.
following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.
Williamson became pregnant in 2010 and received prenatal care
from the Will County Community Health Center (WCCHC). WCCHC
is a federally qualified health center that received grant
money from the Health Resources Services Administration and
was therefore subject to the Federal Tort Claims Act during
the times at issue. Dr. Garcini had a contract with WCCHC to
provide on-call delivery services for WCCHC patients at
Silver Cross Hospital, and therefore constituted a federal
employee within the meaning of the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Dr. Garcini only saw WCCHC patients at Silver Cross Hospital
and did not provide any services at WCCHC's primary
location. Dr. Garcini, however, also saw patients at Silver
Cross Hospital on behalf of the hospital and his own medical
practice, Partners in Obstetrics and Women's Health, P.C.
March 21, 2011, Williamson went into labor and sought medical
care at Silver Cross Hospital. Dr. Garcini, who had seen
Williamson previously, delivered Melayah. During the course
of the delivery, Melayah suffered from a brief shoulder
dystocia, which was promptly relieved. The delivery
proceeded successfully without other complications. On
Williamson's discharge from Silver Cross, Dr. Garcini
completed and signed an “obstetrics discharge summary
sheet” which indicated that the “attending
physician” had been “WCCHC.” On March 21,
Williamson also completed a consent form, on which she
acknowledged, in pertinent part, that “all physicians .
. . furnishing services to me . . . are independent
contractors and are not employees or agents of the
April 2011, Williamson took her daughter to the
Children's Memorial Hospital brachial plexus clinic.
During that visit, Melayah was diagnosed with Erb's
paralysis in her right arm which was attributed to a birth
injury. Williamson retained counsel shortly thereafter,
potentially after viewing a television ad suggesting that
Erb's paralysis might result from legally actionable
medical conduct. Counsel for Williamson began investigating
her claims, and requested relevant medical records during
2011. Williamson's counsel subsequently sought the input
of multiple physicians. In January 2014, one of those
physicians returned the opinion that Dr. Garcini's
negligence had caused Melayah's injuries.
October 6, 2014, Williamson filed a lawsuit against Dr.
Garcini, individually and as an employee of Silver Cross
Hospital and Partners in Obstetrics and Women's Health,
in Will County Circuit Court. That lawsuit was subsequently
removed to federal court in light of Dr. Garcini's status
as a federal employee. The case was ultimately dismissed on
October 14, 2015, based on Williamson's failure to
exhaust the FTCA's administrative claim requirement.
December 17, 2015, Williamson sent her administrative claim
to the Department of Health and Human Services. Williamson
subsequently filed this action on August 11, 2016. The United
States now moves for summary judgment, based on
Williamson's failure to comply with the applicable
statute of limitations.
judgment is proper when “the pleadings, the discovery
and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d
265 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of
material fact exists, this Court must view the evidence and
draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing
the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
However, “[m]erely alleging a factual dispute cannot
defeat the summary judgment motion.” Samuels v.
Wilder, 871 F.2d 1346, 1349 (7th Cir. 1989). “The
mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
[non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must
be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the
[non-movant].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
claims against Dr. Garcini are brought under the Federal Tort
Claims Act (FTCA), a Federal statute which enables plaintiffs
to file civil suits against the Federal government and its
agents. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). The FTCA is subject to a
statute of limitations which requires that a claim against
the federal government or its employees must be presented to
the appropriate administrative agency within two years
“after such claim accrues” or it will be
“forever barred.” 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).
cases alleging medical malpractice, a plaintiff's claim
accrues when the plaintiff discovers, or a reasonable person
in the plaintiff's position would have discovered, that
she has in fact been injured by an act or omission
attributable to the government. E.Y. ex rel. Wallace v.
U.S., 758 F.3d 861, 865 (7th Cir. 2014). Therefore, a
plaintiff's claim accrues when the plaintiff knew enough,
or should have known enough, to suspect that his or her
injury had a “doctor-related cause.” Arroyo
v. United States, 656 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2011)
(citing United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 11, 123,
100 S.Ct. 352, 62 L.Ed.2d 259 (1979). Accrual, however,
“does not wait until the plaintiff learns that their
injury was caused by a doctor's negligence.”
Arroyo, 656 F.3d at 665 (citing Kubrick,
444 U.S. at 123).
Williamson contends that she had no actual knowledge that her
daughter's injuries resulted from Dr. Garcini's
negligence until her experts informed her of their opinions
to that effect in January 2014. Until that time, Williamson
contends it would have been impossible for her to rule out
the possibility that Melayah's injury resulted from the
“maternal forces of labor.” Williamson, however,
conflates establishing a doctor-related cause and
establishing a doctor's negligence. Although Williamson
and her lawyers may not have known whether negligence caused
Lockett-Johnson's injury before January 2014, it is
undisputed that in 2011 Williamson contacted an attorney
because she “felt the doctor was at fault” for
her daughter's Erb's palsy. (Dkt. 54-1173:16-19).
Thus, by 2011 Williamson knew enough to suspect that the
injury had been or may have been caused by Dr. Garcini.
See Blanche v. United States, 811 F.3d 953, 959 (7th
Cir. 2016) (recognizing that retaining counsel indicates a
subjective belief that ...