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Dawson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 22, 2018

TERI DAWSON, Plaintiff,


          Herndon United States District Judge

         Before the Court is defendant, United States of America's, Motion for Summary Judgment, asking the Court to dismiss plaintiff's claims against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (doc. 83). Plaintiff opposes the motion (doc. 96). Based on the following, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to the claims against the government.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Second Amended Complaint

         As it pertains to defendant, United States of America, plaintiff Teri Dawson asserts in her second amended complaint claims for negligence (Count I) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count V). [Doc. 68]. These allegations stem from plaintiff's April 21, 2014 robot-assisted hysterectomy performed by Dr. Sohn, an employee of the United States at all relevant times, at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. Id. at ¶¶ 3; 11. Plaintiff underwent the hysterectomy procedure to relieve pain and symptoms relating to post-menopausal bleeding and frequent urinary tract infections, among other ailments. Id. at ¶ 8.

         Shortly after the procedure was performed, plaintiff continued to suffer from abdominal pain and returned to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale to have a CT performed. Id. at ¶ 15. The CT scan “revealed a small bowel loop herniating through the abdominal wall.” Id. at ¶ 17. Due to the results of the CT scan, Ms. Dawson underwent a hernia repair on May 3, 2014, performed by Dr. Satyadeep Bhattacharya. Id. at ¶ 18. Per plaintiff's allegations, Dr. Bhattacharya stated the small bowel loop “was a possible herniation through the site of [the hysterectomy] surgery.” Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff was discharged from the hospital in stable conditions on May 7, 2014 (id. at ¶ 22), however has continued to experience a myriad of symptoms related to her abdominal issues and also claims she has “suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder [and] depression and anxiety.” Id. at ¶ 28.

         Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Sohn, as an employee of the United States[1], deviated from the accepted standard of care when he performed her robot-assisted hysterectomy, and that the continued pain and medical issues she has faced since the surgery are a result of this negligence. See Id. at ¶¶ 32-33; 79.

         Accordingly, plaintiff seeks monetary damages and any further relief the Court deems necessary and appropriate.

         B. Government's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The government filed its motion for summary judgment on November 21, 2017 (doc. 83). Succinctly, the government argues that summary judgment should be granted because Ms. Dawson has not exhausted her administrative remedies prior to filing suit against the United States, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a)[2]. See generally doc. 83 at 4-8. The government argues that for an administrative claim to be properly submitted under 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a), the law requires that Standard Form 95 be presented to the appropriate Federal agency, here, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), with signature by the claimant, or by an authorized representative of the claimant with evidence of such authority. Plaintiff Dawson's Standard Form 95, submitted on September 15, 2016, contains the signature of her attorney, Ms. Carla Aikens. Id. at 7.

         The government contends that evidence of Ms. Aikens' authority to represent plaintiff in her administrative claim never materialized prior to denial of plaintiff's claim by HHS and Ms. Aikens' addition of the United States into plaintiff's complaint on April 4, 2017, despite multiple requests by HHS to verify the authority. Id. at 7-8. These actions frustrated the process of settlement that the administrative demand is designed to initiate. Id. at 8; Kanar v. United States, 118 F.3d 527 (7th Cir. 1997). Accordingly, it is the government's stance that HHS was never presented a chance to meaningfully consider plaintiff's claim resulting in plaintiff failing to exhaust her administrative remedies, such that the United States must now be dismissed from the matter.

         In opposition, plaintiff contends that she was under the belief that HHS had all the evidence it needed that Ms. Aikens was proceeding with the administrative claim in proper authority. Plaintiff admits she received a request from HHS to provide evidence that Ms. Aikens' had authority to represent plaintiff in the administrative matter (doc. 96 at 3) however, received no further information regarding what properly constituted such evidence despite numerous phone calls between the law office of Carla Aikens, P.C. and the HHS agents assigned to plaintiff's claim. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that only plaintiff's medical records were ever requested from HHS (id. at 4) such that those records, and a copy of the complaint filed in the case at bar, were the materials Ms. Aikens presented to HHS.

         In the alternative, or perhaps as an aside, plaintiff's opposition seems to argue that even if compliance with HHS' request for documentation to prove Ms. Aikens' authority to represent plaintiff in the administrative matter was not met, the purpose of requiring such administrative routes is to provide the government with “sufficient notice to investigate the claim and prepare for settlement negotiations[.]” Id. at 11. Plaintiff contests that the materials submitted to HHS, accompanied by numerous phone calls between HHS agents and plaintiff's attorney's office, constitute proper notice of her claim such that her administrative remedies had been exhausted prior to the United States being added as party to the instant lawsuit. Id.

         II. ...

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