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Pederson v. Panchamukhi

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 16, 2019

NANCY KLUGE PEDERSON, individually, and as Mother and Next Friend of EMMA KLUGE, a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. SRIDEVI PANCHAMUKHI, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS HOSPITAL SERVICES, d/b/a Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, and MEMORIAL HOSPITAL OF CARBONDALE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Nancy J. Rosenstengel Chief U.S. District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Dr. Sridevi Panchamukhi and Substitute the United States of America filed by Dr. Sridevi Panchamukhi (Doc. 3), the Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Dr. Sridevi Panchamukhi and the United States of America (Doc. 6), as well as the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Southern Illinois Hospital Services, d/b/a Memorial Hospital of Carbondale (SIHS) (Doc. 11). For the reasons set forth below, the motions are granted.

         Background

         Plaintiff Nancy Kluge Pederson originally filed this lawsuit as the Mother and Next Friend of Emma Kluge in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial Circuit in Williamson County, Illinois (Doc. 1-2). Pederson alleged that Dr. Panchamukhi, SIHS, and Memorial Hospital of Carbondale were negligent in delivering her child on June 25, 2009 (Id.). Dr. Panchamukhi and the United States of America removed the case to federal court on November 30, 2018, asserting that at all relevant times, Dr. Panchamukhi was an employee of Rural Health, Inc., an entity of the United States of America eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act coverage pursuant to the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act (Doc. 1). And under 42 U.S.C. § 233(a), a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) lawsuit against the United States is the sole remedy “for damage or personal injury, including death, resulting from the performance of medical, surgical, dental, or related functions . . . by any commissioned officer or employee of the Public Health Service while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” (Id.).

         Dr. Panchamuhki has now moved to substitute the United States as a defendant in her stead. Both Dr. Panchamuhki and the United States also have moved to dismiss the case because Pederson failed to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit. Finally, Defendant SIHS has filed a motion to Dismiss Count II against it. The Court addresses each motion in turn.

         I. Motion to Dismiss Dr. Panchamukhi with Prejudice and Substitute the United States of America (Doc. 3)

         With this motion, Dr. Panchamukhi moves to dismiss the claims against her with prejudice and to substitute the United States in her place. Dr. Panchamukhi asserts that from January 1, 2008, to the present, Rural Health, Inc. has been deemed eligible for FTCA malpractice coverage, and that she was an employee of Rural Health on June 25, 2009, and continues to be an employee to this day. Accordingly, she must be dismissed, and the United States must be substituted as a defendant. Pederson did not file a brief in opposition.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 233(a), an FTCA lawsuit against the United States is the sole remedy “for damage or personal injury, including death, resulting from the performance of medical, surgical, dental, or related functions . . . by any commissioned officer or employee of the Public Health Service while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” In such cases, the Attorney General may certify that the employee “was acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the incident out of which the suit arose.” 42 U.S.C. § 233(c). Upon certification, the employee is dismissed from the action, the United States is substituted as defendant in place of the employee, and the action is governed by the FTCA. Id. The Attorney General has delegated authority to certify a federal employee's scope of employment to the U.S. Attorneys. 28 C.F.R. § 15.4(a).

         Here, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois has delegated his authority under § 15.4(a) to the Chief of the Civil Division, who has certified that Rural Health a was a deemed federal entity of the United States of America from at least January 1, 2008, and continuing thereafter. Furthermore, Dr. Panchamukhi was acting within the scope of her deemed employment as an employee of the United States Public Health Service on June 25, 2009 (Doc. 1-5). Accordingly, the exclusive remedy available to Pederson is an FTCA lawsuit against the United States.

         Finding that the FTCA applies here, and having no response from Pederson, the Motion to Dismiss Defendant Dr. Sridevi Panchamukhi with prejudice (Doc. 3) is granted, and the United States of America is hereby substituted as a defendant.

         II. Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, Based on Failure to Exhaust (Doc. 6)

         On December 10, 2018, the United States[1] filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment, asserting that Pederson failed to exhaust the required administrative remedies prior to filing suit (Doc. 6). The United States argues that under the FTCA, a plaintiff must take her claim to the appropriate federal agency before filing suit. Specifically, 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) provides that an action shall not be instituted against the United States for money damages based on personal injury or death caused by the negligence of any Government employee acting with the scope of his employment, “unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claims shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 2675.

         In this case, the United States argues, Pederson failed to file any administrative claims regarding Rural Health, Inc., and/or Dr. Panchamukhi with the United States Department of Health and Human Services before filing this lawsuit (See Doc. 6-1). Therefore, her claims must be dismissed.[2]

         The failure to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit under the FTCA mandates dismissal. Old Nat. Tr. Co. v. United States, No. 12-CV-0197-MJR-DGW, 2013 WL 3944432, at *3 (S.D. Ill. July 31, 2013) (citing McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993); Arteaga v. United States, 711 F.3d 828, 831 (7th Cir. 2013)); see also Warrum v. United States, 427 F.3d 1048 (7th Cir. 2005)(§ 2675(a) requires the presentation of an administrative claim for wrongful death before a wrongful death claim may be pursued in federal court under the FTCA). “The purpose of the FTCA's exhaustion requirement is to facilitate the administrative ...


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