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Dickerson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 25, 2019

TARA DICKERSON, Personal Representative of the Estate of Rodrick J. Dagne, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, Chief U.S. District Judge.

         Tara Dickerson brings this medical malpractice action as Personal Representative of the Estate of Rodrick H. Dagne, a deceased veteran of the United States Army (Doc. 1). Dickerson alleges that Defendant United States of America was negligent in its diagnosis and treatment of Dagne while he was under the care of the VA Medical Center in Marion, Illinois (Id.). The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b) and 2674. Pending before the Court is the Government’s motion to dismiss, which argues Dickerson’s claims are barred by the Illinois statute of repose or, alternatively, should be dismissed because Dickerson failed to attach a certificate of merit to her complaint (Doc. 22). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         Factual and Procedural Background

          According to the allegations in the complaint, in March 2014, Dagne noticed an ulceration on his right foot and was admitted to the Marion VA Medical Center on May 19, 2014 (Id. at p. 2). He was diagnosed with hyperemia and abnormal osteoblastic activity in the head of the third metatarsal (Id.).

         On or about May 21, 2014, the Marion VA Medical Center transferred Dagne to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville, Indiana (Id.). The VA advised St. Mary’s that Dagne was not septic, did not have cellulitis, and was not on dialysis (Id.). When Dagne was admitted to St. Mary’s, his providers found an ulcer on the bottom of his right foot with a malodorous discharge (Id.). His foot was red and swollen, and he was septic (Id.). Dagne was diagnosed with osteomyelitis of the right third and fourth metatarsal heads and the base of the proximal phalanx, with suspected peripheral vascular disease (Id.). He underwent a transmetatarsal amputation on May 24, 2014 and passed away on June 5, 2014 (Id.).

         Dickerson filed a claim on Dagne’s behalf with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs on May 31, 2016 (Id.). The claim was initially denied on December 21, 2016, and Dickerson’s request for reconsideration was denied on January 12, 2018 (Id.). Dickerson filed this suit on July 9, 2018, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (Id.). The case was transferred to this Court in February 2019 (Id.).

         Discussion

          Dickerson’s claims arise under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), which gives district courts “exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions on claims against the United States, for money damages . . . for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). The FTCA covers “circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” Morisch v. United States, 653 F.3d 522, 530 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1)).

         In other words, the FTCA “incorporates the substantive law of the state where the tortious act or omission occurred.” Midwest Knitting Mills, Inc. v. United States, 950 F.2d 1295, 1297 (7th Cir. 1991).

         In this instance, the alleged negligence occurred in Marion, Illinois, which requires the Court to apply Illinois substantive law. The Seventh Circuit has determined that Illinois’ statute of repose for medical malpractice actions is substantive law that extinguishes claims under the FTCA if brought more than four years after the negligent act or omission occurred. Augutis v. United States, 732 F.3d 749 (7th Cir. 2013). Specifically, Illinois law provides,

Except as provided in Section 13-215 of this Act, no action for damages for injury or death against any physician or hospital . . . shall be brought more than 2 years after the date on which the claimant knew . . . of the existence of the injury . . . but in no event shall such action be brought more than 4 years after the date on which occurred the act or omission or occurrence alleged in such action to have been the cause of such injury or death.”

735 ILCS 5/13-212(a) (emphasis added).

         Prior to bringing a civil action under the FTCA, a claimant must exhaust his or her administrative remedies:

A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, . . . of notice of ...

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