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Did hospital's motion to dismiss apply to all defendants?

CASE ON POINT: Downing v. Lawrence Hall Nsg. Ctr. & Lawrence Mere. Hosp., No. 06176 (Ark. 11/16/2006) S.W.3d -AR

ISSUE: In this unusual case, a nursing home and hospital (and several physicians identified as John Does) were sued for wrongful death as the result of the death of a nursing home patient in a hospital after he was transferred to the hospital by the nursing home. After the nursing home and hospital's motion to dismiss the case was granted by a trial court, the nursing home and hospital thought that the case had been resolved. It was not! The plaintiff appealed the entry of judgment on the order of dismissal. Because there were other defendants (the physicians identified as John Does) who were named as defendants in the case, the court remanded the case to the trial court.

CASE FACTS: Robert Harris resided at Lawrence Hall Nursing Center from June 6, 2000, until July 25, 2000. On July 25, he was transported to Lawrence Memorial Hospital where he was admitted as a patient. He remained in the hospital until July 28 2000. He died on August 3, 2000. Following the patient's death, Brenda Downing filed a motion requesting that she be appointed as a Special Administrator of the deceased patient's estate in order to pursue a wrongful-death suit on behalf of the estate. The motion was granted and an order entered on June 7, 2002. On June 10, 2002, Downing, in her capacity as Special Administrator, filed a wrongful-death suit against the nursing home and the hospital. Four months later, on October 10, 2002, Downing filed her acceptance of appointment as Special Administrator. It was not until December 30, 2004, however, that letters of administration were issued to Downing and subsequently filed with the Clerk of Lawrence County. As a result, on October 19, 2005, the nursing home and the hospital filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Downing lacked authority to file the wrongful-death suit on behalf of the estate in the absence of the issuance of letters of administration. The rationale of the defendants was that the Special Administrator had no standing to bring suit since she failed to timely file the formal notice of her appointment as Special Administrator before filing suit against the defendant nursing home and the defendant hospital. At the beginning of the hearing on the motion to dismiss, counsel for the appellees notified the court that Downing had voluntarily dismissed her complaint against another hospital and physician. No further discussion between the parties ensued regarding the John Does and no action to remove them from the case was taken. Following a hearing on the motion the Lawrence County Circuit Court granted the defendants' motion. Downing appealed.

LEGAL COMMENTARY: Ordinarily, an order granting a motion to dismiss one party to a lawsuit, which involves multiple parties and multiple claims, is not an appealable order. However, an appeal from such an order is permissible when the trial court directs the entry of a final judgment as to one or more of the claims or parties and makes express findings that there is no just reason to delay the appeal. In this case, there were certain John Doe defendants named in the complaint; yet, no action was taken with regard to those defendants. At the beginning of the hearing on the motion to dismiss, counsel for the defendants notified the court that Downing had voluntarily dismissed her complaint against another hospital and physician named as defendants. The trial court then inquired as to the status of the "et al" in the case caption. Counsel for the appellees responded that there were some John Doe defendants but that they "never got placed." No further discussion occurred regarding the John Does and no action was taken to dismiss them from the case. The court recognized that this was a case of first impression in the state of Arkansas. The court determined that because no order was entered with regard to the John Doe defendants, there was no final, appealable order before it. Two separate dissenting opinions were filed. The Chief Justice filed a dissenting opinion (in which two other judges joined), noting that the majority opinion held that an order dismissing a complaint with prejudice is not a final appealable order. The Chief Justice noted that the nursing home and hospital did not seek dismissal of the claims against them alone but sought and obtained a dismissal of the entire complaint. He reasoned that if there were no complaint, there obviously could not be parties or claims remaining to be dismissed. He further noted that the majority mistook the case caption for an order of the court. While an order necessarily includes a caption, the caption is not the order! In the other dissenting opinion (in which two other judges joined), the dissenting judge reasoned that since the two named defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, referring to all defendants, and the trial court did so. For the plaintiff to contend that the dismissal of the complaint was limited only to the two defendants' named in the title of the case stretches credulity and undermines the trial court's order. Editor's Note: It is unusual to have six judges dissenting in a case. In most cases' wherein six judges agree, they would ordinarily author the majority opinion. Here, the six dissenting judges were unable to constitute a majority sufficient in numbers to constitute a majority opinion. This, at the very least indicates that the law in this area is no clear.

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in american Law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.
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Title Annotation:Legal Focus on Hospital Law Issues
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:1053
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