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Bogart Mumford Parks v. Robert R. Watkins

August 31, 2012

BOGART MUMFORD PARKS,
HG-RLP INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM J. PARKS, DECEASED; AND CHIYA NICHOLE PARKS,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT R. WATKINS, M.D.; HAMAKUA HEALTH CENTER, INC. D/B/A KOHALA FAMILY HEALTH CENTER; AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Helen Gillmor United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND HAMAKUA HEALTH CENTER, INC., D/B/A KOHALA FAMILY HEALTH CENTER'S MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT (DOC. 32) AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 44) AND DENYING DEFENDANT ROBERT R. WATKINS, M.D.'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFFS' CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES (DOC. 72)

This matter arises out of a medical malpractice dispute. Plaintiffs Bogart Mumford Parks and Chiya Nichole Parks, representing the Estate of William J. Parks, have filed a suit for medical negligence against Defendants Robert R. Watkins, M.D., Hamakua Health Center d/b/a Kohala Family Health Center, and the United States of America. The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Watkins, a licenced physician, committed medical negligence when he failed to treat and diagnose William Parks's cancer, and that this negligence caused his untimely death.

There are three motions before the Court:

(1) Defendants Hamakua Health Center and the United States of America have moved to be dismissed from case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction;

(2) Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment against Defendant Watkins on the issue of negligence; and

(3) Defendant Watkins has moved for summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages.

The evidence in the record indicates that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the Federal Defendants because there is no indication that any medical negligence occurred during the period in which Defendant Watkins was "an employee" of the Government. DEFENDANTS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND HAMAKUA HEALTH CETNER, INC. d/b/a KOHALA FAMILY HEALTH CENTER'S MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT (Doc. 32), filed on April 9, 2012 is GRANTED. All allegations against Defendants Hamakua Health Center and the United States of America are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The only remaining defendant in the matter is Defendant Watkins.

There are material issues of disputed fact about whether Defendant Watkins breached the standard of care in his treatment of William Parks. Summary judgment on whether Defendant Watkins committed medical negligence is not appropriate. The PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 44), filed on May 31, 2012 is DENIED.

There are material issues of disputed fact concerning the motives and reasons for Defendant Watkins's conduct. Summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages would not be appropriate. DEFENDANT ROBERT R. WATKINS, M.D.'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFFS' CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES (Doc. 72), filed on August 6, 2012, is DENIED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On September 29, 2011, the Plaintiffs filed a Complaint. (Doc. 1.)

On March 21, 2012, the Plaintiffs were given leave to file a First Amended Complaint. (Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint, filed March 21, 2012 (Doc. 27).)

On March 28, 2012, the Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 30.)

On April 9, 2012, Defendants Hamakua Health Center, Inc. and the United States of America filed "DEFENDANTS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND HAMAKUA HEALTH CENTER, INC., d/b/a KOHALA FAMILY HEALTH CENTER'S MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT" (Doc. 32).

On April 12, 2012, the parties requested a continuance on the Motion to Dismiss in order to conduct discovery relevant to the motion. (Letter, dated April 12, 2012 (Doc. 36).)

On April 13, 2012, the request for a continuance was granted and hearing for the Motion to Dismiss was set for August 21, 2012. (Minute Order, filed April 13, 2012 (Doc. 37).)

On May 31, 2012, the Plaintiffs filed "PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT" (Doc. 44) and an accompanying "SEPARATE CONCISE STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF THEIR MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT" (Doc. 45). A hearing on the Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was set for August 21, 2012, the same date of the hearing on the Motion to Dismiss. (Minute Order, June 6, 2012 (Doc. 46).)

On July 17, 2012, the Plaintiffs' filed "PLAINTIFFS' MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND HAMAKUA HEALTH CENTER, INC., d/b/a KOHALA FAMILY HEALTH CENTER'S MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT, FILED ON APRIL 9, 2012" (Doc. 61).

On the same day, Defendant Watkins filed "DEFENDANT ROBERT R. WATKINS, M.D.'S MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED ON MAY 31, 2012" (Doc. 62) and an accompanying "CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN OPPOSITION" (Doc. 63).

On July 30, 2012, the Defendants Hamakua Health Center, Inc. and the United States of America filed "HAMAKUA HEALTH CENTER, INC., d/b/a KOHALA FAMILY HEALTH CENTER AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA'S REPLY MEMORANDUM TO PLAINTIFFS' OPPOSITION TO THE MOTION TO DISMISS" (Doc. 66).

On the same day, Plaintiffs filed "REPLY MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT, FILED MAY 31, 2012" (Doc. 67).

On August 6, 2012, Defendant Watkins filed "DEFENDANT ROBERT R. WATKINS, M.D.'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFFS' CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES" (Doc. 72), and an accompanying "SEPARATE AND CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN SUPPORT OF HIS MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFFS' CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES" (Doc. 73).

On August 21, 2012, Defendants Hamakua Health Center, Inc. and the United States of America's Motion to Dismiss and the Plaintiffs' Partial Motion for Summary Judgment came on for hearing. The Court heard argument and took the motions under submission.

BACKGROUND

This controversy stems from the death of William J. Parks ("Decedent"), a resident of Kohala on the Island of Hawaii. Plaintiffs Bogart Mumford Parks ("B. Parks") and Chiya Nichole Parks ("N. Parks"), representing the Estate of the Decedent, have filed a medical malpractice suit against Defendants Robert R. Watkins, M.D., Hamakua Health Center d/b/a Kohala Family Health Center ("Hamakua Health Center"), and the United States of America. The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Watkins, a licenced physician, committed medical negligence when he failed to treat and diagnose the Decedent's cancer, and that this negligence caused the Decedent's untimely death.

The Defendants

Defendant Watkins has been a licenced physician practicing in the Kohala community for over thirty years. (Complaint at ¶ 16 (Doc. 1).) For approximately twenty-four years, Defendant Watkins operated a private practice in downtown Hawi, which focused on providing primary healthcare. (See Deposition of Robert Watkins at 22-23 ("Watkins's Deposition"), attached as Exhibit 14 to the Plaintiffs' Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 61).) On June 30, 2006, however, Defendant Watkins closed his practice. (Id. at 91-92.) Around the same time, another Kohala physician, Dr. Patrick Siu, also decided to close his practice. (See Deposition of Susan Hunt at 103, attached as Exhibit G to the Federal Defendants' Reply to the Plaintiffs' Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 66-7).) Due to the closures, many of Defendant Watkins's and Dr. Siu's former patients began receiving medical care from the Kohala Family Medical Center, a medical facility located in Kohala that was owned and operated by Syliva Sonneschein, Professional Corporation ("Sonnenschein Corp.").

Due to the influx of new patients to the Kohala Family Medical Center, Sonnenschein Corp. negotiated with Defendant Watkins to provide stopgap medical services. (See Independent Contractor Agreement, attached as Exhibit 1 to Plaintiff's Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 61-3).) The Independent Contractor Agreement between Defendant Watkins and Sonnenschein Corp., which went into effect on August 1, 2006, required Defendant Watkins to provide medical services to patients at the Kohala Family Health Center for twelve hours a week for fourteen weeks. (Id. at 1.) The Independent Contractor Agreement stated that Defendant Watkins would receive $125 per hour of work, and that all the fees charged for his services would be retained by Sonnenschein Corp. (Id. at 2.) The Independent Contractor Agreement ended on November 2, 2006. (Id. at 1.) Defendant Watkins did not treat any patients at the Kohala Family Health Center after the expiration of the Independent Contractor Agreement. (Watkins's Deposition at 25.)

In as early as 2004, leaders in the Kohala community grew concerned about having sufficient access to primary healthcare services in anticipation of the closures of Defendant Watkin's and Dr. Siu's practice. (Request for Addition of a Site at 1-3, attached as Exhibit 4 to Plaintiffs' Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 61).) A request was made to Defendant Hamakua Health Center, a federally funded organization that already operated a medical facility in neighboring Honokaa, to open a primary healthcare facility in Kohala. (Id.) Defendant Hamakua Health Center agreed to consider opening a facility. (Id.) A task force was created from a cross section of the North Kohala community to survey the health needs of residents. (Id.) On January 4, 2005, the task force recommended and made a formal request to Defendant Hamakua Health Center to purchase and operate the Kohala Family Health Medical Center. (Id.)

On January 1, 2006, upon receiving federal funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ("DHHS"), Defendant Hamakua Health Center was deemed "an employee" of the Public Health Service for the purposes of liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act. (Declaration of Meredith Torres at ¶2, attached to Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 32).) Subsequently, Defendant Hamakua Health Center began the process of taking over the Kohala Family Health Center. On August 1, 2006, Defendant Hamakua Health Center began aiding Sonnenschein Corp. with the merging of Defendant Watkin's patients with the Kohala Family Health Center. (Request for Addition of a Site at 2, Exhibit 4 of Plaintiff's Opposition (Doc. 61).) In addition, Defendant Hamakua Health Center began making renovations of the facility in anticipation of acquiring new healthcare professionals. (Id.)

On November 1, 2006, Sonnenschein Corp. and Defendant Hamakua Health Center entered into an Asset Purchase Agreement, wherein Sonnenschein Corp. agreed to transfer all the assets associated with the Kohala Family Health Center to Defendant Hamakua Health Center, Inc. (See Asset Purchase Agreement, attached as Exhibit A to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 32-6).) The Asset Purchase Agreement provided for a transfer date of November 15, 2006 at 1:00 p.m. (Id. at 2.)

Prior to the transfer of the Kohala Family Medical Center from Sonnenschein Corp. to Defendant Hamakua Health Center, Inc., the DHHS extended liability coverage to the Kohala Family Health Center on August 10, 2006. (Declaration of Meredith Torres at ¶2, attached to Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 32).) According to the Declaration of Meredith Torres, an Attorney-Advisor of the DHHS, liability coverage extended to the Kohala Family Health Center on August 10, 2006 because that was the date Defendant Hamakua Health Center effectively assumed operation of the facility. (Id.)

Between August 10, 2006 and November 2, 2006, Defendant Watkins treated patients at the Kohala Family Medical Center while the facility was effectively under the control of Defendant Hamakua Health Center. In a letter dated August 22, 2006, Defendant Hamakua Health Center agreed to take custody of all of Defendant Watkins's medical records. (See Letter to Dr. Watkins, Dated August 22, 2006, attached as Exhibit 5 to Plaintiffs' Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 61-7).) Defendant Hamakua Health Center agreed to store the records at the Kohala Family Health Center. (Id.) The letter stated that Defendant ...


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