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HELLER v. U.S.

March 21, 1985

Paul Heller, et al.,
v.
Plaintiff, THE UNITED STATES, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCIRICA

SCIRICA

 MEMORANDUM

 Plaintiff has brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b) and 2671, et seq., and the federal medical malpractice immunity statute, 10 U.S.C. § 1089. Plaintiff is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of five million ($ 5,000,000) dollars for the wrongful death of his wife, Gail Simpson Heller, from numerous defendants including the United States, the United States Air Force Regional Medical Center Clark (PACAF) (hereinafter "the Hospital"), as well as the doctors involved in her case. The claims against the named defendants are based on diversity jurisdiction while the claims against the United States are based upon the above-cited statutes. Defendant, United States, has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

 Plaintiff, Paul Heller, enlisted in the United States Air Force, in July 1980. After assignments in Texas and Illinois, plaintiff and his wife were stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Republic of the Phillipines. On July 5, 1981, Mrs. Heller gave birth to a son at the Clark Medical Center. She was assisted in the delivery room by Dr. Mai Diaz and, thereafter, laboratory tests were performed by defendants Moffet and Brockett in the microbiology department of the hospital. Mrs. Heller was discharged from the hospital on July 8, 1981 and returned to the Clark Medical Center for her six week post-partum check-up on August 27, 1981.

 On October 15, 1981, Mrs. Heller appeared at the emergency room of the hospital complaining of a swollen breast. At that time, she was diagnosed as having mastitis of the right breast. On December 18, 1981, Mrs. Heller went to the primary care clinic of the hospital complaining of swollen eyes. She was seen at the gynecology clinic at the hospital on January 5, 1982, for a pregnancy test and again on January 8, 1982, as she was experiencing vaginal bleeding. At that time, a pelvic examination was performed by the hospital doctors. Although the results of the examination were negative, Mrs. Heller continued to experience weight loss, nausea and other problems. The Hellers left the Phillipines and on January 29, 1982, Mrs. Heller was admitted to Bucks County Hospital where a biopsy was performed. She was diagnosed as having choriocarcinoma (cancer of the placenta) with metastisis and on February 2, 1982, was transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for chemotherapy. On March 3, 1982, Mrs. Heller died from overwhelming carcinomatosis and sepsis.

 Defendant, United States, moved to dismiss this action. *fn1" The United States argues that since this action arose in a foreign country, the Phillipines, the Federal Tort Claims Act does not apply, and the Government retains its sovereign immunity.

 It is clear that the Federal Tort Claims Act (hereinafter "FTCA") does not apply to "any claims arising in a foreign country." 28 U.S.C. § 2680(k). In United States v. Spelar, 338 U.S. 217, 94 L. Ed. 3, 70 S. Ct. 10 (1949), the Supreme Court held that "the coverage of the Federal Tort Claims Act was geared to the sovereignty of the United States." Id. at 219. The court then enunciated the test to determine whether a claim arose in a foreign country: whether the "territory [was] subject to the sovereignty of another nation," Spelar, supra at 217, and whether the United States was to be subjected to liability based upon the laws of a foreign power. Id. at 221. I find that both of these requirements have been met in this case.

 The Clark Air Base is under Phillipine sovereignty as a result of an agreement reached between the United States and the Republic of the Phillipines. This agreement, enacted on January 7, 1979, provided that:

 
1. The bases covered by this Agreement are Phillipine military bases and shall be under the command of Phillipine Base Commanders . . .
 
3. In the performance of their duties, the Base Commanders and United States Commanders shall be guided by full respect for Phillipine sovereignty on the one hand and the assurance of unhampered United States military operations on the other.

 Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of the Phillipines Concerning Military Bases of 1947, as amended January 7, 1979, 30 U.S.T. 863, 879, T.I.A.S. No. 9224.

 This agreement for the return of these military bases in the Phillipines was the culmination of several years of negotiations. It is clear that Phillipine sovereignty extended to Clark Air Base during the relevant time period which gave rise to this action.

 The second prong of the Spelar test has been met as the FTCA requires that liability of the United States be imposed "in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2672. *fn2" Since the alleged malpractice occurred in the Phillipines while Mrs. Heller was being treated at Clark Air Base, the United States would be held to the laws of the Republic of the Phillipines. Because both requirements have been met, the Phillipines qualifies as a foreign country.

 A claim presented by or on behalf of dependents of United States military personnel who allege negligent treatment at a United States military hospital abroad, still falls within the foreign country exception to the FTCA. See Pelphrey v. United States, 674 F.2d 243 (4th Cir. 1982); Manemann v. United States, 381 F.2d ...


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