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Kauffman v. Franz

March 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, J.


Before the Court are a Motion for Reconsideration and Motion to Stay filed by Defendants Pottstown Memorial Medical Center and Pottstown Hospital Company (hereinafter "Defendants.") Defendants ask the Court to reconsider its September 24, 2009 Order denying their motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act ("EMTALA"), or, in the alternative, to certify this matter for an interlocutory appeal, with an accompanying stay. For the forgoing reasons, Defendants' Motions are denied.

Factual Background

For clarity's sake, the Court will reproduce the facts as stated in its September 24, 2009 Memorandum Opinion. Plaintiff's decedent, John Kauffman, contacted his friend Linda Curry at approximately 5:00 a.m. on March 23, 2007 to ask her for a ride to the hospital. (Pl.'s Counterstatement of Material Facts ¶ 1). Mr. Kauffman told Ms. Curry that he was experiencing chest pain and trouble breathing, and believed he was having a heart attack. (Id.) Mr. Kauffman reported feeling clammy, and having difficulty putting his shoes on his feet, which had swollen.

(Id.) Ms. Curry took Mr. Kauffman to Defendants' Emergency Room. Once at the Emergency Room, Mr. Kauffman was seen by triage at 5:39 a.m. and admitted with a diagnosis of "difficulty breathing." (Id. ¶ 2). Mr. Kauffman's chief complaint was recorded by the triage nurse as an "anxiety attack."(Id. ¶ 3).

At 5:45 a.m., defendant Pamela Franz, M.D., an attending physician in the PMMC emergency room, examined Mr. Kauffman. (Id. ¶ 4). At 5:53 a.m., pursuant to his chief complaint of anxiety, Dr. Franz cleared Mr. Kauffman to proceed to a psychiatric assessment, which was performed by mental health worker Will Poskitt. (Id. ¶ 6-8). Mr. Poskitt documented that Mr. Kauffman came to the ER "complaining of chest pains, high anxiety, hyperventilation, sleeplessness." (Id. ¶ 8). Mr. Poskitt informed Dr. Franz that Mr. Kauffman complained of chest pain. (Id. ¶ 10). Dr. Franz testified that she asked Mr. Kauffman if he had chest pain, and he responded that he did not. (Id. ¶ 11-13). Dr. Franz did not record Mr. Kauffman's response to her inquiry, or further evaluate his cardiac health. (Id. ¶ 11-13).

Mr. Kauffman received an injection of Ativan to treat his anxiety, and was discharged. (Id. ¶ 26, 28). Within six hours of his departure from the hospital, Mr. Kauffman died from a myocardial infarction. (Id. ¶ 33).

Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration

The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact, or to present newly discovered evidence.*fn1 Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). A court may alter or amend its judgment if a movant establishes one of the following:

"(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Café, by Lou-Ann, Inc., v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir.1999). A motion for reconsideration is not an appropriate vehicle for relitigating points of disagreement between a party and the court. AbuJamal v. Horne, 2001 WL 1609761, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 18, 2001).

Defendants do not suggest that new evidence has come to light. Defendants are proceeding under the theory that the Third Circuit's opinion in Torretti v. Main Line Hospitals, 580 F.3d 168, is an intervening change in controlling law that this Court has not considered; and that this Court has made a clear error of factual interpretation in its September 24, 2009 Order and Opinion. The Court regrets any confusion or effort that the September 24, 2009 Opinion may have caused; suffice it to say that the Court's opinion was written with Torretti in mind, and in concert with the law as announced in Torretti. Moreover, as the Court hopes the instant opinion will make clear, the Court did not misinterpret the factual record in the manner articulated by Defendants in their Motion for Reconsideration. Because the September 24, 2009 Opinion does not conflict with Torretti, and because the Opinion contained no clear error of fact or law, Defendants' motion for reconsideration is denied.

TheThird Circuit's Torretti opinion, which was released just weeks before this Court issued its order denying summary judgment to Defendants on the EMTALA claim, primarily concerned the "stabilization" prong of EMTALA and whether the statute can be triggered by outpatient visits. Id. at 174, 178. Mrs. Torretti came to Lankenau Hospital following a routine appointment at Paoli Hospital related to her second, high-risk pregnancy. Id. at 170, 171. While she was at Paoli Hospital, Mrs. Torretti did not perceive from her interaction with or observation of the staff that her condition was an emergency. Id. at 171For example, when asked if an ambulance was necessary to transport Mrs. Torretti from Paoli Hospital to Lankenau, her doctor responded in the negative. Id. at 172. Her visit to Lankenau was motivated not by a perceived emergency, but by a need for longer-term monitoring of her unborn baby. Id. After her arrival at Lankenau, Mrs. Torretti's condition began to deteriorate quickly. Id. She was immediately rushed into surgery, where she gave birth to a son with severe brain damage. Id.

The Torrettis brought EMTALA and common law claims against both hospitals and several doctors involved in Mrs. Torretti's care. Id. at 170. The district court granted summary judgment on the EMTALA claim in favor of the defendants because the Torrettis "did not offer sufficient evidence to raise a reasonable inference that defendants...knew Mrs. Torretti presented a medical emergency." Id. at 172. The Court of Appeals agreed that the Torrettis failed to provide enough evidence to raise a disputed issue regarding the defendants' actual knowledge of Mrs. Torretti's emergency condition. Id. at 178.

In the current motion, Defendants argue that "[t]his Court's decision diverges from Torretti as to the sufficiency of the evidence presented by a plaintiff of a doctor's knowledge of a medical condition in an EMTALA case, necessary to raise a disputed issue on summary judgment." (Def.'s Br. at 2). To the contrary, both this Court*fn2 and the Torretti*fn3 court stated that, for liability to exist under EMTALA's stabilization prong, a hospital must have actual knowledge of a patient's emergency condition. Defendants also argue that the Torretti plaintiffs put forth more evidence of defendants' actual knowledge than Plaintiff has in the case at bar. Defendants have misapprehended the Third Circuit's opinion, ...

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