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Davis v. Frederick

September 9, 2010


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


Before the Court is Defendant Ephrata Community Hospital's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, Motion for a More Definite Statement Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e) (Doc. No. 4) and the Response of Plaintiffs thereto (Doc. No. 10). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum, the Court denies Defendant's Motion.


Plaintiffs have filed this medical malpractice action against individual and institutional medical providers allegedly responsible for the death of Michele Davis. The present Motion challenges the sufficiency of two aspects of Plaintiffs' Complaint: (1) Plaintiffs' allegation that Defendant Ephrata Community Hospital is liable under a corporate negligence theory, and (2) Plaintiffs' allegations referencing actions of unnamed employees, agents, ostensible agents, and other individuals for whom Defendant is allegedly responsible.


A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. The court must take all such factual allegations in the complaint as true; it does not take as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. (citation omitted). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Thus, the plaintiff need not satisfy any "probability" requirement but must set forth "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

B. Motion for a More Definite Statement Pursuant to Rule 12(e)

Granting a motion for a more definite statement is appropriate if the complaint is "so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e); see also Schaedler v. Reading Eagle Publ'ns, Inc., 370 F.2d 795, 797-98 (3d. Cir. 1967); Hicks v. Arthur, 843 F. Supp. 949, 959 (E.D. Pa. 1994) ("A court may grant a Rule 12(e) motion when the pleading is 'so vague or ambiguous that the opposing party cannot respond, even with a simple denial, in good faith or without prejudice to himself.'" (citation omitted)).

III. Discussion

A. Motion to Strike Allegations of Corporate Negligence Against Defendant

Under Pennsylvania law, corporate negligence is "a basis for hospital liability separate from the liability of the practitioners who actually have rendered medical care to a patient." Brodowski v. Ryave, 885 A.2d 1045, 1056 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005) (en banc) (citation omitted). A hospital is liable "if it fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed the patient, which is to ensure the patient's safety and well-being while at the hospital." Thompson v. Nason Hosp., 591 A.2d 703, 707 (Pa. 1991).

A hospital's duties to a patient fall into four areas: (1) to use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment, (2) to select and retain only competent physicians, (3) to oversee all persons who practice medicine within its walls as to patient care, and (4) to formulate, adopt, and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for the patients. Id. To establish the cause of action, the plaintiff must also show that the hospital had "actual or constructive knowledge of the defect or procedures which created the harm" and that the hospital's negligence was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm. Id. at 708. For example, "a hospital staff member or employee has a duty to recognize and report abnormalities in the treatment and condition of its patients." Id. at 709. Thus, "[w]hen there is a failure to report changes in a patient's condition and/or to question a physician's order which is not in accord with standard medical practice and the patient is injured as a result, the hospital will be liable for such negligence." Id.

Although Defendant argues that Plaintiffs have failed to plead sufficient facts as to corporate negligence, this Court disagrees. Plaintiffs' Complaint charges Defendant with, among other things, "[f]ailing to insure that physician personnel and resident physicians practicing at Defendant, Ephrata Community Hospital and participating in Michele Davis' treatment and care were appropriately knowledgeable, experienced, and trained in the management, diagnosis, treatment, treatment options and indications for gall bladder surgical intervention and complications from these medical conditions"; "[f]ailure to implement adequate policies and procedures for discharge and follow-up of patients having outpatient abdominal surgery"; and "[f]ailure to formulate, adopt and enforce policies ...

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