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Temple University Hospital, Inc. v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 9, 2017



          KEARNEY, J.

         After carefully deciding not to join the United States as a co-defendant in an underlying medical negligence case partially arising from a deemed federal employee doctor's negligent care of an expectant mother, Temple University Hospital, Inc. ("Hospital") now turns around and asks we amend our Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law to award it interest and attorney's fees on the $4 million judgment entered in its favor and against the United States on its contribution claim. The Hospital admittedly cannot cite a legal basis for us to craft an interest and attorney's fee award under either the Pennsylvania contribution statute or the Federal Tort Claims Act under which it sued the United States. Absent governing law, the Hospital appeals to our equitable powers to compel the United States to pay 6% interest on money it never knew the Hospital agreed to pay to settle a medical negligence case with uncertain damage ranges at trial and share in attorney's fees and costs paid to Hospital lawyers for a case the United States never had a chance to defend. We find no basis to create remedies in statutes not otherwise adopted as the public policy of the United States or the Commonwealth. Having already denied these requests in our Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and absent reasons to retreat from our earlier analysis, we again deny the Hospital's request for interest and attorney's fees.

         I. Background

         After a non-jury trial, we issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a) finding Dr. Clinton Turner, a deemed federal employee working in the Hospital, shared equal responsibility with nurses for breaching a standard of care causing birth injuries to minor J.M. Finding the Hospital's $8 million settlement of the underlying action brought by J.M. and parents in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to be reasonable, we entered a $4 million judgment in favor of the Hospital on its contribution claim and against the United States. We specifically found no basis for prejudgment interest or attorney's fees and costs allegedly incurred by it in the underlying case in which it decided to defend without adding the United States as a co-defendant.

         The Hospital now moves under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(b) to amend our Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Judgment and award it: (1) $635, 178.08 in pre-judgment interest accrued on the $4 million settlement at Pennsylvania's statutory interest rate of 6%; and (2) $83, 429.07 representing one half of the attorney's fees and costs it incurred in defense of the underlying medical negligence action. We decline to do so.

         II. Analysis

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(b) provides "[o]n a party's motion filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment, the court may amend its findings - or make additional findings - and may amend the judgment accordingly." A Rule 52(b) motion allows an appellate court to draw from the record "a correct understanding of the factual issues determined by the trial court as a basis for the conclusions of law and the judgment entered thereon."[1] The motion is "not a vehicle for relitigation of issues previously adjudicated."[2] It may not "be employed to introduce evidence that was available at trial but was not proffered, to relitigate old issues, to advance new theories, or to secure a rehearing on the merits."[3] The purpose of Rule 52(b) "is to allow the court to correct plain errors of law or fact, or, in limited situations, to allow the parties to present newly discovered evidence."[4] The standard is similar to a motion for reconsideration or to alter judgment under Rule 59(e).[5]

         A. Hospital does not offer new grounds to amend our considered judgment.

         Hospital admits we correctly concluded the Pennsylvania Uniform Contribution Among Tort-feasors Act ("Act")[6] governs contribution claims under Pennsylvania law, and we correctly concluded the language of the Act does not mention interest, attorney's fees, and costs. Nevertheless, Hospital argues we should amend the judgment to include interest, attorney's fees, and costs based on equity. The Hospital made this same argument in its proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, an argument we rejected. We concluded the Act does not provide for interest, costs, or attorney's fees. We decline to use our equitable powers to amend our judgment entered consistent with the law.

         Our Judgment relied upon interpreting the Act to avoid crafting judge-made remedies onto a statute. Contribution is a creature of statute in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's General Assembly provided a statutory right to contribution from joint tortfeasors who are "entitled to a money judgment for contribution" where it "has by payment discharged the common liability or has paid more than his pro rata share thereof."[7] The language of the Act does not provide for an award of interest or attorney's fees and costs.

         The Commonwealth's General Assembly did not define a public policy of awarding attorney's fees, costs, and prejudgment interest when succeeding on a statutory contribution claim. Under Pennsylvania law, "the touchstone of interpreting statutory language is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the legislature."[8] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court directs "a statute's plain language generally provides the best indication of legislative intent."[9] "[W]here the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, a court may not add matters the legislature saw fit not to include under the guise of construction."[10] For the reasons explained in our Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, we decline to exercise equitable powers to read into the Act an award of interest, attorney's fees, and costs where the Pennsylvania's public policy does not so allow.

         B. We decline to craft an interest remedy not authorized by the Federal Tort Claims Act.

         While admitting the lack of authority in the Act, the Hospital argues equity requires an award of interest, attorney's fees, and costs, and the United States has a quasi-contractual obligation to pay the Hospital for lost time value of money, costs, and fees it advanced when it settled the underlying action. The Hospital relies primarily on Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. Philadelphia Elec. Co[11]which did not arise under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA")[12] and involved distinct co-defendant unjust enrichment issues which do not apply to the Hospital's claim.[13]

         We are not persuaded by the Hospital's reliance on a district court's extension of remedies four decades ago in Nationwide Mutual, which did not involve claims against the United States. Judge Broderick's use of equity to broadly interpret Pennsylvania's statutory contribution arose where the plaintiff sued all responsible parties and an insurance company settled the claims for all named defendants and then turned and sued the other defendants who knowingly benefited from the insurer's payment. The other defendants benefitting from the insurance company's settlement payment already faced a lawsuit, attorney's fees and potential judgment. We do not face the same equitable arguments. The underlying plaintiff J.M. did not sue Dr. Turner or the United States. The Hospital, after extended lawyer consideration described in our Findings of Fact, purposefully decided against bringing the United States into the underlying negligence action.[14] It agreed to pay its attorney's fees and possible interest costs alone when it proceeded without adding the federal physician at the center of the alleged negligence and later settling for $8 million. If anything, our holding today is closer to the 1973 case, W.D. Rubright Company v. International Harvester Company[15]relied upon by Judge Broderick in Nati ...

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