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Ramos v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 28, 2017

AMARIS RAMOS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is a wrongful death and medical negligence action brought by Plaintiffs, Amaris Ramos and Pedro Arce, stemming from a series of events in early 2013 that ultimately culminated in the death of Plaintiffs' six-year-old child, Pedro Arce, Jr. Plaintiffs brought the above captioned matter both as administrators of Pedro Arce, Jr.'s estate and in their individual capacities. Defendants Scranton Quincy Hospital Company, LLC, and Moses Taylor Hospital[1] (collectively "Moving Defendants"), have moved to dismiss Plaintiff Ramos's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress and Plaintiffs' claim of corporate negligence pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 17). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the Moving Defendants' Motion.

         II. Procedural History

         This matter presents a somewhat muddled procedural history. Plaintiffs originally filed their Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. As several of the defendants named in the Complaint were employees of the United States for purposes of the Federal Torts Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671, et seq., the United States filed a Notice of Removal on April 16, 2015, and promptly substituted itself as a defendant in place of its employees. The United States then moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint on the basis that Plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as required by the Federal Torts Claims Act. Ultimately, Plaintiffs agreed that the Complaint should be dismissed against the United States. This Court dismissed the action against the United States, retained jurisdiction over the state law claims against the non-government defendants, and stayed the case pending resolution of Plaintiffs' administrative claim.

         On May 19, 2016, after Plaintiffs' administrative claim was denied, Plaintiffs filed a new civil action with a new Complaint against all Defendants. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs' new action-the matter presently before this Court-and their original action were eventually consolidated. Then, on December 1, 2016, by agreement of the parties, Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their original action in its entirety. (Doc. 12). As a result, the May 19, 2016, Complaint is now Plaintiffs' only operative complaint. That Complaint names the following as defendants: the United States of America, Moses Taylor Hospital, Scranton Quincy Hospital Company, LLC, Michael Ryan, D.O., Geisinger Community Medical Center, Geisinger Medical Center, Geisinger Clinic, and Anthony Sauter, M.D.[2] (Doc. 1). The Complaint seeks recovery for the following causes of action: negligence (Counts l-V), corporate negligence (Count VI), wrongful death pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 8301 (Count VII), a survival action pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 8302 (Count VIII), and negligent infliction of emotional distress, (Counts IV-X).[3] (Doc. 1). Presently, the Moving Defendants seek dismissal of Counts VI and IV. (Doc. 17).

         III. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges the following facts:

         On January 29, 2013, Ms. Ramos brought her six-year-old son, Pedro Arce, Jr., ("Pedro") to the Moses Taylor Hospital Emergency Department with complaints of intermittent fever, cough, sore throat, and congestion that had persisted for the preceding five days. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 27-28). Pedro was evaluated by a physician's assistant and/or Dr. Anthony Sauter and underwent a chest x-ray. (Id. at ¶¶ 29, 31). The physician's assistant and/or Dr. Sauter reviewed the chest x-ray, diagnosed Pedro with acute pneumonia in his right lung (unilateral pneumonia), and discharged him with a prescription for Cefdinir, an antibiotic used to treat certain types of pneumonia. [Id. at ¶¶ 31-32, 36). Cefdinir, however, does not provide coverage for the treatment of atypical pneumonias, including Mycoplasma pneumonia. (Id. at¶ 39). Additionally, a radiologist reviewed Pedro's chest x- rays and found that they were consistent with pneumonia in both his lungs (bilateral pneumonia). (Id. at ¶ 34). Despite there being a different treatment regimen for bilateral pneumonia and unilateral pneumonia, the discrepancies between Dr. Sauter's diagnosis and the radiologist's impressions were never resolved or communicated to Plaintiffs. (Id. at 142).

         On February 4, 2013, when Pedro's condition had not improved, his father, Mr. Arce, brought him back to the Moses Taylor Hospital Emergency Department. (Id. at ¶ 44). A new chest x-ray was performed and Pedro was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia. (Id. at ¶ 47). Pedro was prescribed Clarithromycin, an antibiotic used to treat atypical pneumonias, including Mycoplasma pneumonia. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-49). The next day, Mr. Arce brought his son to Dr. Cecilia Ventura at the Scranton Primary Health Care Center.[4] (Id. at ¶ 52). Dr. Ventura diagnosed Pedro with acute upper respiratory infections, asthma with acute exacerbation, and acute serious otitis media, but not pneumonia. (Id. at ¶¶ 55-56). Dr. Ventura discharged Pedro with another prescription for Cefdinir and two nebulizer solutions. (Id. at ¶ 57). Dr. Ventura instructed Mr. Arce to give his son the Cefdinir and not the Clarithromycin. (Id.).

         On February 6, 2013, Amaris Ramos brought her son back to Dr. Ventura's office in severe respiratory distress. (Id. at ¶ 63). Dr, Ventura diagnosed Pedro with pneumonia and admitted him to Geisinger Community Medical Center with orders to treat him with Rocephin, an antibiotic that does not cover atypical pneumonias such as Mycoplasma pneumonia. (Id. at ¶¶ 68, 72). After his admission, Pedro's condition worsened with the development of severe abdominal pain, a rash, signs of an infection, and an increased respiratory rate. (Id. at ¶ 77). On February 7, 2013, due to his worsening condition, Pedro was transferred to the care of Dr. Michael Ryan at Geisinger Medical Center. (Id. at ¶¶ 81, 83).

         Once transferred to Geisinger Medical Center, Pedro's physicians began to suspect that his condition may be caused by Mycoplasma pneumonia, and one of his doctors ordered Mycoplasma titers and blood cultures. (Id. at ¶¶ 84-85, 88-89). A resident under Dr. Ryan's supervision also began to suspect that Pedro was developing Stevens Johnson Syndrome ("SJS"). (Id. at ¶ 85). Initial treatment for SJS calls for the treatment of the underlying cause or causes of the condition, and Mycoplasma pneumonia is a well-known infections cause of SJS. (Id. at ¶¶ 86-87). At this time, however, Dr. Ryan did not treat Pedro with any antibiotics appropriate for treating Mycoplasma pneumonia. (Id. at ¶¶ 88-89). By February 8, 2013, due to increased respiratory distress, Pedro was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at Geisinger Medical Center. (Id. at ¶ 97).

         Pedro's condition continued to worsen on February 9, 2013, with the development of a painful rash over much of his body, and increased lipase levels indicative of pancreatitis. (Id. at ¶¶ 110-111). His doctors continued to suspect that he had SJS and that Mycoplasma may be the underlying cause. (Id. at ¶¶ 110-113). The next day, Pedro's Mycoplasma titers returned abnormally high, indicating he had a Mycoplasma infection, and his doctors began administering an antibiotic appropriate for treating Mycoplasma pneumonia. (Id. at ¶¶ 115-116).

         On February 11, 2013, Pedro's doctor noted that he had SJS with signs of liver failure and pancreatitis, most likely caused by his Mycoplasma pneumonia. (Id. at ¶ 119). Although he was now receiving the appropriate antibiotic treatment for Mycoplasma pneumonia, because Pedro's illness had gone untreated for so long, his condition continued to worsen. (Id. at ¶ 120). That day, due to his failing liver, Pedro was transferred to A.I. DuPont Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. (Id.). He remained at A.I. DuPont until February 18, 2013, when he was transferred to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children's burn unit for treatment of his skin conditions. (Id. at ¶¶ 123-124). Pedro's condition continued to deteriorate until April 10, 2013, when he died in front of his parents. (Id. at ¶¶ 125-127).

         IV. Standard of Review

         A complaint must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell All. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

         "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and alterations omitted). In other words, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. A court "take[s] as true all the factual allegations in the Complaint and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those facts, but...disregard[s] legal conclusions and threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ethypharm S.A. France v. Abbott Laboratories, 707 F.3d 223, 231 n.14 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

Twombly and Iqbal require [a court] to take the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint: First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume ...

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