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Dellinger v. Richards

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 10, 2019

KARLI RICHARDS, et al., Defendants


         Presently before the Court is Defendant United States of America (“the Government”)'s motion to dismiss Defendants Summit Health and the Chambersburg Hospital, Wound Center's (“Defendants”) joinder complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). (Doc. No. 2.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.


         Plaintiffs Walter Dellinger, Jr. (“Plaintiff Walter Dellinger”) and Lori L. Dellinger (“Plaintiff Lori Dellinger”), [1] initiated the instant proceedings by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas in Franklin County, Pennsylvania on April 17, 2017. In so doing, Plaintiffs named as Defendants Ganga Ramidi, M.D., Karli Richards, Richards Orthopaedic Center and Sports Medicine, LLC, the Chambersburg Hospital Wound Center, and Summit Health. Plaintiff's complaint stemmed from complications experienced by Plaintiff Walter Dellinger in connection with a surgical procedure performed on his right foot in July of 2015, which caused him to present to the Chambersburg Hospital Wound Center in the fall of 2015 and ultimately undergo a subsequent surgical procedure there. See 1:17-cv-01537, Doc. No. 1-1 at 8. On approximately November 18, 2015, Mr. Dellinger was seen by Defendant Ganga Ramidi (“Ramidi”). See id. at 9. Plaintiff Walter Dellinger eventually contracted a MRSA infection in his right leg and experienced injuries in connection with said infection. See id. at 10. As a result of these events, Plaintiffs filed suit against the aforementioned Defendants, asserting claims for negligence and vicarious liability.

         On August 28, 2017, the Government removed that case to this Court, which was docketed at 1:17-cv-01537 and assigned to the undersigned. In the notice of removal, the Government remarked that Ramidi “was an employee of Keystone Rural Health Center from December 2, 2013 through December 31, 2015” and, pursuant to the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act of 1992, Ramidi is considered a federal employee for purposes of the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). See 1:17-cv-01537, Doc. No. 1 at 2. Accordingly, the Government asserted that “[p]ursuant to the Westfall Act, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2679, upon certification ‘that the defendant employee was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose,' the [s]tate [a]ction ‘shall be removed without bond at any time before trial' to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.” See Id. at 2-3. The Government additionally gave notice of removal to this Court, as well as the fact “that the United States is substituted as the defendant in place of [Ramidi].” See id. at 4.

         After the Government filed said notice of removal, the Government moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that dismissal was warranted because Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies because they had “not filed an administrative tort claim with the responsible agency, [the] United States Department of Health and Human Services.” See 1:17-cv-01537, Doc. No. 5 at 4. In an Order dated October 31, 2017, the Court granted the motion to dismiss, remanded Plaintiff's case to state court, and ordered that the federal action be closed. See 1:17-cv-01537, Doc. No. 8. In finding that dismissal was warranted, the Court noted that Plaintiffs failed to file the requisite administrative tort claim, in contravention of relevant authority dictating that “[a] plaintiff must first present a claim to the responsible administrative agency for final decision before bringing a tort claim against the United States.” See id. at 4 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a)).

         Following the Court's Order remanding the previous action, “[P]laintiff Walter Dellinger submitted an administrative tort claim to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) claiming that Dr. Ramidi committed medical malpractice by failing to properly diagnose and treat his medical condition on November 18, 2015.” (Doc. No. 3 at 3) (citing Doc. No. 3-1 at 63-75).[2] HHS then “issued a ‘notice of final determination' denying [the] administrative tort claim, and instructing that [Plaintiff Walter Dellinger] has six (6) months to either file for reconsideration with HHS or suit in federal court against the United States.” (Id.) (citing Doc. No. 3-1 at 65-75). Plaintiff Walter Dellinger did not file suit against the Government within said time period, nor did he request reconsideration of the HHS decision. (Id.)

         On September 27, 2018 Defendants Chambersburg Hospital and Summit Health filed a third-party joinder complaint in the state action “against the previously dismissed . . . Ramidi for contribution and indemnification.” (Id. at 4.) Subsequently, the Government again removed the action to this Court and substituted itself as a party in place of Ramidi on the basis that the action constitutes a proceeding asserted against the United States. (Id.) The Government then filed the instant motion to dismiss the joinder complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remand this case to state Court on November 9, 2018 (Doc. No. 2), asserting that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the third-party complaint against the Government because:

(1) application of the derivative jurisdiction doctrine negates subject matter jurisdiction and
(2) Plaintiffs' claims for contribution and indemnification are premature because they “have not yet accrued” and, therefore, do not permit Plaintiffs to demonstrate the existence of a live case or controversy. (Id. at 4-5.) Having been fully briefed (Doc. Nos. 3, 5, 6), the Government's motion is ripe for disposition.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) permits a party to move for dismissal of a claim on the basis that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “A 12(b)(1) motion may challenge jurisdiction based on the face of the complaint or in its existence in fact.” Henderson v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 169 F.Supp.2d 365, 367 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (citing Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000)). “When the challenge is facial, the [C]ourt must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff[, ]” but when a party raises a factual challenge, “the [C]ourt is not bound by the allegations in the pleadings” and “[t]herefore, ‘no presumptive truthfulness attaches to [the] plaintiff's allegations' for factual challenges.” See id. (citation omitted) (quoting Mortensen v. First Fed. Savs. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). “Regardless of whether the challenge is facial or factual, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion.” Id. (citing Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 890); see also Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, at 1409 (3d Cir. 1991) (“When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff must bear the burden of persuasion.” (citing Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891)).


         As noted supra, the Government asserts that dismissal of the joinder complaint against it is proper on two grounds: (1) this Court lack subject matter jurisdiction over the case by virtue of the doctrine of derivative jurisdiction and (2) a live case or controversy is not present because Plaintiffs' claims for contribution and indemnification have not yet accrued. Because the Court finds that the application of the derivative jurisdiction doctrine warrants dismissal, the Court addresses only the former point herein.

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