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Bilinski v. Wills Eye Hospital

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 24, 2019

WILLS EYE HOSPITAL, et al., Defendant.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Ronald Bilinski sued Dr. Samuel Houston, Wills Eye Hospital and Retinovitreous Associates alleging various tort claims under Pennsylvania law, primarily that Houston negligently and with total disregard to his safety operated on his right eye without his consent. Each Defendant moved to dismiss some of Bilinski’s claims, and the Court grants in part and denies in part each Motion to Dismiss. Houston and Retinovitreous Associates also filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Court summarily denies without prejudice because it is premature.


         In June of 2014, Bilinski scheduled an appointment at Wills Eye Hospital (“Hospital”).[1] His appointment was with Dr. David Reed “for a follow-up evaluation on his left eye and to get cleared for cataract glasses.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 138.) Bilinski says that he had neither experienced nor “mentioned any issues with his right eye to Dr. Reed or any other doctor in the months” before his appointment. (Id. at ¶ 20.)

         When Bilinski arrived at the Hospital, he met with Dr. Houston instead of Dr. Reed, who was unavailable. See (id. at ¶¶ 10–11). At that time, “Houston was a Vitreoretinal Procedure Fellow” at the Hospital, (id. at ¶ 13), and an employee of Retinovitreous Associates, see (id. at ¶ 7).[2] Houston had neither treated nor met Bilinski before. See (id. at ¶ 10–11).

         During the appointment, Bilinski allegedly told Houston that “nothing was wrong with his eyes at that time.” (Id. at ¶ 15.) But after looking at Bilinski’s right eye, Houston allegedly “exclaimed, ‘Oh, oh, oh, ’” (id. at ¶ 21), and insisted that Bilinski follow him to another room, see (id. at ¶¶ 22, 23). When Bilinski declined to do so, Houston “physically grabbed Mr. Bilinski’s hand and pulled him into another room.” (Id. at ¶ 25.) Bilinski claims that Houston then “negligently performed a laser procedure” on his right eye against Bilinski’s wishes and without explaining the procedure or its potential complications. (Id. at ¶¶ 27–28, 31.)

         The procedure allegedly left Bilinski “in physical pain and shaking, ” (id. at ¶ 30), and with deteriorated vision in his right eye, see (id. at ¶ 36). In fact, Bilinski says that his “right eye [has] never regained the level of vision it had before the procedure.” (Id. at ¶ 50.) As a result, Bilinski claims that he is blind in his right eye-legally blind overall because that was his good eye-and suffers lingering physical, mental and emotional harm from the operation. See (id. at ¶¶ 51–52).

         Bilinski’s Amended Complaint alleges in Count I that Houston committed a medical battery by performing the “laser procedure on [his] right eye” without consent. (Id. at ¶ 56.) Count II contends that Houston’s negligence in performing the procedure caused “severe and permanent” harm. (Id. at ¶ 60.) Bilinski alleges in Count III that Houston’s conduct amounted to gross negligence, and Count IV asserts against Houston a lack-of-informed-consent claim. See (id. at ¶¶ 62, 66–70). As for the Hospital and Retinovitreous Associates, Bilinski advances theories of agency (Count V) and vicarious liability (Count VI) to hold them liable for Houston’s conduct. See (id. at ¶¶ 71–83). He asks for compensatory and punitive damages on all counts.

         Each Defendant moves to dismiss certain parts of the Amended Complaint. They all move to dismiss Bilinski’s gross-negligence claim in Count III and his request for punitive damages on all counts. See (Houston & RA Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 20, ECF No. 139); (Hosp. Mot. to Dismiss pp. 14–15, ECF No. 140). Retinovitreous Associates and the Hospital move to dismiss the agency and vicarious-liability claims in Counts V and VI as those counts relate to Bilinski’s medical-battery and lack-of-informed-consent claims. See (id. at 9–12); (Houston & RA Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 22). No. Defendant moves to dismiss Count II.


         To avoid dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads facts from which the Court can infer “that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Though this “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’” it demands “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Assessing plausibility under Twombly and Iqbal is a three-step process. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). Step one is to “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, the Court “should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.’” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, for all “well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity, ” draw all reasonable inferences from them “and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). If the well-pleaded facts do not nudge the “claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” the Court must dismiss the complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.



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