Massachusetts District Court Refuses to Amend Complaint in Medical Malpractice Case

A plaintiff, in his capacity as the personal representative of the estate of a victim, brought a Massachusetts nursing home negligence action against Park, Marion, and Vernon Streets Operating Company, LLC d/b/a Brookline Health Care Center (BHCC), and John Doe Physicians and Jane Doe Nurses. As alleged in the complaint, as a result of the defendants’ negligence, the victim choked to death when she was left unsupervised to eat in the dayroom of the assisted living facility in which she resided.

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The victim was admitted to BHCC in April 2012 for nursing care and rehabilitation after a hospitalization for seizures and falls, and she remained there until her death in May 2014. Throughout this period, she was deemed to be at risk for falls. Her medical records also indicated that she was on a soft diet, customized for her diabetes, and at variable times during her residency at the facility, she required continual supervision while eating, since she was at risk for aspiration. On the morning of May 7, 2014, a resident in the day room alerted the nurses to help the victim, who was holding her chest and in distress. A nurse’s note later in the day said that the victim was seen holding her neck and tapping on her chest and that she became unresponsive as she was being assessed by staff.

When ambulance personnel attempted to insert an endoctracheal tube, they had to remove a silver dollar-sized piece of food before they were able to successfully intubate her. The victim was pronounced dead upon her arrival at Beth Israel Hospital. The cause of death was respiratory distress, secondary to aspiration.

Suit was originally filed in Norfolk Superior Court in February 2017. BHCC removed the action to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in May 2017, alleging that this court had diversity jurisdiction. (Diversity jurisdiction is a form of subject-matter jurisdiction in civil procedure in which a United States district court in the federal judiciary has the power to hear a civil case when the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 and when the persons that are parties are “diverse” in citizenship, which generally indicates that they are citizens of different states or non-U.S. citizens.)

Before the district court, the plaintiff moved to amend the complaint to add a new party. By this motion, the plaintiff sought to add the Director of Nursing at BHCC as a defendant. The addition of the director would defeat diversity jurisdiction. Consequently, the plaintiff also brought a motion to remand the matter to state court. BHCC opposed both motions. The district court sided with BHCC and denied the motions.

The district court first explained that a motion for leave to amend is considered under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, which provides that leave to amend should be “freely given when justice so requires.” Despite this liberal standard, however, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice.

The district court held that the plaintiff failed to plead any facts tying the director to the incident that caused the victim’s death. There were no facts alleged from which the court could determine the basis of her potential liability. Moreover, her status as the Director of Nursing was not sufficient to establish her liability. This was especially true here, since there were no allegations that it was the responsibility of the nurses to make the evaluations or assessments that the plaintiff claims were done negligently, or to design or implement the programs the plaintiff claims were lacking.

Since the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim against the director, the motion to amend was denied. Since there was therefore still diversity between the parties, the motion to remand was also denied.

If you or a loved one was harmed by another party’s negligence, you may need the assistance of a nursing home negligence lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Rejects Indemnification for Subcontractors Following Construction Accident, Neumann Law Group, October 10, 2017.

State Appeals Court Upholds Ruling for Plaintiff Following Hospital Slip & Fall, Neumann Law Group, September 21, 2017.

Massachusetts Appeals Courts Holds Police Not Immunized for Canine Attack, Neumann Law Group, July 31, 2017.

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