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Trujillo v. United States

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 10, 2018

Steve Trujillo, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge.

         In April 2015, Plaintiff Steven Trujillo, Jr., a resident of the Navajo Indian Reservation, received care for an ingrown toenail at the Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility (“CCHCF”), a facility operated by Defendant the United States of America. Plaintiff received care from Physician Assistant (“PA”) Lancelot Lewis, who directed an army medical specialist trainee to remove Plaintiff's ingrown toenail. Plaintiff returned to CCHCF several days later with pain and swelling in the same toe. The treating doctor determined that Plaintiff had an infection that required several surgical procedures, ultimately leading Plaintiff to lose about half of his right foot. Plaintiff thereafter brought this medical malpractice action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). At issue are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 75), and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 77), which are fully briefed. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied.[1]

         I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, viewing those facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment may also be entered “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party based on the competing evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material factual issues that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. When parties submit cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court reviews “each motion on its own merits” and “consider[s] each party's evidentiary showing, regardless of which motion the evidence was tendered under.” Oakley, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., 988 F.Supp.2d 1130, 1134 (C.D. Cal. 2013) (citing Fair Hous. Council of Riverside Cty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         II. Discussion

         Under the FTCA, a plaintiff may bring a claim in federal court against the United States:

for injury or loss of property, or personal injury . . . caused by the negligent . . . act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under the circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.

28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). Here, Arizona law governs Defendant's liability because Plaintiff received his medical care in Arizona. See Mundt v. United States, 611 F.2d 1257, 1259 (9th Cir. 1980).

         In Arizona, medical malpractice claims are governed by statute. To succeed on a medical malpractice claim, a claimant must establish that: (1) “the health care provider failed to exercise that degree of care, skill and learning expected of a reasonable, prudent health care provider in the profession or class to which he belongs within the state” and (2) that “[s]uch failure was a proximate cause of the injury.” A.R.S. § 12-563. Additionally, “[u]nless malpractice is grossly apparent, the standard of care must be established by expert medical testimony.”[2] Rasor v. Northwest Hosp., LLC, 403 P.3d 572, 575 (Ariz. 2017).

         Likewise, the requisite expert witness qualifications are governed by statute:

         A. In an action alleging medical malpractice, a person shall not give expert testimony on the appropriate standard of practice or care unless the person is licensed as a health professional in this state or another state and the person meets the following criteria:

1. If the party against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered is or claims to be a specialist, specializes at the time of the occurrence that is the basis for the action in the same specialty or claimed specialty as the party against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered. If the party against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered is or claims to be a specialist who is board certified, the expert witness shall be a specialist who is board certified in that specialty or claimed specialty.
2. During the year immediately preceding the occurrence giving rise to the lawsuit, devoted a majority of the person's professional time to ...

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