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Wilcox v. Lake Regional Health System

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

October 12, 2016

LISA M. WILCOX, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Defendant Lake Regional Health System's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 12). The parties have fully briefed the pending motion and it is ripe for review. The Court previously ruled on the United States' Notice of Substitution and Motion to Dismiss. As set forth in the Court's prior Order, Plaintiff's Amended Petition for Damages brought several claims against Defendant Lake Regional Health System, d/b/a Lake Regional Hospital; Defendant Richland Medical Center, Inc., d/b/a Central Ozarks Medical Center; Defendant Russell Johnson, M.D.; and Defendant Robert Nielsen, M.D. based on alleged medical malpractice and negligence. At this time, Lake Regional Health System remains the sole defendant.


         Plaintiff's claims against Lake Regional, as set forth in the petition, allege that prior defendants Johnson and Neilsen were employees and/or agents of Lake Regional and were acting within the course and scope of their employment with Lake Regional resulting in Lake Regional being vicariously liable for the acts of doctors Johnson and Nielsen. Plaintiff's claims against Lake Regional are based on a theory of vicarious liability for the actions of the doctors, not on an independent claim against Lake Regional. Defendant argues Plaintiff cannot provide sufficient evidence of employment to proceed on her claim against Lake Regional because neither Johnson nor Nielsen were employees or agents of Lake Regional.

         Plaintiff's response to the motion for summary judgment states Johnson was an employee of Richland Medical Center and was not an employee of Lake Regional Health System. However, Plaintiff argues Nielsen had staff privileges at Lake Regional Hospital where certain alleged actions were performed and therefore Nielsen was an employee and/or agent of the hospital.

         The Court previously granted the United States' Notice of Substitution finding that Russell Johnson, M.D. and Robert Nielson, M.D. were acting within the scope of their employment with Richland Medical Center, Inc., a federally supported health care center, during the relevant events alleged in the petition. (Doc. 50). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court grants Lake Regional's motion for summary judgment.


         Summary judgment is proper where, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Reich v. ConAgra, Inc., 987 F.2d 1357, 1359 (8th Cir. 1993). “Where there is no dispute of material fact and reasonable fact finders could not find in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is appropriate.” Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 750 (8th Cir. 2011). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets the initial step, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To satisfy this burden, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         A question of material fact is not required to be resolved conclusively in favor of the party asserting its existence. Rather, all that is required is sufficient evidence supporting the factual dispute that would require a jury to resolve the differing versions of truth at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248-249. Further, determinations of credibility and the weight to give evidence are the functions of the jury, not the judge. Wierman v. Casey's General Stores, et al., 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011).


         First, in Plaintiff's response to summary judgment she admits Dr. Johnson was not an employee or agent of Lake Regional. As a result, with regard to any claims against Lake Regional arising out of Dr. Johnson's conduct the Court grants summary judgment on those claims based on Plaintiff's admissions. The Court is therefore left to analyze Plaintiff's claims against Lake Regional based on the actions of Dr. Neilsen, and the issue before the Court is whether Dr. Nielsen was an employee or agent of Lake Regional.

         The Missouri statute governing alleged medical negligence provides that Plaintiff may not recover against Lake Regional for the alleged acts of Dr. Neilsen if he is not an employee of Lake Regional. Jefferson ex rel. Jefferson v. Missouri Baptist Med. Ctr., 447 S.W.3d 701, 705 (Mo.Ct.App. 2014), reh'g and/or transfer denied (Sept. 22, 2014), transfer denied (Nov. 25, 2014), citing Mo. Ann. Stat. § 538.210. The Missouri Court of Appeals discussed the statutory framework that applies to claims against healthcare providers and their employees. The Missouri Court of Appeals stated:

First, section 538.210.1 provides in pertinent part that in claims “arising out of the rendering of or the failure to render health care services, no plaintiff shall recover more than three hundred fifty thousand dollars for noneconomic damages.” Second, section 538.210.2(3), the provision at issue here, instructs that “[n]o individual or entity whose liability is limited by the provisions of [Chapter 538] shall be liable to any plaintiff based on the actions or omissions of any other entity or person who is not an employee of such individual or entity.” (emphasis added). Id. at 706-07.

         The statute does not provide a specific definition for the term “employee” within this section. Id. When a statutory definition is not provided, Missouri courts give the word “their plain and ordinary meaning with help, as needed, from the dictionary.” Id. at 709. Applying this analysis, the Court of Appeals found the term “employee” is defined as “[a] person who works in the service of another person (the employer) under an express or implied contract of hire, under which the employer has the right to control the details of work performance.” Id. at 709-10; citing, Black's Law Dictionary 602 ...

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