87 A.3d 829 (Pa.Super. 2014), 1737 WDA 2011, Cordes v. Assocs. of Internal Medicine
|Docket Nº:||1737 WDA 2011|
|Citation:||87 A.3d 829, 2014 PA Super 52|
|Party Name:||SUSANNE CORDES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF EDWARD D. CORDES, SR., Appellant v. ASSOCIATES OF INTERNAL MEDICINE; TRI-STATE MEDICAL GROUP, P.C.; TRI STATE MEDICAL GROUP, P.C. D/B/A/ ASSOCIATES OF INTERNAL MEDICINE; ANN MARIE RAY, M.D.; AND MARTHA LOUISE NEWMAN, P.A., Appellees|
|Attorney:||Michael A. Murphy, Pittsburgh, for appellants. Paula A. Koczan and Shari Pakravan, Pittsburgh, for appellees.|
|Judge Panel:||Before: STEVENS, P.J.,[*] BENDER, BOWES, GANTMAN, DONOHUE, ALLEN, OLSON, OTT and WECHT, JJ. OPINION IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL by WECHT, J. in which BENDER, J. joined. BOWES, J. and GANTMAN, J. Concurred in the Result. OPINION IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL by DONOHUE, J. in which GANTMAN, J. and OTT, J. joi...|
|Case Date:||March 12, 2014|
|Court:||Superior Court of Pennsylvania|
Argued: April 30, 2013.
This pagination accurately reflects the pagination of the original published document, though the page numbers of this document may appear to be out of sequence.
Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Beaver County, Civil Division, No.: 10763-2009. Before KWIDIS, J.
OPINION IN SUPPORT OF REVERSAL
In this medical malpractice case, Susanne Cordes (" Appellant" ), individually and as administratrix of the estate of Edward D. Cordes, Sr., appeals the October 20, 2011 judgment entered in favor of the above-captioned defendant-Appellees. Appellant claims that the trial court abused its discretion during the jury selection process by denying the challenges for cause she asserted against three venirepersons. Those individuals were empaneled as jurors, and the jury returned a defense verdict.
We vacate the judgment, and we remand.
I. Factual and Procedural History
On June 8, 2007, Appellee Ann Marie Ray, M.D., Mr. Cordes' primary care physician, diagnosed him with vertigo. Dr. Ray concluded that Mr. Cordes had not suffered a transient ischemic attack. Dr. Ray directed Mr. Cordes to discontinue his use of Plavix, a blood thinner. On August 17, 2007, Mr. Cordes suffered a massive stroke. He died on August 19, 2007. On May 1, 2009, Appellant filed a malpractice complaint. Appellant alleged that Dr. Ray's misdiagnosis and discontinuation of Mr. Cordes' use of Plavix constituted a departure from the applicable standard of care.
Jury selection occurred on May 6, 2011. The venirepersons were asked four preliminary questions as a group, including inquiries seeking to determine whether any prospective jurors had any acquaintance with the parties and other specified individuals. See Notes of Testimony (" N.T." ), 5/6/2011, at 16, 18. After these preliminary questions, counsel adjourned to the deliberation room, where they summoned prospective jurors for individual voir dire. See id. at 19. The court indicated that, after each venireperson was questioned by counsel, the parties would make any challenges for cause and exercise any desired peremptory challenges. Id. at 9-10, 13.
Appellant exercised all four of her peremptory challenges before then-prospective jurors Richard Majors, Christine Kaelin, and Sean Snowden, respectively, were called for individual questioning. See id. at 107. Appellant exhausted her challenges despite her prior knowledge, from
the preliminary voir dire in open court, that Mr. Majors knew or had " social, business, or other contact or employment with any of the parties," id. at 16, and that one of Ms. Kaelin's family members had had " social, business, or professional contact" with one or more of five individuals named as potential witnesses, one of whom was Dr. Ray. Id. at 18.
The trial court described the individual voir dire proceedings as follows:
During individual voir dire, [Mr. Majors] revealed that he was an employee of Heritage Valley Health Systems [" Heritage Valley" ]; however, . . . he did not know Dr. Ray personally. Notes of Testimony (" N.T." ), 5/6/2011, at 107. Mr. Majors indicated that he manages the leases for which Heritage Valley acts as a landlord and was aware that Dr. Ray's practice group leased office space from Tri-State Medical Group [" Tri-State" ], which is an entity of [Heritage Valley]. See id. at 107-11. Mr. Majors' employment with Heritage Valley did not involve any medical care and/or treatment of patients. See id. at 110. Further, he stated that he would not consider whether a potential verdict in favor of [Appellant] would somehow adversely affect Heritage Valley's financial status. See id. at 111-12. Mr. Majors stated that his employment with Heritage Valley would not prevent him from being a fair and impartial juror. See id. at 107-19. [Appellant's] counsel moved to strike Mr. Majors for cause due to his employment with Heritage Valley. [Appellant] claim[ed] that Mr. Majors' close financial relationship with co-employee Dr. Ray compelled exclusion.
Notably, [Heritage Valley] was not a named defendant in this case. Moreover, [Heritage Valley] is a large health system corporation and one of the chief employers in Beaver County. Practically, the court appropriately denied the motion stating that Mr. Majors, on multiple occasions, said that he could render a verdict against Dr. Ray, irrespective of his employment with Heritage Valley. See id. at 117-19. * * * * [Also] during individual voir dire, [Ms. Kaelin] revealed that Dr. Ray is her parents' physician. However, she indicated that she could be fair and impartial in a case involving Dr. Ray. See id. at 177-78. Upon further examination by [Appellant's] counsel, Ms. Kaelin stated that while she had taken her mother to a doctor's appointment, she had never met Dr. Ray and would not be more inclined to believe Dr. Ray because her parents have a good impression of [her]. See id. at 180-81. In fact, Ms. Kaelin indicated that she could disbelieve Dr. Ray and render a verdict against her if the evidence warranted such a result. See id. at 181. [Appellant's] counsel moved to strike [Ms. Kaelin] for cause due to her parents' relationship with Dr. Ray. [Appellant] argue[d] that Ms. Kaelin had a close situational relationship with Dr. Ray. However, [Ms.] Kaelin clearly indicated that she had never met Dr. Ray. While her parents may have a close situational relationship with Dr. Ray, there was nothing to suggest to this Court that Ms. Kaelin, herself, had any type of relationship with Dr. Ray. Accordingly, the Court properly denied [Appellant's] motion to strike Ms. Kaelin for cause as Ms. Kaelin clearly demonstrated that she could render a fair and impartial verdict notwithstanding her parent's relationship with Dr. Ray. Id. at 186-87. A jury panel was selected and [Mr. Snowden] was selected and sworn in as [a] juror. After the jury panel was selected and trial had commenced, counsel
for Dr. Ray advised the Court that after [she] reviewed [her] patient list she recognized the name Snowden as one of her patients. The Court, with counsel present, brought Mr. Snowden into chambers. Mr. Snowden explained that the night before he and his wife were having a conversation in which she expressed her intent to get Chantix in an attempt to cease smoking. Mr. Snowden then asked her who[m] she would get the Chantix from and she said Dr. Ray. According to Juror Snowden, this was the first time he learned that his wife treated with Dr. Ray. In addition, he indicated that he had never personally met Dr. Ray and that he was able to decide the case fairly and without bias or prejudice. See N.T. In-Chambers Proceeding, 5/11/2011, at 2-6.
Again, [Appellant] claim[ed] that Juror Snowden had a close situational relationship with Dr. Ray. However, as the Court indicated on the record, Mr. Snowden was not, himself, a patient of Dr. Ray, never had any contact with Dr. Ray and had just learned that Dr. Ray was his wife's doctor. Id. at 8. Mr. Snowden had no personal relationship with Dr. Ray at all. In response to [Appellant's] counsel's extensive questioning, Mr. Snowden clearly stated that he would not feel uncomfortable entering a verdict against Dr. Ray, given the fact that she was his wife's doctor. Id. at 5. Mr. Snowden did not demonstrate any close or real relationship with Dr. Ray that would warrant his dismissal. Accordingly, the Court properly refused to dismiss this juror.
Trial Court Opinion (" T.C.O." ), 9/20/2011, at 6-9 (citations modified; emphasis omitted).
On May 13, 2011, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellees. Appellant filed timely post-trial motions, which the trial court denied on September 20, 2011. Judgment was entered on October 20, 2011, and this timely appeal followed.1
Appellant raises two questions for our review:
1. Whether the trial court erred by failing to presume prejudice and strike two jurors who had close situational relationships with a litigant in that their immediate family members were current patients of the Defendant, Dr. Ray?
2. Whether the trial court erred by failing to presume prejudice and strike a juror who had a close financial relationship with a litigant in that he was employed by the same corporation as the Defendant, Dr. Ray?
Brief for Appellant at 4 (issues reordered).
II. Legal Standard
Our standard of review of a court's decision not to strike a potential juror for cause is well-settled:
The test for determining whether a prospective juror should be disqualified is whether he is willing and able to eliminate the influence of any scruples and render a verdict according to the evidence, and this is to...
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