Bolivar Leflore Med. Alliance v. Williams

Decision Date05 October 2006
Docket NumberNo. 2005-IA-00640-SCT.,2005-IA-00640-SCT.
Citation938 So.2d 1222
PartiesBOLIVAR LEFLORE MEDICAL ALLIANCE, LLP and Paul E. Warrington, M.D. v. Quinton WILLIAMS and Tina Maria Ramiz, Heirs-at-Law and Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Candis Kenyatta Ramiz, Deceased.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

RANDOLPH, Justice, for the Court.

¶1. This interlocutory appeal arises from a medical malpractice complaint filed by plaintiffs Quinton Williams and Tina Maria Ramiz in the Circuit Court of Bolivar County, Mississippi, First Judicial District ("Bolivar circuit"), alleging that the wrongful death of their child, Candis Kenyatta Ramiz ("Candis"), was caused by the medical negligence of defendant Dr. Paul E. Warrington and that his employer, defendant Bolivar Leflore Medical Alliance, LLP ("BLMA"), was vicariously liable. By Order dated May 28, 2004, the Bolivar circuit granted defendants' motion to transfer venue to the Circuit Court of Leflore County, Mississippi ("Leflore circuit"), finding that BLMA was a "community hospital" entitled to the protections of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act ("MTCA"). However, the Leflore circuit, on a motion for reconsideration, determined that BLMA was not within the statutory definition of a "community hospital" and, as such, the MTCA was inapplicable and venue was improper in Leflore County. From that Order, this interlocutory appeal proceeds. See Miss. R.App. P. 5.

FACTS

¶2. On May 3, 1996, BLMA was created as a family medical clinic by an agreement between Greenwood Leflore Hospital ("GLH"), Dr. Don Blackwood, and Dr. Paul Warrington. The percentage interest of each was as follows: GLH—98%; Dr. Blackwood—1%; Dr. Warrington—1%. The agreement provided that the distribution of all net income and losses among the individual partners was to proportionately mirror the percentage interest of each.1 The business affairs of BLMA were to be conducted under the authority and control of an Executive Committee created by the partners. Section 4.01 of the agreement stated, in part:

[t]he Partners shall create an Executive Committee ... as follows: GLH shall name two individual representatives to the Executive Committee and the Physician Partners, acting by majority vote of their Percentage Interests, shall elect one representative. ... The Executive Committee shall have full, exclusive and complete authority, discretion, obligation and responsibility with respect to the business of the Partnership. The Executive Committee shall manage and control the affairs of the Partnership to the best of its ability and shall use all commercially reasonable efforts to carry out the business of the Partnership. The Executive Committee, acting by majority vote of its members, shall have the sole authority to bind the Partnership by contract, including mortgages, deeds of trust, promissory notes, or other obligations not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement. The Partners agree that the Partnership shall not employ additional physicians or nurse practitioners nor shall expenses not directly attributable to Partnership operations be charged to the Partnership without the consent of all Partners.

(Emphasis added).2

¶ 3. On May 9, 1996, BLMA entered into a physician employment agreement with Dr. Warrington, stating that, "the Partnership desires to employ [Dr. Warrington] to perform the services described in this Agreement so as to provide health care services to the public." (Emphasis added).3

¶ 4. On October 11, 1998, Candis Kenyatta Ramiz ("Candis") was born. Candis died on August 28, 2000, due to respiratory failure leading to cardiac arrest. On October 10, 2000, Candis' parents, Quinton Williams and Tina Maria Ramiz ("plaintiffs"), filed a complaint in the Bolivar circuit4 against Dr. Warrington and BLMA ("defendants"). Plaintiffs sought monetary damages, alleging that medical negligence during Tina Maria Ramiz's pregnancy with Candis caused Candis's wrongful death.

¶5. Defendants filed their motions, defenses, and answer as "[BLMA], a political subdivision of the State of Mississippi, and its employee, Dr. Paul E. Warrington...." They also moved for a transfer of venue to either: (1) the Leflore circuit, arguing that BLMA is entitled to the protections of the MTCA or, alternatively, to (2) the Second Judicial District of Bolivar County,5 arguing that defendants are residents of the Second Judicial District and the "alleged tortuous acts occurred in the Second Judicial District...."

¶ 6. Plaintiffs filed a response to defendants' motion to transfer venue contending that the venue provisions of the MTCA were inapplicable because, "[a]s a limited liability partnership, BLMA is not a governmental entity within the meaning of the MTCA." In regard to defendants' alternative contention that venue was proper in the Second Judicial District, plaintiffs responded that "[u]nder McMillan v. Puckett, 678 So.2d 652 (Miss.1996), venue is proper in the judicial district where the death occurred. The official death certificate of [Candis] indicated her death occurred in Rosedale, First Judicial District...."6 However, Candis was not actually pronounced dead until after her arrival at the Bolivar Medical Center in Cleveland, Mississippi.

¶7. Defendants filed a reply to plaintiffs' response to defendants' motion to transfer venue. Defendants cited Forrest County General Hosp. v. Conway, 700 So.2d 324 327 (Miss.1997), in arguing that, for wrongful death actions, venue is proper in both the county of the alleged negligence and the county of the decedent's death. They also cited State v. Fabian, 263 So.2d 773, 775 (Miss.1972), for the proposition that "life, like any other condition, continues until there is evidence to the contrary." As such, they maintained that venue was proper in the Second Judicial District because "[Candis'] life continued until she was pronounced dead at 10:12 p.m. while a patient at the Bolivar Medical Center in Cleveland, Mississippi."

¶8. On May 28, 2004, an Order granting defendants' motion to transfer venue to the Leflore circuit was entered. Finding the place of death issue non-dispositive, the Bolivar circuit focused upon the applicability of the MTCA to BLMA. The Bolivar circuit determined that GLH was "a public community hospital owned jointly by the City of Greenwood and County of Leflore, and a political subdivision of the State of Mississippi, County of Leflore." Given GLH's 98% interest in the BLMA partnership, the circuit judge concluded that:

BLMA was established and acquired in majority part by the Board of Trustees of [GLH], and is governed, operated, and maintained in majority part by the Board of Trustees of [GLH]. As such, BLMA was established and acquired by the Board of Trustees of the hospital or by one or more of its owners and is governed, operated, and maintained by the Board of Trustees. BLMA, therefore, meets the definition of community hospital. Accordingly, venue is proper in Leflore County, Mississippi, the county or judicial district in which the principal offices of the governing body of the political subdivision are located.

(Emphasis added).

¶9. In November 2004, defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the Leflore circuit requesting that plaintiffs' complaint, insofar as it sought punitive damages, be dismissed under the MTCA. When plaintiffs filed their response to the motion for partial summary judgment, it was combined with a motion for reconsideration of the May 28, 2004 Order of the Bolivar circuit. Plaintiffs' response contended that BLMA's status as a limited liability partnership precluded the protection defendants sought under the MTCA. Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration asserted that "[a] successor judge is duty bound to apply the law to the record before the Court, regardless of any prior interlocutory ruling. Mauck v. Columbus Hotel Co., 741 So.2d 259, 268-69 (Miss.1999); Franklin v. Franklin, 858 So.2d 110[,] [1]21 (Miss.2003)." Plaintiffs maintained then and now, without citation of authority, that "[n]o private ownership interest in a community hospital is permissible under Mississippi law."

¶10. The Leflore circuit granted plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. Relying upon Brister v. Leflore County, 156 Miss. 240, 125 So. 816, 818-19 (1930), the Leflore circuit found that "control, operation, management and governing of a community hospital must remain in the [B]oard of Trustees." In short, the Leflore circuit found that, "once the partnership created the Executive Committee then the Board of Trustees of [GLH] ceased to govern, operate and maintain the health facility in question and therefore, [BLMA] did not meet the definition of a `community hospital.'" The Leflore circuit determined that the existence of the Executive Committee defeated BLMA's status as a community hospital. Therefore, BLMA was not entitled to the protection of the MTCA.7 From that ruling comes this appeal.8

ISSUES

¶11. The following issues were raised on appeal:

(1)Whether the "law of the case" doctrine should be applied to the May 28, 2004 Order of the Bolivar circuit?

(2)Whether BLMA is entitled to the protections, limitations and immunities of the MTCA?

(3)Whether defendants waived any objection or defense to venue in the Bolivar circuit?

This Court will consider only issue (2), as it is dispositive. Addressing the divergent findings of the Bolivar circuit and the Leflore circuit on whether BLMA was entitled to the protections, limitations and immunities of the MTCA resolves this controversy, mooting issues (1) and (3).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶12. "The pertinent issues here are questions of law. Our standard of review is de novo in passing on questions of law." Amiker v. Drugs For Less, Inc., 796 So.2d 942, 945 (Miss.2000) (citations omitted).

ANALYSIS

Whether BLMA is entitled to the protections,...

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