Bradley v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n

Decision Date12 April 2017
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 16-346 (RBW).
Citation249 F.Supp.3d 149
Parties Jennifer BRADLEY, Plaintiff, v. NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Matthew Andrew Nace, Paulson & Nace, PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

J. Christian Word, Kevin Andrew Chambers, Sarah M. Gragert, Latham & Watkins LLP, Derrick Wayne Grace, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, Daniel C. Costello, Michelle R. Mitchell, Wharton, Levin, Ehrmantraut & Klein, P.A., Annapolis, MD, Christine Frazier Hein, Washington, DC, John J. Murphy, III, Walker, Murphy & Nelson, LLP, H. Kenneth Armstrong, Mary Kathleen Fallon, Armstrong, Donohue, Ceppos, Vaughan & Rhoades, Chartered, Rockville, MD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge

The plaintiff, a former student-athlete at American University (the "University"), brings this civil action against the defendants, the United States of America (the "Government"), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (the "NCAA"), the Patriot League, the University, the Maryland Sports Medicine Center (the "Medicine Center"), David L. Higgins, M.D. P.C. (the "Higgins Practice"), and David L. Higgins, M.D. ("Dr. Higgins"), alleging various causes of action stemming from the defendants' alleged failure to provide her with proper medical care after she allegedly sustained a head injury

during a field hockey game in September 2011. See Notice of Removal of a Civil Action ("Removal Notice"), Exhibit ("Ex.") 5 (Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.")) ¶¶ 98–136. Six motions are currently pending before the Court: (1) Defendant [ ] Patriot League's Preliminary Motion to Dismiss ("Patriot League's Dismiss Mot."), ECF No. 9; (2) Defendant [ ] Patriot League's Request for Hearing on Its Preliminary Motion to Dismiss ("Patriot's League's Hearing Request"), ECF No. 10; (3) defendant [ ] American University's Preliminary Motion to Dismiss ("University's Mot."), ECF No. 11; (4) Defendant [ ] National Collegiate Athletic Association's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint ("NCAA's Mot."), ECF No. 17; (5) the Government's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment ("Gov't's Mot."), ECF No. 26; and (6) Defendants Maryland Sports Medicine Center, David L. Higgins, M.D. and David L. Higgins, M.D. P.C.'s Partial Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 31. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions,1 the Court concludes for the reasons that follow that it must deny the Government's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, its motion for summary judgment, deny in part and grant in part both the NCAA's and the University's motions to dismiss, grant the Patriot League's motion to dismiss, deny the Patriot League's hearing request as moot, and grant the three medical provider defendants' partial motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

Much of the relevant factual background has been previously set forth by the Court in an earlier Order. See Removal Notice, Ex. 1 (Order dated December 10, 2015 ("Order")), Part I.B. In brief,

[i]n 2011, the plaintiff was a junior-year student athlete at [the] University here in Washington, D.C. She played field hockey for the [U]niversity, and in September of that year, the plaintiff asserts that she ‘was hit in the head during a field hockey game between [the] University and Richmond University[.] Subsequent to that hit, she allegedly began experiencing symptoms of a concussion, but continued participating in field hockey practices and games as she was [not] advised to sit out [practices and games] while her symptoms persisted. According to the plaintiff, this failure has caused her a variety of harms, including monetary damages.

Id. (internal citations and footnote omitted). "On March 19, 2012, [the plaintiff] presented to MedStar National Rehabilitation with her chief complaint being of a concussion, ... [and] on April 30, 2012, her diagnosis was confirmed." Id., Ex. 5 (Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 119–20.

Between August and October 2014, the plaintiff "filed several actions in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court"), which were consolidated against the [NCAA],2 the Patriot League,3 [the] University, the [ ] Medicine Center, David L. Higgins, M.D., P.C., David L. Higgins, M.D., and Aaron Williams, D.O."Id., Ex. 1 (Order) at 1. In March 2015, the Government, pursuant to the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2679 (2012), substituted itself for Dr. Williams as a defendant and removed the consolidated case to this Court. See id., Ex. 1 (Order) at 1–2. Thereafter, in December 2015, this Court dismissed the plaintiff's claims against the Government because the "the plaintiff concede[d] that she [was] still pursuing her administrative remedies," id., Ex. 1 (Order) at 11 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted), which precluded her at that time from bringing suit against the Government. This Court also concluded that it "no longer ha[d] jurisdiction over [the] matter following the dismissal of the [Government]" and remanded the case to the Superior Court. Id., Ex. 1 (Order) at 11–12.

After the case was remanded to the Superior Court, the plaintiff moved both to amend her Complaint and to remove the case back to this Court, a motion the Superior Court granted only with respect to the plaintiff's request to amend her Complaint. See id., Ex. 3 (Order dated Feb. 19, 2016) at 1. On February 23, 2016, the plaintiff amended her Complaint, and on the following day, removed this case back to this Court. See id. at 4. Shortly thereafter, the defendants filed their motions to dismiss the plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which the Court now addresses.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint properly "state[s] a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Rule 8(a) requires only that a complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not required, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ), a plaintiff must provide "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation," id. Rather, the "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. A complaint alleging "facts [which] are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant's liability ... ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’ " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

"In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’ " Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ). However, conclusory allegations are not entitled to an assumption of truth, and even those allegations pleaded with factual support need only be accepted insofar as "they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

III. ANALYSIS
A. The Plaintiff's Claims Against the Government

As an initial matter, the Government contends that Counts IV and VIII of the plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which assert claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and medical malpractice against the Government, "should be dismissed with prejudice" because "the [p]laintiff's claim[s are] time-barred by the [Federal Tort Claims Act (‘FTCA’) ]'s two-year statute of limitations [,]" and because "under the borrowed servant doctrine, any alleged tort committed by Dr. Williams, attaches to the borrower (i.e., special employer), the Medical Practice of David L. Higgins ... and not to the general master (i.e., general employer), the [Government]." Gov't's Mem. at 1–2. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

1. The Federal Tort Claims Act's Two–Year Statute of Limitations

The Government argues that the plaintiff's claims against it are time-barred because she failed to "file her claim with the appropriate agency" within two years after the "[p]laintiff's claim accrued ... [in] March 2012 when she was diagnosed with [post-concussive syndrome

]," as the FTCA mandates. Gov't's Mem. at 10–11. In response, the plaintiff contends that the statute of limitations was equitably tolled and "did not begin to run until November 7, 2013, at the earliest," when "counsel for [d]efendant Higgins contacted [the p]laintiff's counsel and first indicated that Dr. Williams was a military fellow at the time he rendered treatment." Pl.'s Gov't Opp'n at 11.

"Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the United States is immune from suit unless Congress has expressly waived the defense of sovereign immunity by statute." Carter–El v. D.C. Dep't of Corr., 893 F.Supp.2d 243, 246 (D.D.C. 2012) (Walton, J.) (citing United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212, 103 S.Ct. 2961, 77 L.Ed.2d 580 (1983) ("It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.")). "Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government ... from suit." Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475, 114 S.Ct. 996, 127 L.Ed.2d 308 (1994). "The FTCA is an example of Congress' waiver of sovereign immunity. Under the FTCA, the United States consents to suit in federal...

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