Byrne v. Cleveland Clinic

Decision Date05 February 2010
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 09-889.
Citation684 F. Supp.2d 641
PartiesWilliam F. BYRNE, Plaintiff, v. The CLEVELAND CLINIC, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

William F. Byrne, Exton, PA, for Plaintiff.

Walter H. Swayze, III, Megan E. Grossman, Segal, McCambridge, Singer & Mahoney, Fabio A. Sciarrino, Amalia V. Romanowicz, Post & Schell, PC, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.


GENE E.K. PRATTER, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff William F. Byrne brings claims under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act ("EMTALA"), a federal statute, as well as a claim for breach of implied contract under Pennsylvania law. Defendants The Cleveland Clinic and Chester County Hospital move to dismiss the case pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and also because they argue Mr. Byrne did not file his complaint within the applicable statutes of limitations. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motions to dismiss to the extent that Mr. Byrne brings a stabilization claim under EMTALA. The Court will also dismiss Mr. Byrne's state law breach of implied contract claim.1 The Court will deny the motions to dismiss as to Mr. Byrne's EMTALA screening claim.

A. Procedural History

Mr. Byrne initially filed a Complaint on March 12, 2009. By way of Order on the same date, this Court granted Mr. Byrne's IFP Application but dismissed his Complaint because the Court lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter of the Complaint, as then presented.2

Several weeks later, Mr. Byrne filed an Amended Complaint, invoking federal jurisdiction pursuant to EMTALA. As a result, the Court ordered the Clerk to reopen Mr. Byrne's case and issue summons so that service of the Amended Complaint could be made by the United States Marshals Service.

The Cleveland Clinic and Chester County Hospital have filed motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint. These motions raise a variety of arguments, all discussed below. Mr. Byrne opposes the motions and has endeavored to marshal appropriate caselaw to support his position. The Court recognizes the challenges presented to a pro se litigant in such circumstances, and acknowledges that Mr. Byrne has presented a respectful effort to "tell his story" by emphasizing the facts as he recounts them and trying to assemble various cases that appear to him to be germane to the issues.3 Notwithstanding his efforts, the Court cannot disregard the impact of persuasive case law that fundamentally denies him the opportunity to pursue many of the issues of which he complains.

B. Allegations of the Amended Complaint

The format and structure of Mr. Byrne's Amended Complaint are integral to Defendants' arguments regarding the identity and construction of his claims. Accordingly, in spite of the risk of redundancy, Mr. Byrne's allegations are described below in the order in which they appear (and in some cases, reappear) in pleadings in this case.4

In the "Introduction" to his Amended Complaint, Mr. Byrne states that he "brings this action against the Cleveland Clinic and the Chester County Hospital for damages arising out of a breach of contract and warranty." Am. Compl. at 1. Immediately thereafter, Mr. Byrne inserts the heading "Jurisdiction" and the subheading "EMTALA 42 U.S.C. 1395dd." Id. Following these headings, Mr. Byrne sets forth a series of allegations in a section titled "Statement of the Case (Factual Background)." Id. at 2. There, he alleges that he arrived at the Chester County Hospital Emergency Room at 5:00 p.m. on February 15, 2007, complaining to the Emergency Room agents and personnel of severe chest pain and shortness of breath. Id. Approximately 20 minutes after his arrival, "an agent arrived (believed to be a nurse)," who "started to draw blood" from Mr. Byrne and requested an EKG. Id. Approximately 30 minutes later, a chest x-ray was performed. Id. During this time, no oxygen was provided to Mr. Byrne, no "clot busting" drugs were administered no heart monitor was in place, and no doctor was in attendance. Id.

Mr. Byrne alleges that "hours later," an Emergency Room doctor came into the room, and then "hours after Mr. Byrne's arrival," a "Dr. Lewis" arrived and provided Mr.Byrne with a choice between a "clot busting drug or a stent." Id.5 "Dr. Lewis recommended a stent." Id. Sometime thereafter, a "catheterization procedure" was performed on Mr. Byrne, and he came out of this procedure at approximately 11:30 p.m. Id. It is unclear what the catheterization procedure entailed, and who performed the procedure.

Following these allegations, Mr. Byrne avers that he is a resident of Pennsylvania, that Cleveland Clinic is an Ohio corporation, and that Chester County Hospital is a Pennsylvania Corporation. Id. at 2-3. He repeats some of the allegations stated above, and then states that Cleveland Clinic and Chester County Hospital "entered into an implied contract with Mr. Byrne and the public that 90 minutes or less is the time from entry into the emergency room to stent procedure." Id. at 3. Mr. Byrne again repeats some of his allegations, altering the language slightly to indicate that he was not seen by an Emergency Room doctor until at least two hours after he arrived at the emergency room.6 Id. Mr. Byrne alleges that "due to the length of time in delaying treatment," Chester County Hospital breached the contractual agreement with Mr. Byrne, and as a result Mr. Byrne suffered heart damage and mental duress. Id.

Following the "Statement of the Case (Factual Background)," Mr. Byrne sets forth a series of allegations in Count I, which is titled "Breach of Contract" and subtitled "Plaintiff v. Chester County Hospital." Id. at 4. In this section of his pleading, he states that he "entered into the aforesaid agreement in good faith which provided that defendant, Chester County Hospital provided 90sic minute or less treatment." Id. He states that "in fact Defendant Chester County Hospital failed to treat Mr. Byrne in the 90 minute or less time as promised or to make other arrangements for Mr. Byrne," and therefore Chester County Hospital is liable for $50,000 "or more," jointly and severally, and the costs of his lawsuit. Id.

Mr. Byrne then sets forth a series of allegations in Count II, which is titled "Plaintiff v. The Cleveland Clinic," and subtitled "Breach of Contract." Id. In this section, Mr. Byrne alleges that at all relevant times, Chester County Hospital acted as an agent and/or representative for the Cleveland Clinic, "and was therefore able to expressly or impliedly bind them in agreement." Id. Chester County Hospital actually "entered into the agreement as an agent of the Cleveland Clinic and was able to bind them in the agreement." Id. At all relevant times, the Cleveland Clinic "held itself out as a qualified "HOSPITAL", i.e. as sic business entity in the business of providing the best medical services." Id. at 5. Mr. Byrne states that "neither Chester County Hospital nor the Cleveland Clinic performed the emergency heart care as stated (90 minutes or less) and agreed to, therefore, Defendant the Cleveland Clinic breached its agreement with Mr. Byrne." Id. He states that the Cleveland Clinic "expressly or impliedly ratified the actions and omissions of Chester County Hospital" and that he "reasonably relied upon the assurances and promises made by the Cleveland Clinic's affiliation(s) with Chester County Hospital." Id. Mr. Byrne asserts that the Cleveland Clinic is liable for $50,000, jointly and severally, and the costs of his lawsuit. Id.7


At the outset, the Court notes that Mr. Byrne's pro se pleading must be "liberally construed." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); see also Bieros v. Nicola, 839 F.Supp. 332, 334 (E.D.Pa.1993). Due to an "understandable difference in legal sophistication," pro se litigants such as Mr. Byrne are held to a "less exacting standard" than trained counsel. Lopez v. Brown, No. 04-6267, 2005 WL 2972843, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26715 (D.N.J. Nov. 4, 2005) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)). The Court construes pro se pleadings liberally and is prepared to "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir.2003) (internal citation omitted).8 While the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit traditionally has given pro se litigants "greater leeway where they have not followed the technical rules of pleading and procedure," Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 153, n. 2 (3d Cir.1993), all parties must nonetheless follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Thomas v. Norris, No. 02-1854, 2006 WL 2590488, *4, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64347, *11 (M.D.Pa. Sept. 8, 2006).

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

A district court can grant a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) based on the legal insufficiency of the claim. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1408 (3d Cir.1991). In moving to dismiss a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a party may challenge a court's jurisdiction either facially, i.e., based on the legal sufficiency of the claim, or factually, i.e., based on the sufficiency of jurisdictional fact. Medtronic Vascular, Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp., 348 F.Supp.2d 316, 321 (D.Del.2004).

Dismissal under a facial challenge is proper "only when the claim `clearly appears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or. . . is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.'" Kehr Packages, Inc., 926 F.2d at 1408-09 (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946)). In this circumstance, the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in plaintiff's complaint as true, and must view them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. In re Kaiser Group Int'l Inc., 399...

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