Cutting v. Down East Orthopedic Associates, P.A., 011221 MESC, Pen-20-115

Docket Nº:Pen-20-115
Opinion Judge:MEAD, J.
Party Name:CAROL CUTTING v. DOWN EAST ORTHOPEDIC ASSOCIATES, P.A.
Attorney:Russell B. Pierce, Jr., Esq. (orally), Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for appellant Down East Orthopedic Associates, P.A. Laura H. White, Esq. (orally), White & Quinlan, LLC, Kennebunk, for appellee Carol Cutting Penobscot County Superior Court docket number CV-2016-192 For Clerk Referen...
Judge Panel:Panel: MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HUMPHREY, HORTON, and CONNORS, JJ.
Case Date:January 12, 2021
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

2021 ME 1

CAROL CUTTING

v.

DOWN EAST ORTHOPEDIC ASSOCIATES, P.A.

No. Pen-20-115

Supreme Court of Maine

January 12, 2021

Argued: November 19, 2020

Russell B. Pierce, Jr., Esq. (orally), Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for appellant Down East Orthopedic Associates, P.A.

Laura H. White, Esq. (orally), White & Quinlan, LLC, Kennebunk, for appellee Carol Cutting Penobscot County Superior Court docket number CV-2016-192 For Clerk Reference Only

Panel: MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HUMPHREY, HORTON, and CONNORS, JJ.

MEAD, J.

[¶1] Down East Orthopedic Associates, P.A. (Down East) appeals from an order of the Superior Court (Penobscot County, Anderson, J.) denying its motion to dismiss Carol Cutting's complaint for medical malpractice. Down East urges us to accept this appeal pursuant to the judicial economy exception to the final judgment rule, and it contends that the court erred in determining that the complaint was not barred by the claim preclusion branch of res judicata. Because this case involves complex questions of interpretation of state and federal claim preclusion law and Down East has not demonstrated unique circumstances, we conclude that the appeal does not come within the judicial economy exception. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The substantive facts are taken from the allegations in the complaint and viewed as if they were admitted, see Saunders v. Tisher, 2006 ME 94, ¶ 8, 902 A.2d 830, and the procedural facts are drawn from the record. On June 20, 2013, Cutting went to see a doctor at Down East to address right shoulder pain. She informed the doctor that she had Tourette's syndrome and experienced vocal and motor tics that included "occasional arm movements and pointing." During the visit, the doctor moved across the room to distance himself because of Cutting's Tourette's, stating, "I don't want you to hit me."

[¶3] The doctor gave Cutting a diagnosis and told her that he would perform certain procedures but did not state that her Tourette's would affect his surgical approach. During the process of gaining Cutting's informed consent prior to surgery, providers at Down East did not discuss how her Tourette's might affect her surgery, including that, if a rotator cuff tear was found, the doctor would not repair it because the surgery would be "guaranteed to fail" due to the motor tics caused by her Tourette's. On November 13, 2013, the doctor performed a debridement of Cutting's shoulder area but did not repair the rotator cuff after discovering a tear. Cutting continued to experience shoulder pain and sought treatment from different providers; she ultimately underwent surgery to repair the rotator cuff in 2015 and other procedures in 2018.

[¶4] In November 2016, Cutting filed a notice of claim against Down East in the Superior Court pursuant to the Maine Health Security Act (MHSA), see 24 M.R.S. § 2853 (2020), asserting negligence for failure to obtain informed consent, failure to obtain an updated MRI, and failure to repair the rotator cuff. She further alleged that the doctor's treatment of her violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 12182-12213 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 116-259), and therefore amounted to a breach of the standard of care. Also in November 2016, Cutting filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Maine (the federal discrimination case) alleging disability discrimination pursuant to the ADA and a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act, 5 M.R.S. §§ 4571-4634 (2020), asserting that the doctor "treated her in a disrespectful, rude, and insulting manner"; did not tell her that his approach to surgery would differ from his ordinary approach; and refused to repair the rotator cuff, all because of her Tourette's.

[¶5] In May 2018, the prelitigation screening panel issued its findings that Down East was not negligent. See 24 M.R.S. § 2855 (2020). Cutting then filed a medical malpractice case in federal court (the federal malpractice case) asserting counts for failure to obtain informed consent and medical negligence and seeking a declaratory judgment that the panel proceedings violated her right to due process. She asserted that the federal court had federal question and supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1331, 1367 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 116-252).

[¶6] Cutting simultaneously filed a motion in the federal discrimination case to either join the two federal cases or amend the discrimination complaint to add her medical malpractice claims. In September 2018, after a conference among the federal court and the parties, the court issued an order stating that Cutting's motion to join or amend "is withdrawn without prejudice" and allowing Cutting to renew the motion after the court ruled on Down East's motion for summary judgment in the federal discrimination case and motion to dismiss in the federal malpractice case.

[¶7] On May 2, 2019, the federal court granted Down East's motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in Down East's favor in the federal discrimination case. On the same day, by separate order, it granted Down East's motion to dismiss the federal malpractice case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Thereafter, on May 30, 2019, Cutting filed the complaint giving rise to this appeal in the Superior Court (the state malpractice case), asserting the same causes of action as those in her federal malpractice case.

[¶8] Down East moved to dismiss the state malpractice case on, inter alia, claim preclusion grounds, arguing that Cutting litigated or could have litigated her medical malpractice claims in the federal discrimination case that was adjudicated on the merits. Cutting opposed the motion and attached as exhibits the federal discrimination complaint, summary judgment order and judgment on the federal discrimination complaint, federal malpractice complaint, motion to join or amend, and order dismissing the federal malpractice complaint.1

[¶9] In March 2020, after a hearing, the Superior Court denied Down East's motion to dismiss on claim preclusion grounds. It determined that (1) Down East had failed to demonstrate that Cutting's claims were or could have been litigated in the federal discrimination case; (2) Cutting could not have litigated her medical malpractice claims until after the panel proceedings were finished; (3) Cutting tried to bring the claim in federal court but it was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and (4) Cutting committed "no procedural error or infirmity in proceeding as she...

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