Leblanc v. Research Belton Hosp.

Decision Date09 December 2008
Docket NumberNo. WD 69248.,WD 69248.
Citation278 S.W.3d 201
PartiesDorothea LEBLANC, Appellant, v. RESEARCH BELTON HOSPITAL, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Herbert W. McIntosh, Kansas City, MO, for Appellant.

P. John Brady, Kansas City, MO, for Respondent.


THOMAS H. NEWTON, Chief Judge.

Ms. Dorothea LeBlanc appeals the dismissal of a corporate negligence claim against Midwest Division—RMC, LLC d/b/a Research Belton Hospital (Research Belton). In the petition for damages, Ms. LeBlanc alleged that Research Belton was negligent in performing several duties, including assuring that the doctors had the credentials to perform a specific surgery. Research Belton sought to dismiss that specific claim, alleging it was not a recognized claim in Missouri. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. We reverse and remand.

Factual and Procedural Background

Ms. LeBlanc filed a petition for damages against physicians Danny Carroll and John Gillen II, their professional corporation Bone & Joint Specialists, P.C., and Research Belton. She alleged, inter alia, the physicians and Bone & Joint Specialists were negligent in performing surgeries on her at Research Belton. Paragraph 14(a) of her petition alleged that Research Belton "failed to use that degree of skill and learning ordinarily used under the same or similar circumstances by members of the hospital profession, and was negligent and careless" in permitting the named surgeons "to perform such extensive surgeries on [her] when the physicians were not qualified by education, training or experience and were not properly credentialed to perform same[.]" In subsequent subparagraphs, Ms. LeBlanc alleged six additional grounds to support a negligence action against Research Belton.

Research Belton asked the trial court to dismiss paragraph 14(a), alleging that it failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Research Belton argued that Missouri does not recognize negligent credentialing, the claim in paragraph 14(a), and that hospitals have immunity against credentialing claims under section 537.035.3.1 The trial court granted the motion to dismiss without explanation. Later, Research Belton sought summary judgment as to the remaining claims. In response, Ms. LeBlanc voluntarily dismissed her claims and, subsequently, dismissed her claims against the other defendants. Ms. LeBlanc appeals the trial court's dismissal of paragraph 14(a) of her petition.

Standard of Review

We review the grant of a motion to dismiss de novo. M.M.H. v. J.P.C., 42 S.W.3d 16, 18 (Mo.App. E.D.2001). Because the trial court did not provide any reasons for its dismissal, we presume its decision was based on the arguments within the motion. Pikey v. Bryant, 203 S.W.3d 817, 821 (Mo.App. S.D.2006). "A motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action is solely a test of the adequacy of the plaintiff's petition." Id. We "determine if the facts alleged meet the elements of a recognized cause of action, or of a cause that might be adopted in that case." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). We treat the averments in the petition as true and liberally construe accompanying inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Id. A petition states a cause of action if "its averments invoke principles of substantive law which may entitle the plaintiff to relief." Williams v. Barnes & Noble, Inc., 174 S.W.3d 556, 560 (Mo.App. W.D.2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Legal Analysis

Ms. LeBlanc argues that the trial court erred in dismissing the paragraph 14(a) claim because: (1) negligent credentialing is in accordance with the Missouri cognizable doctrine of corporate negligence, and (2) Research Belton does not have immunity under section 537.035.3 nor raises it as a defense. Ms. LeBlanc argues that hospitals have a duty to their patients, which includes the duty "to exercise reasonable care in credentialing the physicians who enjoy staff privileges at the hospital." She cites to Gridley v. Johnson, 476 S.W.2d 475, 484-85 (Mo.1972), for support. Research Belton argues that Missouri has declined to recognize a claim for negligent credentialing and instead has set up peer review committees for doctor credentialing and granted immunity to those who rely on committees' recommendations. We disagree with Research Belton.

Negligent Credentialing

The Missouri Supreme Court stated in Gridley, "The fact the defendant doctors here were not employees of the defendant hospital does not necessarily mean the hospital cannot be held liable for adverse effects of treatment or surgery approved by the doctors[.]" 476 S.W.2d at 484 (citing Darling v. Charleston Cmty. Mem'l Hosp., 33 Ill.2d 326, 211 N.E.2d 253 (1965), cert. denied, 383 U.S. 946, 86 S.Ct. 1204, 16 L.Ed.2d 209 (1966)). In Roberson v. Menorah Medical Center, we rejected Ms. Roberson's contention that a hospital had a duty to inform its patients of risks associated with surgeries and the availability of alternative methods. 588 S.W.2d 134, 138 (Mo.App. W.D.1979) Yet, this court stated, "that the hospital may in some cases have a responsibility [to the patient]." Id. (citing Gridley, 476 S.W.2d at 483-85). Subsequent cases also have declined to impute the task of informing patients to the hospital when the doctor is not the hospital's agent. See e.g. Baltzell v. Baptist Med. Ctr., 718 S.W.2d 140, 142 (Mo.App. W.D.1986); see also Ackerman v. Lerwick, 676 S.W.2d 318, 320-21 (Mo.App. E.D.1984). However, Missouri courts have not rejected negligent credentialing as a cause of action against a hospital.2

In fact, almost ten years later, this court addressed the viability of a patient's negligence claim against a hospital based on the acts of an independent doctor because the hospital extended staff privileges to him "allowing him to render treatment for which he was not qualified." Manar v. Park Lane Med. Ctr., 753 S.W.2d 310, 311-12 (Mo.App. W.D.1988). We rejected the hospital's broad contention that Missouri does not allow claims against hospitals "for adverse effects to a patient suffered in consequence of improper treatment rendered by doctors authorized to practice in the hospital." Id. at 314, 314 n. 3 (citing Gridley as accepting hospital liability for permitting unqualified doctors to practice in its facilities in some circumstances). We stated, "[T]he record does not foreclose the possibility that Manar may be able to make a case for recovery against Park Lane on one of the theories advanced." Id. at 315. We did not decide whether Ms. Manar could bring her action under the theory of Gridley and Darling but gave her that option on remand. Id.

A year later, in Harrell v. Total Health Care, the supreme court faced a similar issue of liability against a health service corporation rather than a hospital. 781 S.W.2d 58, 59-60 (Mo. banc 1989). Ms. Harrell sought damages against Total Health Care for malpractice under the claims of "corporate liability" and "negligen[ce] in the selection of the specialist who performed surgery on her." Id. The supreme court did not address the merits of either claim because it found Total Health Care was immune from any negligence claim against it as a health service corporation under section 354.125, RSMo 1978.3 Id. at 60-61. Moreover, it found that the complete statutory immunity granted to a health service corporation was not in violation of the Equal Protection Clause although no such immunity existed for hospitals. Id. at 63.

Contrary to Research Belton's contention, our review of the case law reveals that Missouri courts have not rejected the corporate negligence theory.4 While we believe that Gridley has decided the question before us, we note that recognition of a cause of action against a hospital for injuries sustained at the hospital from unqualified independent doctors is consistent with two well-established principles in Missouri. Those principles are: (1) the hospital "owes [its] patient a specific duty of reasonable care proportionate to the patient's needs as the patient's known condition requires," Stacy v. Truman Med. Ctr., 836 S.W.2d 911, 922 (Mo. banc 1992), abrogated on other grounds by Southers v. City of Farmington, 263 S.W.3d 603, 614 n. 13 (Mo. banc 2008), and (2) an employer is liable for an independent contractor's negligence "when the employer fails to exercise reasonable care" in hiring a competent contractor. Lee v. Pulitzer Publ'g Co., 81 S.W.3d 625, 634 (Mo.App. E.D. 2002) (citing Sullivan v. St. Louis Station Assoc., 770 S.W.2d 352, 356 (Mo.App. E.D. 1989)). Thus, Missouri precedent does not bar a negligence claim against a hospital for injuries caused by independent doctors authorized to practice in that hospital.

Immunity under Section 537.035.3

Although Research Belton does not argue that the hospital itself is immune under the statute, it argues that section 537.035.3, enacted in 1973, abrogated corporate negligence claims based on negligent credentialing. In determining the meaning of a statute, we look to the plain language to ascertain the legislature's intent. See State ex rel. Young v. Wood, 254 S.W.3d 871, 872-73 (Mo. banc 2008). We will "not add words by implication to a statute that is clear and unambiguous." Id. at 873 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Section 537.035.3 states:

Each member of a peer review committee and each person, hospital governing board, health maintenance organization board of directors, and chief executive officer of a licensed hospital or other hospital operating under constitutional or statutory authority, chief executive officer or medical director of a licensed health maintenance organization who testifies before, or provides information to, acts upon the recommendation of, or otherwise...

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