Struck v. Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp., 20-1228

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWATERMAN, Justice.
Citation973 N.W.2d 533
Parties Jacqueline STRUCK, Appellant, v. MERCY HEALTH SERVICES-IOWA CORP. a/k/a Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, Rodney J. Dean, Albert Okine, and Eileen Middleton, Appellees.
Docket Number20-1228
Decision Date22 April 2022

973 N.W.2d 533

Jacqueline STRUCK, Appellant,
v.
MERCY HEALTH SERVICES-IOWA CORP. a/k/a Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, Rodney J. Dean, Albert Okine, and Eileen Middleton, Appellees.

No. 20-1228

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Submitted March 24, 2022
Filed April 22, 2022


Thomp J. Pattermann of Gallner & Pattermann, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellant.

Frederick T. Harris of Lamson Dugan & Murray, LLP, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellee Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp. Sioux City a/k/a Mercy Medical Center.

John C. Gray of Heidman Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Sioux City, for appellees Rodney J. Dean, M.D., Albert Okine, P.A., and Eileen Middleton, P.A.

Waterman, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which all justices joined.

WATERMAN, Justice.

973 N.W.2d 536

This appeal presents our first opportunity to address the certificate of merit requirement in Iowa Code section 147.140 (2018) governing medical malpractice actions. The plaintiff was hospitalized to treat her prolonged dizziness. While medicated, she stood up and fell in her hospital room, suffering injuries. She sued the hospital, several physicians, and other healthcare providers involved in her treatment, alleging their "professional negligence." The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the grounds that she failed to file the certificate of merit required by section 147.140. She appealed, and we transferred the case to the court of appeals, which affirmed the dismissal of the claims alleging professional negligence and negligent hiring, retention, or supervision of professional staff but reversed in part, concluding her petition broadly encompassed claims for ordinary negligence for premises liability or nonprofessional routine care outside the scope of the statute. The plaintiff had not raised that issue in district court. We granted the defendants’ application for further review.

On our review, we hold that the district court correctly dismissed the petition under section 147.140. The plaintiff exclusively alleged professional negligence claims that fell within the scope of the statute. The factual allegations establish the plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for treatment of her dizziness and allege the defendants mismanaged her care, supervision, and medication, resulting in her fall. The statute was enacted to enable early dismissal of meritless malpractice actions that require expert testimony to proceed. A contrary holding would undermine that legislative goal. We decline to allow the plaintiff to evade the statutory requirement by claiming for the first time on appeal that her petition expressly alleging professional negligence also included ordinary negligence claims requiring no certificate of merit.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

We accept as true the well-pleaded facts alleged in the plaintiff's petition. On January 18, 2018, Plaintiff Jaqueline Struck, age fifty-seven, was admitted to Mercy Medical Center (Mercy) in Sioux City to treat her prolonged dizziness, headaches, and unsteadiness when upright or standing. Her physicians adjusted her medication in the hospital but did not impose restraints or other safety measures to keep her from standing unattended. On January 25, Struck stood up, fell, and struck her chin on the floor, resulting in a laceration. Nearly two years later, on January 24, 2020, Struck brought this civil action against Mercy and several physicians,

973 N.W.2d 537

physician assistants, and a nurse practitioner involved in her medical care. She alleged she had a "healthcare provider-patient relationship" with the named defendants and that her personal injuries resulted from their "professional negligence" when providing her "healthcare services," including giving her "medications that were contraindicated with the medications she was already taking."

Her petition then alleged:

16. As a result of the physician-patient relationship between Dr. Rodney J. Dean, Albert Okine, PA, Jeremy Vande Zande, MD, Robbie Robinson, NP, Eileen Middleton, PA and Jacqueline Struck, Dr. Rodney Dean, Albert Okine, PA, Jeremy Vande Zande, MD, Robbie Robinson, NP and Eileen Middleton, PA owed a duty to Jacqueline Struck to possess and use the care, skill and knowledge ordinarily possessed and used under circumstances by other members of their profession engaged in similar practice.

17. The Defendants breached their duty to Jacqueline Struck to possess and use, care, skill and knowledge ordinarily possessed and used under like circumstances by other members of their profession engaged in a similar practice, because they negligently:

A. Failed to properly supervise Jacqueline Struck considering the medications she was on and the risks they posed for dizziness;

B. Failed to take steps to ensure Plaintiff was safe from falls and injury; and

C. Were negligent in other ways not presently known to the Plaintiff.

Struck's petition included a claim against the hospital for negligent hiring and retention of the individual defendants:

19. Defendant Mercy Medical Center was negligent in hiring and retaining Rodney Dean, MD, Albert Okine, PA, Jeremy Vande Zande, MD, Robbie Robinson, NP and Eileen Middleton, PA and non-party staff who were individually and jointly responsible for her care and treatment.

20. The professional negligence of Defendants Mercy Medical Center, Rodney Dean, MD, Albert Okine, PA, Jeremy Vande Zande, MD, Robbie Robinson, NP and Eileen Middleton, PA was a violation of an acceptable standard of care.

All the named defendants are healthcare providers licensed under Iowa Code chapter 147. Struck's petition alleged no premises liability claim or that any unsafe condition in her hospital room caused her to fall.

The defendants filed answers followed by motions to dismiss pursuant to Iowa Code section 147.140(6). Struck resisted the motions by arguing that the time to file the certificate of merit had not yet started to run because not all of the defendants had been served and filed answers.1 Struck requested an extension to file the certificate of merit until sixty days after the final defendant was served and filed an answer. Struck filed no certificate of merit affidavit. Struck never sought leave to amend her petition to allege any premises liability or other ordinary negligence claim.

After a hearing, the district court granted the motions to dismiss and denied

973 N.W.2d 538

Struck's request for an extension of the time to file a certificate of merit. The district court determined that section 147.140 applied to Struck's claims of professional negligence against the defendants and the negligent hiring claim against Mercy. Struck timely appealed.

On appeal, Struck concedes that the district court properly dismissed the professional negligence claims pursuant to Iowa Code section 147.140.2 Struck abandoned her argument that the sixty-day deadline to file the certificate of merit was not triggered because all defendants had not been served and does not challenge the district court's denial of her untimely motion for extension to file a certificate of merit. Rather, Struck asserted for the first time on appeal that her petition encompassed ordinary negligence claims of premises liability or nonprofessional negligence not subject to the certificate of merit requirement.

The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of the claims against the defendants for professional negligence and negligent hiring and retention of professional staff. But the court of appeals held the district court erred in dismissing all claims against Mercy pursuant to Iowa Code section 147.140. The court of appeals concluded Struck sufficiently pleaded ordinary negligence claims against Mercy that require no certificate of merit. Mercy sought further review, which we granted.

II. Standard of Review.

"We review a district court's ruling on a motion to dismiss for the correction of errors at law." Benskin, Inc. v. W. Bank , 952 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Iowa 2020) (quoting Shumate v. Drake Univ. , 846 N.W.2d 503, 507 (Iowa 2014) ). "For purposes of reviewing a ruling on a motion to dismiss, we accept as true the petition's well-pleaded factual allegations, but not its legal conclusions." Id. (quoting Shumate , 846 N.W.2d at 507 ). "[W]e will affirm a dismissal only if the petition shows no right of recovery under any state of facts." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Rieff v. Evans , 630 N.W.2d 278, 284 (Iowa 2001) (en banc)). "We construe the petition in ‘its most favorable light, resolving all doubts and ambiguities in [the plaintiff's] favor.’ " Id. at 298–99 (alteration in original) (quoting Schreiner v. Scoville , 410 N.W.2d 679, 680 (Iowa 1987) ). Yet we recognize that plaintiffs may effectively plead themselves out of court. See id. at 299, 306 ; Mormann v. Iowa Workforce Dev. , 913 N.W.2d 554, 575 (Iowa 2018).

We review rulings on statutory interpretation for correction of errors at law. Goche v. WMG, L.C. , 970 N.W.2d 860, 863 (Iowa 2022).

III. Analysis.

Our court has not yet interpreted or applied Iowa Code section 147.140, enacted in 2017. See 2017 Iowa Acts ch. 107, § 4 (codified at Iowa Code § 147.140 (2018))....

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4 practice notes
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Bixenman, 21-1641
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 22, 2022
    ...2013) (per curiam) (suspending license for six months with all but thirty days deferred for domestic abuse in the presence of a child); 973 N.W.2d 533 In re Grella , 438 Mass. 47, 777 N.E.2d 167, 173–74 (2002) (imposing suspension for two months for misdemeanor assault and battery against a......
  • Ronnfeldt v. Shelby Cnty. Chris A. Myrtue Mem'l Hosp., 22-0365
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 6, 2023
    ...to dismiss and a district court's statutory construction for correction of errors at law. Struck v. Mercy Health Servs.-Iowa Corp., 973 N.W.2d 533, 538 (Iowa 2022). III. Analysis. This case presents an issue of statutory construction: can section 147.140 and rule 1.943 coexist, or do those ......
  • Kirlin v. Monaster, 22-0405
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 6, 2023
    ...by plaintiff[s]" when the statutory requirements are not met. Stewart, 98 N.W. at 515; see Struck v. Mercy Health Servs.-Iowa Corp., 973 N.W.2d 533, 542 (Iowa 2022) ("[T]he certificate of merit requirement serves to 'identify and weed non-meritorious malpractice claims from the ju......
  • K.C. v. T.D.L., 21-1913
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • November 17, 2022
    ...the axiom that a party cannot sing a song to us that was not first sung in trial court." Struck v. Mercy Health Servs.-Iowa Corp., 973 N.W.2d 533, 539 (Iowa 2022) (citation omitted). Because T.L. failed to preserve error by objecting to the appointment of the guardian ad litem in the d......
1 cases
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Bixenman, 21-1641
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 22, 2022
    ...2013) (per curiam) (suspending license for six months with all but thirty days deferred for domestic abuse in the presence of a child); 973 N.W.2d 533 In re Grella , 438 Mass. 47, 777 N.E.2d 167, 173–74 (2002) (imposing suspension for two months for misdemeanor assault and battery against a......

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