Wirth v. PHC Las Cruces Inc.

Decision Date06 July 2021
Docket NumberCiv. No. 20-1340 WJ/KK
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Mexico

THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, filed by Defendants LifePoint Health, Inc. and LifePoint RC, Inc. on April 19, 2021 (Doc. 35). Having reviewed the parties' pleadings and the applicable law, the Court finds that Defendants' motion is well-taken and, therefore, is granted.


In this medical malpractice and wrongful death case, Plaintiffs Sandra Correa and Santiago Ortiz together bring this Complaint following the fatal personal injuries suffered by their infant child Santiago Sebastian Ortiz during birth on August 12, 2017 at PHC-Las Cruces, Inc., d/b/a Memorial Medical Center of Las Cruces ("Memorial Medical Center") in Las Cruces, New Mexico on August 11, 2017.

I. Factual Background

According to the complaint, Ms. Correa received regular prenatal care from Defendants Vittorio Taleon, MD and Ifeyinwa Obi, CNM as well as other health care providers at La Clinica de Familia. Doc. 1-3 at 70. Ms. Correa was identified as a higher risk pregnancy by a doctor at La Clinica de Familia due to her diagnosis of diabetes, for which she received prescribed prenatal care and medication. ¶¶70-72. On August 11, 2017, about a month prior to her due date, she presented at the Memorial Medical Center around 5:00 p.m. and informed Obstetrics Triage that her amniotic membranes had ruptured. ¶74. After she was admitted to the hospital, Defendant Obi was assigned to her care. ¶77. Complications developed throughout the evening hours and monitoring showed increasing fetal distress. Various measures were taken to resolve the distress and to deliver the baby vaginally. ¶¶80-113. At 5:20 a.m., Defendant Obi called for Defendant Taleon's assistance at the hospital. ¶¶93, 96. At 6:45 a.m., Ms. Correa was taken to the operating room and the baby was delivered by caesarian section. The baby was pronounced dead at delivery. ¶¶111-112.

II. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on July 20, 2020 in the First Judicial District Court of Santa Fe, New Mexico, asserting claims of medical negligence, loss of consortium and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Government removed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2679(d)(2) which mandates removal of an action to federal court upon certification by the United States Attorney General that the defendant employee was acting within the scope of his/her federal employment. Doc 1. The Amended Notice of Removal states that this action is covered by the provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§1346(b) and 2671 et seq. Doc. 15 at 2.

Defendants consist of five entities and three individuals:

LifePoint Health, Inc. ("LifePoint")
LifePoint RC, Inc. ("LifePoint RC")
PHC-Las Cruces (d/b/a Memorial Medical Center)
La Clinica de Familia, Inc. ("La Clinica")
LCDF First Step, Inc.1
Vittorio Taleon, M.D.
Ifeyinwa Obi, Certified Nurse Midwife ("C.N.M.")
Linda Vasquez, R.N.

Defendant PHC-Las Cruces, Inc., d/b/a Memorial Medical Center is a New Mexico corporation, which owns and operates a hospital facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, doing business as Memorial Medical Center.

On May 11, 2021, the Court granted the Government's motion to substitute the United States for Defendant Taleon, Defendant Obi and Defendants La Clinica de Familia and LCDF First Step Center, Inc. Doc. 42.

In this motion, Defendants LifePoint and LifePoint RC (collectively, "LifePoint Defendants" or "Defendants" for purposes of this motion) request that the Court enter an order dismissing both of them from this lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant LifePoint exercises certain controls over Defendant PHC-Las Cruces, Inc., d/b/a Memorial Medical Center. Compl. at ¶ 32. They claim that LifePoint is the parent corporation of LifePoint RC and the parent corporation of Defendant PHC-Las Cruces, Inc., d/b/a Memorial Medical Center" ("Memorial Medical Center" ); and that both entities had a duty to hire, supervise, train and retain well-qualified healthcare providers necessary to have delivered Santiago as healthy and fully viable infant child and prevented his death. Compl. at ¶¶ 40, ¶ 171. Plaintiffs also assert agency and respondeat superior theories of liability against the LifePoint Defendants, arising out of the conduct of Memorial Medical Center staff, and Defendants Ifeyinway Obi, CNM, LindaVasquez, RN, and Vittorio Taleon, M.D. See id. at ¶¶ 133-134, 149-50, 180-85. Plaintiffs also allege that the LifePoint Defendants and Memorial Medical Center are alter egos of each other. See id. at ¶ 41.

III. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), a defendant may move to dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Where a defendant raises a timely challenge contesting personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the prima facie burden of establishing that there is personal jurisdiction over the defendant and that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not violate due-process requirements. Overton v. United States, 925 F.2d 1282, 1283 (10th Cir.1991); Rambo v. Am. S. Ins. Co., 839 F.2d 1415, 1417 (10th Cir.1988); Jemez Agency, Inc. v. CIGNA Corp., 866 F. Supp. 1340, 1342 (D.N.M.1994). In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the trial court reviews the pleadings and affidavits submitted in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Wenz v. Memery Crystal, 55 F.3d 1503, 1505 (10th Cir. 1995).

IV. Relevant Law

Plaintiffs must show that the exercise of personal jurisdiction is within the state's long-arm statute and comports with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment. Marcus Food Co. v. DiPanfilo, 671 F.3d 1159, 1166 (10th Cir. 2011). New Mexico's long-arm statute is co-extensive with the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Tercero v. Roman Catholic Diocese, 2002-NMSC-18, 132 N.M. 312, 48 P.3d 50, 54 (citation omitted). The Due Process Clause authorizes personal jurisdiction where (1) a defendant has purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum state, and (2) where the exercise of personal jurisdiction comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Dental Dynamics, LLC v. Jolly Dental Grp., LLC, 946 F.3d 1223, 1229 (10th Cir. 2020); Santa Fe Technologies, Inc. v.Argus Networks, Inc., 42 P.3d 1221 (N.M. 2002) (citing International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 90 L. Ed. 95 (1945)). Plaintiffs must establish that Defendants have "minimum contacts with the forum state, demonstrating that [they] purposefully availed [themselves] of the protections or benefits of the state's laws and should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." Marcus Food Co. v. DiPanfilo, 671 F.3d 1159, 1166 (10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted); Alto Eldorado Partnership v. Amrep Corp., 124 P.3d 585 (N.M. App. 2005) (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980)). In each case "there must be some act by which the defendant purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958).

Personal jurisdiction may be general or specific. General jurisdiction in a forum state requires contacts that are so "continuous and systematic" that the person is essentially "at home" in the state. Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Cont'l Motors, Inc., 877 F.3d 895, 904 (10th Cir. 2017). A person is subject to general jurisdiction within a state if its contacts with the state are so continuous and systematic that the person is essentially at home in the State. Id. Specific jurisdiction is proper if (1) the out-of-state defendant purposefully directed its activities at residents of the forum State, and (2) the plaintiff's alleged injuries arise out of or relate to those activities. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985).

Even if a plaintiff satisfies the minimum contacts requirement, the defendant can still defeat jurisdiction by presenting a "compelling case that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable." See Zavala, 2007-NMCA-149, ¶ 12 (citing Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476-77 (1985)).


The LifePoint Defendants maintain that they do not operate or control Memorial Medical Center, nor do they operate as its alter egos. They contend that they do not exert any control over Memorial Medical Center, and they do not employ any medical providers at Memorial Medical Center. Because they did not participate in any way in the events alleged in the complaint, they lack sufficient minimum contacts with New Mexico for the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over them.

Plaintiffs attempt to counter Defendants' arguments with 79 numbered facts spanning twelve pages and include approximately 300 exhibits which were filed without leave of Court.2 The Court will not belabor the discussion here by considering Plaintiffs' several hundred exhibits separately, but instead will refer to them categorically and only where relevant. In the end, despite submitting approximately 300 exhibits to support the response, Plaintiffs still fail to successfully counter the LifePoint Defendants' jurisdictional arguments.

Plaintiffs maintain that this Court may exercise both general and specific jurisdiction over the LifePoint Defendants, and for both kinds of jurisdiction, they focus on an alter ego theory, arguing that the...

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