August 13, 2019

Local Rule Does Not Extend Time for Responding to Motion for Summary Judgment; G.F. v. St. Catherine Hospital, Inc.

Category: Indianapolis Law Club | Author: | Share:

Indiana has long-recognized a bright-line rule when it comes to the timeliness of a response to a motion for summary judgment: if you don’t file your response in a timely manner, then the trial court may not consider any of your evidence. The question here was whether a local rule could change this. The short answer? It cannot.

G.F. was receiving treatment for pneumonia-related symptoms at St. Catherine. While being visited by a co-worker, a doctor informed G.F. that her CD4 count was low, and that she needed to see an infectious disease doctor. The co-worker understood that this meant that G.F. might have HIV. After the doctor left, the co-worker told G.F. about her understanding. The co-worker (who had been a good friend to G.F.) then severed all ties with G.F., and G.F.’s other co-workers began to avoid her at work.

G.F. filed both a proposed complaint with the IDOI and an anonymous complaint in Lake County. The defendants moved to dismiss the Lake County complaint for failure to state a claim, which was denied.

The medical review panel issued a split decision—it found that St. Catherine did not breach the standard of care, and that the allegations about the doctor’s actions were not a subject of expert opinion.

G.F. then filed a declaratory judgment action in Marion County, seeking a declaration that his claims of improper disclosure fell outside the ambit of the Medical Malpractice Act. He moved for summary judgment on March 10, and the Defendants responded on April 15. The trial court denied G.F.’s motion, and G.F. appealed.

On appeal, G.F. argued that the trial court erred by allowing the defendants to file a belated response to his motion. Under Trial Rule 56, the defendants’ response was due on April 9, so they filed it 6 days late. The defendants argued that they were not late because G.F.’s initial motion did not comply with Marion County Local Rule 203(A), which requires that all motions contain a statement indicating whether the opposing party objects to or approves of granting the motion. G.F. did not file this statement until April 16, so the defendants argued that their motion was timely.

The Court was not persuaded that the local rule extended the time for responding to the motion for summary judgment. First, it concluded that the more specific rule (Rule 56) should govern over the local rule (which applied to all motions). Second, the local rule did not specify a consequence for failure to comply (such as treating the motion as not filed until in compliance with the rule). And finally, trial court’s chronological case history did not indicate that G.F.’s motion for summary judgment was not deemed filed for lack of compliance with the local rule. Thus, the local rule did not extend the deadline for responding to G.F.’s motion, and the defendants’ response was untimely.

The Court then turned to the question of whether the disclosure here was covered by the Medical Malpractice Act. A prior panel had found that a similar disclosure was not governed by the Act, and this panel agreed.

G.F. does not contend that Dr. Patel’s statement led to an inaccurate diagnosis or improper treatment. Rather, in his Complaint, G.F. articulated his claims as to “whether the [MMA] applies to claims involving: the violation of a patient’s medical confidentiality; [and] the negligent or intentional disclosure of protected health information[.]” The fact that Dr. Patel’s statement was uttered in a facility that provides health care does not, by itself, make G.F.’s claim fall within the purview of the MMA. Nor does the fact that G.F. was a patient of Dr. Patel create such a claim. Instead, the test is based on the provider’s behavior or practices while “acting in his professional capacity as a provider of medical services.” Based on these parameters, we cannot conclude that G.F.’s claims are within the boundaries of the MMA.

The defendants argued that G.F. was estopped from making this argument since he had submitted the claim to the medical review process and filed an anonymous complaint. The Court disagreed, expressly noting that plaintiffs may pursue these alternative options “to avoid any statute of limitations issues.” Given this reality, the Court was not going to find that G.F. was estopped from obtaining a declaratory judgment.

Lessons:

  1. A local rule governing motion practice generally does not take precedence over the procedure described in Trial Rule 56.
  2. A doctor’s improper disclosure of a patient’s personal medical information is not covered by the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.