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Charles Popeney and Ft. Bend Neurology, P.A v. Rachel Causey and Bill Causey

April 25, 2013

CHARLES POPENEY AND FT. BEND NEUROLOGY, P.A.,
APPELLANTS
v.
RACHEL CAUSEY AND BILL CAUSEY,
APPELLEES



On Appeal from the 410th District Court Montgomery County, Texas Trial Cause No. 10-06-06191

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles Kreger Justice

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Dr. Charles Popeney and Ft. Bend Neurology, P.A. appeal the trial court's order denying their motion to dismiss the Causeys' health care liability claims pursuant to section 74.351 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351 (West 2011). Because we find the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellants' motion to dismiss, we affirm the order of the trial court.

I. BACKGROUND

In May 2009, Dr. Rosalia Burke performed a right superficial parotidectomy*fn1 on Rachel Causey at Memorial Hermann Hospital--The Woodlands. To assist in locating Rachel's facial nerve, Dr. Burke utilized intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring (IONM). Intra-Op Monitoring Services, LLC ("Intra-Op") provided the IONM equipment. The IONM equipment allows real-time mapping of areas with nerve branches by the placement of monitoring electrodes (which provide electroconductive feedback) on a patient's cranial nerves so the surgeon may avoid damaging the nerves during surgery. Intra-Op also provided the technologist, Justin Hawkins, who was present during the surgery. Dr. Charles Popeney, a neurologist specializing in intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring, and owner of Ft. Bend Neurology, P.A., assisted by monitoring the readings from the IONM equipment from a remote location. During the procedure, Rachel's facial nerve was inadvertently transected.

The Causeys filed a report authored by Dr. Jaime Lopez to comply with the statutory requirements that apply to health care liability claims. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351. Dr. Popeney and Ft. Bend Neurology filed objections to the sufficiency of the expert report. The trial court overruled the objections and denied the motion to dismiss. Popeney and Ft. Bend Neurology appealed the trial court's ruling. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(9) (West Supp. 2012). In the prior appeal, we concluded that Dr. Lopez's report failed to provide a fair summary that explained how Dr. Popeney's or Ft. Bend Neurology's alleged failures to meet the applicable standards of care caused Rachel's injury. See Popeney v. Causey, No. 09-11-00649-CV, 2012 WL 2849274, at *1 (Tex. App.-Beaumont July 12, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.). We reversed the trial court's order denying Dr. Popeney's and Ft. Bend Neurology's motion to dismiss and remanded the case to the trial court to consider the Causeys' request for additional time to cure the deficiencies. Id. at *4.

The trial court granted Dr. Popeney's request for an extension of time and Dr. Lopez filed a supplemental report. Dr. Popeney objected to the sufficiency of the supplemental report and moved to dismiss. The trial court overruled the objections and denied the motion to dismiss. This interlocutory appeal followed. On appeal, Dr. Popeney and Ft. Bend Neurology argue that Dr. Lopez's supplemental report is conclusory as to its summary of causation and relies on conflicting standards of care. Finding no abuse of discretion by the trial court in denying appellants' motion to dismiss, we affirm the order of the trial court.

II. APPLICABLE LAW

We review a trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss under section 74.351 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code for an abuse of discretion. See Am. Transitional Care Ctrs. of Tex., Inc. v. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d 873, 877-78 (Tex. 2001). "A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner without reference to any guiding rules or principles." Bowie Mem'l Hosp.

v. Wright, 79 S.W.3d 48, 52 (Tex. 2002). A trial court also abuses its discretion if it fails to analyze or apply the law correctly. Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 840 (Tex. 1992).

A plaintiff who asserts a health care liability claim, as defined by the statute, must provide each defendant physician or health care provider with an expert report which provides "a fair summary of the expert's opinions" as of the date of the report regarding the applicable standards of care, the manner in which the care rendered failed to meet the applicable standards, and the causal relationship between that failure and the claimed injury. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(a), (r)(6). When a plaintiff timely files an expert report and a defendant moves to dismiss on the basis that the report is insufficient, the trial court must grant the motion only if the report does not represent a good faith effort to meet the statutory requirements. Id. § 74.351(l). To constitute a good faith effort, a report "must discuss the standard of care, breach, and causation with sufficient specificity to inform the defendant of the conduct the plaintiff has called into question and to provide a basis for the trial court to conclude that the claims have merit." Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 875.

"A report cannot merely state the expert's conclusions about these elements[]" but "‗must explain the basis of [the] statements to link [the] conclusions to the facts.'" Bowie, 79 S.W.3d at 52 (quoting Earle v. Ratliff, 998 S.W.2d 882, 890 (Tex. 1999)); see also Jelinek v. Casas, 328 S.W.3d 526, 539-40 (Tex. 2010). A report that merely states the expert's conclusions about the standard of care, breach, and causation is deficient. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 879. Further, a report that omits any of the statutory elements is likewise deficient. Id. Regarding claims of vicarious liability, an expert report is sufficient when it "adequately implicates the actions of that party's agents or employees[.]" Gardner v. U.S. Imaging, Inc., 274 S.W.3d 669, 671-72 (Tex. 2008). In determining whether the trial court's ruling on the motion to dismiss was correct, we look to the four corners of the report. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 878."The report can be informal in that the information in the report does not have to meet the same requirements as the evidence offered in a summary-judgment proceeding or at trial." Id. at 879.

III. ANALYSIS

In our prior opinion, we concluded that Dr. Lopez's initial report was insufficient because we were unable to determine from the report whether Dr. Popeney was responsible for monitoring the IONM equipment during the entire procedure or only a portion of the procedure, and whether Dr. Popeney was contacted before or after Rachel's facial nerve was cut. Further, the report failed to identify the point during surgery that the facial nerve was cut, and what information should have been provided to Dr. Burke to allow her to avoid cutting the nerve. Popeney, 2012 WL 2849274, at *3. Dr. Lopez's ...


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