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Hickory Trail Hospital, L.P. v. Webb

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

February 21, 2017

HICKORY TRAIL HOSPITAL, L.P. D/B/A HICKORY TRAIL HOSPITAL, Appellant
v.
CHRISTOPHER WEBB AND MELISSA HAYES INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT OFFRIENDS FOR H.H., A MINOR, Appellees

         On Appeal from the 101st Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-15-01512

          Before Justices Lang, Brown, and Whitehill

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DOUGLAS S. LANG JUSTICE

         This is an interlocutory appeal by Hickory Trail Hospital, L.P., d/b/a Hickory Trail Hospital ("Hickory Trail") of the denial of its motion to dismiss the health care liability claims of appellees, Christopher Webb and Melissa Hayes, for failure to serve expert reports that comply with section 74.351(b) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351(b). Specifically, appellant Hickory Trail contends the trial court abused its discretion because the expert report provided by appellees is inadequate in two ways: (1) the expert report "failed to illustrate [Dr. Dunn's] qualifications to offer the opinions . . . regarding the standard of care for a hospital's policies and procedures;" and (2) the expert report failed to "provide, in a non-conclusory fashion, an opinion that provides a causal link between the alleged breach of the standard of care and the damages claimed." Appellees contend the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant's motion to dismiss.

         We decide appellant's issue in its favor. For the reasons identified below, we reverse the trial court's May 31, 2016 order denying appellant's motion to dismiss, render judgment dismissing appellees' claims against appellant with prejudice. Further, we remand this case to the trial court to determine any reasonable attorney's fees and costs to be awarded to appellant pursuant to section 74.351(b)(1) of the civil practice and remedies code. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 74.351(b)(1); Tex.R.App.P. 43.2. Because all issues are settled in law, we issue this memorandum opinion. Tex.R.App.P. 47.4.

         I. Factual and Procedural Context

         On March 10, 2014 a minor ("H.H.") was admitted to Hickory Trail Hospital. Appellees allege that a mental health technician employed by appellant Hickory Trail entered H.H.'s room and sexually assaulted her on March 14-15, 2014. On February 6, 2015, appellees filed a healthcare liability lawsuit against Hickory Trail alleging negligence. Hickory Trail timely answered on April 21, 2015.

         Appellees served appellant Hickory Trail with an expert report by Mr. Richard Bays, a nurse, on August 14, 2015. Hickory Trail objected to the report as inadequate and filed a motion to dismiss appellees' claims for "failure to provide an adequate expert report" as required by Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 74.351. Appellees responded to appellant's objections and simultaneously filed a motion for a thirty day extension to cure any deficiencies in the expert report. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351(c). The trial court sustained Hickory Trail's objections, but denied its motion to dismiss. The trial court also granted appellees a thirty day extension to cure the deficiencies in the expert report.

         On April 21, 2016 appellees timely provided appellant Hickory Trail with a supplemental export report by Dr. Mitchell Dunn and his curriculum vitae ("CV"). Then, on April 29, 2016, appellant filed amended objections to Dr. Dunn's expert report and CV and a motion to dismiss, arguing that the report was inadequate. Appellant contended that Dr. Dunn's report and CV were inadequate in two ways: (1) Dr. Dunn's "report and curriculum vitae failed to illustrate his qualifications to offer the opinions in his report, specifically, Dr. Dunn's opinions regarding the standard of care for a hospital's policies and procedures;" and (2) Dr. Dunn's report "failed to provide, in a non-conclusory fashion, an opinion that provides a causal link between the alleged breach of the standard of care and the damages claimed." The trial court overruled appellant's objections and denied appellant's motion to dismiss on May 31, 2016. Hickory Trail filed its Notice of Appeal on June 6, 2016.

         On appeal appellant Hickory Trail asserts the expert report appellees provided is inadequate for the same reasons argued in the trial court. We conclude the trial court abused its discretion in denying appellant's motion. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order and render judgment dismissing appellees' claims with prejudice.

         II. Dismissal Pursuant to Chapter 74

         Appellant argues the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant its motion to dismiss because Dr. Dunn was not qualified to provide opinions on the standard of care and because Dr. Dunn's opinions as to causation in his expert report are conclusory. Appellees respond that "Dr. Dunn's CV standing on its own clearly illustrate that he is more than qualified to offer opinions regarding the subject matter" and that "his report is not conclusory and it clearly outlines to Appellant how if Appellant had had policies and procedures in place that [H.H.] would not have been sexually assaulted by its employee." Appellees assert that Dr. Dunn "is absolutely an expert with knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education of general policies at psychiatric hospitals."

         A. Standard of Review

         "Generally, we review a trial court's order on a motion to dismiss a health care liability claim under chapter 74 for an abuse of discretion." Nexion Health at Duncanville, Inc. v. Ross, 374 S.W.3d 619, 622 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, pet. denied) (citing Jernigan v. Langley, 195 S.W.3d 91, 93 (Tex. 2006); Am. Transitional Care Ctrs. of Tex. v. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d 873, 875 (Tex. 2001)). This Court also "review[s] a trial court's rulings on the adequacy of an expert report under an abuse-of-discretion standard." Hollingsworth v. Springs, 353 S.W.3d 506, 512 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.) (citing Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 877). "Under this standard, we must determine whether the trial court acted arbitrarily and without reference to any guiding rules or principles." Ross, 374 S.W.3d at 622 (citing Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985)); see Bowie Mem'l Hosp. v. Wright, 79 S.W.3d 48, 52 (Tex. 2002). In reviewing a trial court's decision under this standard, we do not "substitute our judgment for the trial court's judgment." House v. Jones, 275 S.W.3d 926, 928 (Tex. App.- Dallas 2009, pet. denied) (citing Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52). "Nor can we find the trial court abused its discretion merely because we would have decided the matter differently." Id. (citing Cayton v. Moore, 224 S.W.3d 440, 444 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2007, no pet.)).

         "Under an abuse of discretion standard, 'close calls must go to the trial court.'" Hickory Trail Hospital, L.P. v. Loya, No. 05-16-00453-CV, 2016 WL 7376559, at *3 (Tex. App.- Dallas Dec. 20, 2016) (mem. op.) (citing Larson v. Downing, 197 S.W.3d 303, 304 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam)). However, "[a] trial court has no discretion when determining what the law is or in applying the law to the facts." Baylor Med. Ctr. at Waxahachie, Baylor Health Care Sys. v. Wallace, 278 S.W.3d 552, 555-56 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2009, no pet.) (citing Cayton, 224 S.W.3d at 445). "A clear failure by the trial court to analyze or apply the law correctly will constitute an abuse of discretion." Id. at 556 (citing Cayton, 224 S.W.3d at 445).

         B. Applicable Law-Adequacy of a Medical Expert's Report

         "Section 74.351(a) of the civil practice and remedies code provides in relevant part that '[i]n a health care liability claim, a claimant shall, not later than the 120th day after the date the original petition was filed, serve on each party or the party's attorney one or more expert reports, with a curriculum vitae of each expert listed in the report for each physician or health care provider against whom a liability claim is asserted.'" Ross, 374 S.W.3d at 622 (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(a)). "An expert report required by chapter 74 is meant to serve two purposes: (1) to 'inform the defendant of the specific conduct the claimant is questioning' and (2) to 'provide a basis for the trial court to conclude that the claims have merit.'" Id. at 623 (citing Leland v. Brandal, 257 S.W.3d 204, 206-07 (Tex. 2008)). "If, as to a defendant physician or health care provider, an expert report has not been served within the specified time period, 'the court, on the motion of the affected physician or health care provider, shall . . . enter an order that . . . dismisses the claim with respect to the physician or health care provider, with prejudice to the refiling of the claim.'" Id. at 622 (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(b)).

         "Chapter 74 defines 'claim' as 'a health care liability claim.'" Id. at 623 (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(r)(2)). In turn, a "health care liability claim" is defined as

a cause of action against a health care provider or physician for treatment, lack of treatment, or other claimed departure from accepted standards of medical care, or health care, or safety or professional or administrative services directly related to health care, which proximately results in injury to or death of a claimant, whether the claimant's claim or cause of action sounds in tort or contract.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.001(a)(13). "Expert report" is defined in chapter 74 as

a written report by an expert that provides a fair summary of the expert's opinions as of the date of the report regarding applicable standards of care, the manner in which the care rendered by the physician or health care provider failed to meet the standards, and the causal ...

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