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Clint L. Hines Inc. v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

April 6, 2017

CLINT L. HINES, INC. D/B/A SHADY ACRES HEALTH AND REHABILITATION CENTER, AND SHADY ACRES HEALTH AND REHABILITATION CENTER, Appellants
v.
TOM DAVIS, AS NEXT FRIEND FOR DOROTHEA DAVIS, Appellee

          Submitted on March 2, 2017

         On Appeal from the 1A District Court Newton County, Texas Trial Cause No. 13977

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger and Horton, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STEVE McKEITHEN Chief Justice.

         This interlocutory appeal concerns the adequacy of an expert report under the standards that apply to health care liability claims. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 51.014(a)(9), 74.351 (West Supp. 2016). Appellee Tom Davis, as next friend for his aunt, Dorothea Davis ("Dorothea"), filed a health care liability claim against appellants Clint L. Hines, Inc. d/b/a/ Shady Acres Health and Rehabilitation Center, and Shady Acres Health and Rehabilitation Center ("Shady Acres"), which provided long-term care to Dorothea. Shady Acres objected to Davis's expert report and moved to dismiss the lawsuit pursuant to section 74.351 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(b). The trial court overruled Shady Acres's objections and denied its motion to dismiss. Shady Acres challenges the trial court's denial of its motion to dismiss. See id. § 51.014(a)(9) (West Supp. 2016). We reverse and remand.

         Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         Section 74.351 requires a health care liability claimant to timely file sufficient expert reports. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(a), (l). When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to comply with section 74.351, the trial court must determine "whether 'the report' represents a good-faith effort to comply with the statutory definition of an expert report." Bowie Mem'l Hosp. v. Wright, 79 S.W.3d 48, 52 (Tex. 2002) (citing Am. Transitional Care Ctrs. of Tex., Inc. v. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d 873, 878 (Tex. 2001)); see also Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(a), (l). Section 74.351 defines an "expert report" as follows:

[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 relationship between that failure and the injury, harm, or damages claimed.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(r)(6). "Because the statute focuses on what the report discusses, the only information relevant to the inquiry is within the four corners of the document." Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 878; see also Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52.

         "A report need not marshal all the plaintiff's proof, but it must include the expert's opinion on each of the elements identified in the statute." Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 878; see also Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52. An expert report constitutes a good-faith effort when the expert sets out his opinions on the standard of care, breach, and causation with enough specificity to: (1) "inform the defendant of the specific conduct the plaintiff has called into question[, ]" and (2) "provide a basis for the trial court to conclude that the claims have merit." Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 879; see also Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52. "'[T]he expert must explain the basis of his statements to link his conclusions to the facts.'" Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52 (quoting Earle v. Ratliff, 998 S.W.2d 882, 890 (Tex. 1999)). "A report that merely states the expert's conclusions about the standard of care, breach, and causation does not fulfill these two purposes." Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 879. "Nor can a report meet these purposes and thus constitute a good-faith effort if it omits any of the statutory requirements." 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). "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." Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 879.

         We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 74.351 under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52; Palacios, 46 S.W.3d at 878. "A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner without reference to any guiding rules or principles." Wright, 79 S.W.3d at 52. We may not substitute our own judgment for the trial court's judgment. Id.

         Expert Qualifications

         In its sole issue on appeal, Shady Acres argues that Dr. David Seignious is not qualified as an expert under section 74.402 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code. Shady Acres complains that the report does not show Seignious is familiar with the standard of care for non-physician health care providers such as Shady Acres. Shady Acres argues that Seignious has not shown himself to be qualified to give opinions regarding the standards of care applicable to nursing homes or regarding Shady Acres's staffing.

         A person may qualify as an expert on whether a health care provider departed from accepted ...


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