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Hopebridge Hospital Houston, L.L.C. v. Lerma

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 16, 2017

HOPEBRIDGE HOSPITAL HOUSTON, L.L.C., Appellant
v.
JOSHUA LERMA, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 334th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2016-07219

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Busby, and Jewell.

          OPINION

          Kevin Jewell Justice.

         This appeal requires us to decide whether intentional tort claims of assault and battery constitute health care liability claims. Rebecca Lerma, as next friend of her son Joshua Lerma, sued appellant Hopebridge Hospital Houston, L.L.C. for assault and battery; Joshua later joined the suit after his eighteenth birthday. Joshua alleged that, after he was admitted to Hopebridge for an accidental prescription medication overdose, Hopebridge's employees committed assault and battery while forcing him to remain in his bed. Contending Joshua's claims are health care liability claims governed by Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 74, Hopebridge filed a motion to dismiss and for attorney's fees because Joshua did not serve an expert report as the code requires. The trial court denied the motion and Hopebridge appeals.

         We conclude that Joshua's claims are subject to Chapter 74's expert report requirement. Because the plaintiff failed to serve an expert report in support of his claims, we reverse and render judgment that Joshua take nothing against Hopebridge, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Background

         According to Joshua's amended petition, Joshua, a minor at the time, was admitted to Hopebridge for care related to an accidental overdose of prescription medications. His mother, Rebecca, accompanied Joshua during the admissions process, but later left for the evening at the request of hospital staff. At approximately midnight, Joshua, anxious and stressed, remained out of bed and ambulatory in his room. Three members of Hopebridge's staff attempted to force Joshua into bed. Joshua resisted these efforts, and during the ensuing struggle, Joshua allegedly received "multiple bruises, contusions, bleeding in his mouth and on his face[, ] and a blood clot in his left eye."

         Rebecca filed suit against Hopebridge on Joshua's behalf. Joshua subsequently appeared as a party, having reached his eighteenth birthday.[1] The live pleading alleged that Joshua's injuries resulted from being "severely beat[en]" by Hopebridge's staff, "consist[ing] of multiple blows" and "multiple kicks to all parts of Joshua's body." Joshua asserted claims for assault and battery.

         Hopebridge answered, asserting a general denial. After the expiration of 120 days, Hopebridge filed a motion to dismiss and for attorney's fees, contending that Joshua's claims were health care liability claims governed by Chapter 74, which requires, among other things, a plaintiff to serve an expert report on a defendant health care provider not later than 120 days after the defendant files its answer. Because Joshua did not serve an expert report, Hopebridge argued that the trial court must dismiss Joshua's claims with prejudice and award reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351(b)(2).

         After conducting a hearing on Hopebridge's motion to dismiss, the trial court denied the motion.

         Hopebridge timely filed this accelerated interlocutory appeal.[2]

         Analysis

         Hopebridge presents three issues for review. First, it contends that claims for assault and battery against a health care provider are health care liability claims under Chapter 74. Second, it argues that the trial court erred as a matter of law by denying Hopebridge's motion to dismiss. And third, should we agree with its first two issues, it seeks reasonable attorney's fees and court costs under section 74.351(b)(1). We address the first two issues together, then turn to the third.

         A. Chapter 74 Health Care Liability Claims

         The main issue in this appeal-whether Joshua's claims are health care liability claims-turns on the reach of the Texas Medical Liability Act ("TMLA"), a comprehensive medical malpractice reform measure. See Methodist Healthcare Sys. of San Antonio, Ltd. v. Rankin, 307 S.W.3d 283, 287 (Tex. 2010) ("[The TMLA] was enacted in 2003 as part of House Bill 4, a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas malpractice law."). The TMLA is codified at Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Act of June 2, 2003, 78th Leg., R.S., ch. 204, § 10.01, 2003 Tex. Gen. Laws 847, 864-82 (codified at Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code ch. 74). Because this case requires us to interpret the statute to determine whether it extends to Joshua's claims, our review is de novo. Loaisiga v. Cerda, 379 S.W.3d 248, 254-55 (Tex. 2012); Mem'l Hermann Hosp. Sys. v. Kerrigan, 383 S.W.3d 611, 612, 613 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2012, pet. denied).

         1. What is a health care liability claim?

         As relevant here, section 74.351 requires a plaintiff, in cases involving a health care liability claim, to serve on the defendant one or more expert reports, on or before the 120th day after the defendant's original answer is filed. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351(a). An expert report means "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." Id. § 74.351(r)(6).[3] If the plaintiff fails to serve ...


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