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Anderson v. Stiniker

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

July 26, 2017

KYLE ANDERSON, M.D., APPELLANT
v.
SUZANNE STINIKER, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF MIKEL STONEAND AS GUARDIAN OF THE PERSON AND ESTATE OFWHITLEY TAYLOR STONE, AND EREK MIKEL STONE, APPELLEES

         On Appeal from the 72nd District Court Lubbock County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-517, 304; Honorable Ruben G. Reyes, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and HANCOCK and PIRTLE, JJ. [1]

          OPINION

          PATRICK A. PIRTLE JUSTICE

         By this permissive appeal, [2] we are asked to determine, as a case of first impression, whether a licensed physician who provides emergency or postemergency services in a hospital owned or operated by a local government unit, but who is not employed by that hospital, is a "public servant" whose personal liability under certain circumstances is capped at $100, 000 pursuant to section 108.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.[3] Following the filing of a wrongful death and health care liability suit by Appellees, Suzanne Stiniker, as Administrator of the Estate of Mikel Stone and as Guardian of the Person and Estate of Whitley Taylor Stone and Erek Mikel Stone (collectively Stiniker), Appellant, Kyle Anderson, M.D., moved for partial summary judgment on the ground that he is a "public servant" covered under section 108.002(a) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code which limited his personal liability. Stiniker responded that Dr. Anderson's liability is not capped because he is an independent contractor and an employee of a privately-owned professional association and is, therefore, excepted from the definition of a "public servant." The trial court denied Dr. Anderson's motion and he filed for a permissive appeal which this court granted. Finding that a physician under those circumstances is a public servant for purposes of that section, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand this cause to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Mikel Stone underwent surgery for rectal bleeding and hemorrhoid disease at University Medical Center (UMC), a local government hospital on February 5, 2015. According to the surgical physician, Mr. Stone "tolerated the procedure well" and was discharged from UMC and taken home by private vehicle at approximately 2:30 p.m. While convalescing at home, Mr. Stone began to experience pain and other symptoms and was transported back to UMC by ambulance around 7:41 p.m. At UMC, he was evaluated by a triage nurse and Dr. Anderson, an emergency room physician who did not perform the original surgery. Dr. Anderson ordered a CT scan with IV contrast, and at approximately 10:11 p.m., Dr. Anderson reviewed the results of those tests with the surgeon who performed the original surgery and then diagnosed Mr. Stone with urinary retention followed by abdominal pain, renal impairment, nausea and vomiting, intra-abdominal hemorrhage, and hyponatremia. Mr. Stone was re-admitted and the following morning, while awaiting a nasogastric tube placement, experienced cardio-pulmonary arrest and died. An autopsy revealed a transmural rectum defect, hemoperitoneum, and pulmonary edema.

         Stiniker filed a wrongful death and survival health care liability claim against Dr. Anderson and others, seeking compensation for damages arising from Mr. Stone's death. Stiniker sought recovery of compensatory and exemplary damages based on allegations of negligent medical care and treatment rendered to Mr. Stone by Dr. Anderson during his time at the UMC emergency department.

         Dr. Anderson subsequently filed his Motion for Partial Summary Judgment seeking a legal declaration that his liability, if any, was capped at $100, 000 under the provisions of section 108.002. On May 19, 2016, the trial court signed an order denying his motion. Dr. Anderson then sought to invoke the jurisdiction of this court, pursuant to the permissive appeal provisions of section 51.014(d), [4] contending the issue of his status as a "public servant" for purposes of section 108.002 was a controlling question of law as to which there was a substantial ground for a difference of opinion and an immediate resolution of that issue would materially advance the ultimate resolution of the pending litigation. The trial court signed an order permitting an interlocutory appeal and staying all further proceedings pending a resolution of that issue via an interlocutory appeal, if granted. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 168. We subsequently granted Dr. Anderson the right to file a permissive appeal of the trial court's interlocutory order of May 19, 2016.

         Controlling Issue

         By a single issue, Dr. Anderson contends the trial court erred by denying his motion for partial summary judgment because his liability, if any, is capped under section 108.002(a) since he is a "public servant" as defined by section 108.001(3). Stiniker contends those liability limitations do not apply because Dr. Anderson is an independent contractor, excepted from the definition of "public servant" by section 108.001(2). Through various shades and phases of that single issue, Dr. Anderson contends the trial court incorrectly resolved the internal definitional conflict, as applied in this case, between the exclusionary provisions of section 108.001(2) and the inclusionary provisions of section 108.001(3).

         Applicable Law

         As applicable to the facts of this case, section 108.001 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides the following definitions: In this chapter:

(1) "Public servant" means a person who is:
(A)a public official elected or appointed to serve a governmental unit and acting in that capacity when the act or omission on which the damages were based occurred; or
(B)covered by Section 104.001 or Section 102.001.
(2)"Public servant" does not include an independent contractor, an agent or employee of an independent contractor, or another person who performs a contract for a unit of government.
(3) "Public servant" includes a licensed physician who provides emergency or postemergency stabilization services to patients in a hospital owned or operated by a unit of local government.

         Likewise, the limitation of liability provisions of Section 108.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code provide as follows:

(a)Except in an action arising under the constitution or laws of the United States, a public servant is not personally liable for damages in excess of $100, 000 arising from personal injury, death, or deprivation of a right, privilege, or immunity if:
(1) the damages are the result of an act or omission by the public servant in the course and scope of the public servant's office, employment, or contractual performance for or service on behalf of a state agency, ...

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