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Griffith v. Santillan

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

October 21, 2019

MICHAEL DOUGLAS GRIFFITH, as owner of the M/V Wellcraft Center Console, ET AL. Petitioners.
v.
PAUL SANTILLAN, ET AL. Claimants.

          ORDER

          ANDREW M. EDISON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before me is a request that I order Claimant Paul Santillan ("Santillan") to submit to an independent medical examination pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35 ("Rule 35"). See Dkt. 37. After reviewing the parties' written submissions, hearing oral argument, and reviewing the applicable case law, I believe an independent medical examination ("IME") is appropriate in this case.

         BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arose from an incident that occurred during a fishing trip aboard the M/V Wellcraft Center Console Charter Boat (the "Vessel") in the summer of 2017. According to Santillan, the driver of the Vessel accelerated to a very high rate of speed, hit the wake of a wave, and launched Santillan, a passenger on the Vessel, out of his seat. When Santillan landed back on the Vessel, he says that he struck the seat extremely hard, suffering immediate pain and injuries to his neck, lower back, and tailbone area. Santillan further alleges that the driver continued to operate the Vessel in a negligent manner and at a high rate of speed, causing him to fly upward a second time, further aggravating his injuries.

         Petitioners Michael Douglas, Jr. and Lori Griffith, as owners of the Vessel, and Michael Coleton Griffith, individually and d/b/a Get Fishy Charters, as owner pro hac vice of the Vessel (collectively "Petitioners"), invoked this Court's admiralty jurisdiction by filing a Complaint and Petition for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability. Santillan timely filed a claim seeking damages for personal injuries he allegedly sustained as a result of the incident.

         Petitioners have requested that Santillan undergo an IME with. Dr. Michael Kaldis, a Board-Certified orthopedic surgeon. Santillan has objected to the request for an IME, claiming that Petitioners have failed to establish good cause for conducting such an examination.

         ANALYSIS

         Rule 35 provides that a district court "may order a party whose mental or physical condition ... is in controversy to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner." Fed.R.Civ.P. 35(a). Such an order may be made "only on motion for good cause and on notice to all parties and the person to be examined." Id.

         Although an order for a physical examination is not automatically granted in all cases, district courts in the Fifth Circuit have uniformly held that Rule 35(a) should be construed liberally in favor of granting discovery. See, e.g., Valenzuela v. Willete, No. 5:14-cv-00062, 2015 WL 12843209, at *1 (S.D. Tex. May 15, 2015); Lahr v. Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP, 164 F.R.D. 204, 207 n.1 (N.D. Tex. 1996). Ultimately, the decision on whether to order an IME is left to the sound discretion of the district court. See Teche Lines v. Boyette, 111 F.2d 579, 581 (5th Cir. 1940).

         "Rule 35, as contrasted with the other discovery provisions, is distinct in its requirements that the party requesting such a mental or physical examination must affirmatively establish that the condition is 'in controversy' and 'good cause' exists for the examination, two requirements which are 'necessarily related.'" Ornelas v. S. Tire Mart, LLC, 292 F.R.D. 388, 391 (S.D. Tex. 2013) (citation omitted). All the requirements under Rule 35(a) are satisfied in this case.

         A. Santillan's Condition Is "In Controversy"

         It is undisputed that Santillan's medical and physical condition is "in controversy." Indeed, Santillan has put his medical and physical condition at issue by asserting a negligence claim. See Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104, 119 (1964) ("A plaintiff in a negligence action who asserts mental or physical injury places that mental or physical injury clearly in controversy.") (citation omitted). A cursory glance at Santillan's Answer, Affirmative Defenses, and Claim for Damages clearly reflects that Santillan's medical and physical condition are of critical importance to his personal injury claim:

• "As [a] result of Mr. Griffith's negligence, [Santillan] sustained severe personal injuries, including a compression fracture of his second lumbar vertebra." Dkt. 12 at 2
• "Due to the gravity of the injuries stated above, [Santillan] has had to seek reasonable and necessary medical care and attention, and this has caused [Santillan] to incur reasonable and necessary medical expenses for the ...

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