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MEYERS v. EPSTEIN

November 14, 2002

GARY MEYERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR SAMARA MEYERS (A MINOR) AND PATRICIA MEYERS, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
FRED EPSTEIN, M.D., IRA RICHMOND ABBOTT, III, M.D., JOHN DOES 1-10, JANE DOES 1-10, ABC CORPORATIONS 1-10 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gabriel W. Gorenstein, United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This case arises out of brain surgery performed on Samara Meyers, who was eleven years old at the time. Plaintiffs, Samara and her parents, allege that a doctor who had no authority to operate on Samara performed her surgery — a situation that is colloquially described as "ghost surgery." The defendants are the doctor who is alleged to have told the Meyers that he alone would be performing the surgery, Dr. Fred Epstein, and the doctor who in fact performed the surgery, Dr. Ira Richmond Abbott, III. The parties have consented to this matter being adjudicated by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

The defendants now move for summary judgment as to all claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. In considering the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the Court accepts the plaintiffs' version of the facts where supported by admissible evidence and draws all factual inferences in plaintiffs' favor. See, e.g., McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999). For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

___In the summer of 1995, Samara Meyers, the daughter of plaintiffs Gary and Patricia Meyers, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Later that year, Dr. Alan Gardner evaluated Samara and discussed with the Meyers family the possibility of removing the tumor and certain risks associated with that procedure. The Meyers family then sought a second opinion from Dr. Epstein. Dr. Epstein recommended surgery for resection of the brain tumor and, on August 21, 1995, Samara was admitted to New York University Medical Center to undergo this operation.

Prior to the surgery, Patricia Meyers signed two consent forms on behalf of Samara. One form authorized "such diagnostic procedure and hospital care and such medical treatment by Dr. Epstein, his assistant or his designees as is necessary in his judgment." The second form authorized "Epstein/Abbott and those whom he may designate as associates or assistants to perform [the operation] upon Samara Meyers."

According to the Meyers, Dr. Epstein told them prior to the surgery that he would be performing the surgery on Samara and that Dr. Abbott would be assisting him. See Certification of Patricia Meyers, dated April 25, 2002, at ¶ 2. Patricia Meyers allegedly told Dr. Epstein: "I know this is a teaching hospital, but I want to make sure that no one is touching my daughter but you." Transcript of the January 3, 2002, Deposition of Patricia Meyers at 58. Dr. Epstein allegedly responded: "Of course I will be the only one. I will be the one performing, I will be the one operating on her." Id. at 59.

Samara's operation took place on August 22, 1995 and was performed by Dr. Abbott. Dr. Epstein did not participate in the operation at all. Moreover, Dr. Abbott does not remember discussing anything with Dr. Epstein during the course of the operation, nor does he remember if Dr. Epstein was even present during the operation. See Transcript of the January 16, 2002, Deposition of Ira Richmond Abbott, M.D. ("Abbott Dep.") at 74-75. In fact, Dr. Epstein had never performed the type of surgery involved in Samara' s operation, at least from the period that Dr. Abbott started working at the hospital. See id. at 44.*fn1 Following the operation, Dr. Epstein came to Samara's parents in the waiting room, where he told them the surgery went fine and that Dr. Abbott was going to be coming up also. Transcript of the January 3, 2002, Deposition of Patricia Meyers at 86-87.

The Meyers have alleged that the surgery caused Samara to experience left side paralysis, cognitive impairments, and a loss of left side peripheral vision in both eyes. Joint Pretrial Order, dated April 9, 2002, at 7. They have abandoned their claim, however, that the operation was improperly performed.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A district court may grant summary judgment only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine issue is one that "may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d at 280. A material issue is a "dispute[] over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Thus, "'[a] reasonably disputed, legally essential issue is both genuine and material'" and precludes a finding of summary judgment. McPherson, 174 F.3d at 280 (quoting Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996)). When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, courts must resolve all ambiguities and draw all ...


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