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Mitrione v. Monroe

April 19, 2010

ELIZABETH MITRIONE, AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM ON BEHALF OF BRITTANY, INFANT; AND MELISSA, INFANT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PATRICIA MONROE, M.D., AND ADIRONDACK INTERNAL MEDICINE AND PEDIATRICS, P.C., DEFENDANTS,



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is a Motion by Defendants Patricia Monroe, M.D., ("Dr. Monroe") and Adirondack Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, P.C., ("Adirondack") for a new trial, made pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 18, 2009 through August 27, 2009, a jury trial was held before this Court in which Plaintiffs Elizabeth Mitrione, as Guardian Ad Litem on behalf of Melissa Page, and Brittany Page ("Plaintiffs") obtained a successful verdict and award of damages in the amount of $11,000,000 in a medical malpractice action against the Defendants. This trial occurred after an extended period of litigation arising from a Complaint filed by Plaintiffs*fn1 on April 16, 2002. Dkt. No. 1. While the Complaint was initially brought against 14 Defendants, and a number of cross-claims were later made by the current Defendants against others, all Defendants other than Dr. Monroe and Adirondack (collectively, "Defendants") were terminated as parties to the action before the trial commenced.

The medical malpractice claim on which Plaintiffs prevailed at trial arose from a series of events which occurred during 2000 and 2001 involving the sexual abuse of the Plaintiff children by their half-brother, Anthony Mitrione. On August 15, 2000, Catherine Page ("Ms. Page"), the mother of Plaintiffs Brittany and Melissa (at the time, ages nine (9) and seven (7), respectively) read an excerpt of Brittany's diary, in which Brittany wrote that she was "sad all the time because I've been touched in places I don't want to be touched." Compl. ¶ 31. Brittany then told her mother that her half-brother Anthony (at the time, age 14) had touched her genitals, over her clothes, on more than one occasion when he had first moved into the family home, a year prior. Id.; Deposition of Catherine Page ("Page Dep.") at 60-61 (Dkt. No. 81, Attachs. 1-5, Ex. A).

Ms. Page then confronted Anthony, who claimed that he did not remember touching Brittany inappropriately, though if he did, it was accidental. Page Dep. at 61-62. Ms. Page thought that it was possible that Anthony was telling the truth. Id. at 62. However, because Ms. Page "wasn't going to sit and let it, you know, happen again without trying to do something" in case the touching was not accidental, she called the New York state hotline for reporting of child abuse or maltreatment. Id. at 65. The Hotline staff told Ms. Page that they would not take her name to register a report, because the situation was not a matter that they could handle. Id. at 66.

Ms. Page subsequently called Patricia Monroe, M.D., a pediatrician at Adirondack Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, P.C., who had treated Plaintiffs, as well as Anthony, in the past. Page Dep. at 68-69; Medical Records (Dkt. No. 81, Attach. 10, Ex. C1). Ms. Page told Dr. Monroe what Brittany had alleged and Anthony's response. Page Dep. at 69. Ms. Page also told Dr. Monroe that Brittany would be staying at her aunt's house for the next week. See Deposition of Patricia Monroe, M.D. ("Monroe Dep.") at 53-54 (Dkt. No. 81, Attach. 8, Ex. B). Dr. Monroe advised Ms. Page not to leave Brittany alone with Anthony. Page Dep. at 69-70. Dr. Monroe also asked Ms. Page to bring Brittany in if Brittany would be willing to talk to Dr. Monroe. Id. at 72. Ms. Page did not do so because Brittany expressed that she did not want to go. Id. at 72-74.

On or about January 31, 2001, after Brittany reacted angrily to Anthony's suggestion that he accompany her down the street on an errand, Ms. Page "knew that something had happened" and talked to Plaintiffs as well as her other daughters living in the house. Page Dep. at 76-79. The next day, Page called the Hotline and was again told that there was nothing they could do. Id. at 79. Ms. Page again questioned Anthony, but he denied any inappropriate contact with his sisters. Id. at 79-80. Ms. Page called numerous agencies, and also called Dr. Monroe, who asked Ms. Page to bring Plaintiffs in for an examination. Id. at 80-82. The state police had also contacted Dr. Monroe and asked her to evaluate Brittany for suspected sexual abuse. Monroe Dep. at 99. Ms. Page brought Plaintiffs to Dr. Monroe's office and told Dr. Monroe that Plaintiffs had just disclosed additional and more severe instances of sexual abuse against them, committed by Anthony. Medical Records at 11. Dr. Monroe confirmed the stories with Plaintiffs and physically examined them. Id. at 9-11. At that time, Ms. Page told Dr. Monroe that she had begun working nights and leaving the children with a 19-year old babysitter, Elizabeth Mitrione. Id. at 11. On February 6, 2001, Dr. Monroe reported Ms. Page to the State Central Register for failure to supervise the children adequately. Id. Ms. Page brought Anthony to stay at his father's home within two or three days after Ms. Page confronted Anthony on or about January 31, 2001. Page Dep. at 85, 88. Anthony later admitted having inappropriate contact with Plaintiffs on numerous occasions. See generally Deposition of Anthony Mitrone (Dkt. No. 109, Attach. 2).

In their Complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that Dr. Monroe violated a statutory duty to report the abuse, in that she had reasonable cause to suspect that Ms. Page was allowing the abuse to happen. Pls.' Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 119) at 8. They further alleged that Dr. Monroe was negligent in failing to identify the extent of the abuse or conduct physical evaluations that would have revealed the extent of the abuse at an earlier date. Id. at 17. The Plaintiffs made claims against Adirondack on theories of negligent supervision and training, respondeat superior, and that Adirondack also had the statutory duties of a mandated reporter.

In a May 16, 2007 Decision and Order, this Court granted Defendants' Motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 151. On appeal, however, this ruling was affirmed in part and reversed in part. Per a Mandate dated December 23, 2008, the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims that Defendants owed and violated a statutory duty to report Ms. Page to the Hotline for allowing the abuse of her children. The Second Circuit noted that "at the time of the initial reports of abuse [in August 2000], Dr. Monroe had no reason to believe that Catherine Page was neglecting her duty to protect her daughters from abuse." Mandate at 4. As to Plaintiffs' claims of medical malpractice, the Second Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment for the Defendants, noting that Page offered evidence that created at least an inference that had Dr. Monroe herself contacted the Child Protective Services or law enforcement authorities, those authorities would have intervened to stop Anthony's abuse of his half-sisters at some point before February 2001. Accordingly, Page has demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact with respect to whether Dr. Monroe's alleged deviations from the standard of care were the proximate cause of the girls' injuries . . . . Mandate at 6-7.

Thereafter, the case proceeded on the question of Defendants' alleged negligence, while the issue of a violation of statutory reporting duties was dropped. On May 13, 2009, the Court entirely granted cross-Defendants' Motion for summary judgment on the cross-claims that Dr. Monroe and Adirondack had brought against them. Dkt. No. 201. These cross-Defendants were parties who had initially been named as Defendants by Plaintiffs but had subsequently been terminated by stipulation. In dismissing the cross-claims, the Court concluded, inter alia, that as a matter of law Nancy Lewis, a counselor at the Crisis Center of Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties, Inc., did not, as Monroe and Adirondack alleged, breach a duty as a mandated reporter or breach a duty of care, and that the Center did not breach a duty by failing to properly train Lewis. Id. Lewis and the Center were involved in the case after a referral by Brittany's school psychologist, whereupon Lewis started working with Brittany on October 30, 2000, and subsequently saw Brittany on a weekly basis.

After an unauthorized attempt by Defendants to appeal this ruling as to Lewis, the Court denied their Motion for a certificate of appealability on August 11, 2007. Dkt. No. 247. The case proceeded soon thereafter to trial, with jury selection and opening statements occurring on August 18, 2009. At conference, the Court denied Defendants' Motion to bifurcate the liability and damages portions of the trial. Consistent with the verdict returned by the jury on August 27, the Court entered Judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs on August 28, with the Defendants liable to the Plaintiffs for $11,000,000. Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law at several junctures. Transcripts. Dkt. Nos. 297 at 178; 299 at 206; 300 at 129. The Court granted an extension of time for post-trial motions, and the Defendants made the instant Motion for a new trial on September 4, 2009. In the affidavit of attorney Kelly Monroe submitted with the Motion, Defendants term the relief they seek as "judgment as a matter of law and/or a new trial, pursuant to FRCP 50(b) and/or 59 and/or N.Y.N.D. L.R. 7.1(g) . . . . [or, in the alternative,] that the jury award of damages be reduced by the Court as excessive . . . ." Dkt No. 288 Attachment No. 1. In the memorandum of law submitted with the Motion, Defendants advance arguments in support of a new trial, and the memorandum concludes with the request that the "verdict should be set aside and a new trial ordered." Dkt. No. 288 at 5. The Court turns now to that Motion.

II. DISCUSSION

a. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) specifies that a "movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59." A court considering a renewed motion under this provision may allow judgment on the verdict, order a new ...


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