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Rothschild v. Braselmann

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

January 4, 2018

MARTIN J. ROTHSCHILD, Appellant,
v.
PETER A. BRASELMANN, Individually and as Agent of ARNOT OGDEN MEDICAL CENTER, et al., Respondents.

          Calendar Date: November 14, 2017

          Cherundolo Law Firm, PLLC, Syracuse (J. Patrick Lannon of counsel), for appellant.

          Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, Albany (Patrick A. Woods of counsel), for Peter A. Braselmann and others, respondents.

          Ricotta & Visco, Buffalo (Thomas J. Callocchia of counsel), for Arnot Ogden Medical Center, respondent.

          Fager Amsler, Keller & Schoppmann, LLP, Latham (Mia D. VanAuken of counsel), for Elmira Urological Associates PC, respondent.

          Napierski, Vandenburgh, Napierski & O'Connor, LLP, Albany (Diane Lufkin Schilling of counsel), for Irwin Lieb and others, respondents.

          Before: Garry, P.J., Lynch, Clark, Aarons and Pritzker, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Pritzker, J.

         Appeal from an order of the Supreme Court (O'Shea, J.), entered September 21, 2016 in Chemung County, which, among other things, granted defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint.

         In 2013 and 2014, plaintiff, while an inmate at Elmira Correctional Facility and Clinton Correctional Facility, suffered serious urological problems that led to hospitalization for septic shock. Plaintiff commenced the instant action (hereinafter the Supreme Court action) in October 2015 alleging negligence and medical malpractice against five doctors and the employers of three of those doctors. Prior to the Supreme Court action, plaintiff filed a claim in the Court of Claims (hereinafter the Court of Claims action) in September 2014, alleging similar negligence and medical malpractice. Also prior to the Supreme Court action, plaintiff filed a complaint pursuant to 42 USC § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (hereinafter the federal action), alleging that the inadequate medical care that he received while incarcerated constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The federal action names as defendants four of the doctors who are defendants in the Supreme Court action - defendants Peter A. Braselmann, Richard Adams, Vonda L. Johnson and Irwin Lieb.

         Defendants all moved to dismiss the complaint in the Supreme Court action pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (4) on the ground that the other actions filed by plaintiff allege the same misconduct. Braselmann, Adams and Johnson, in their motion to dismiss, also sought dismissal of the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (8) on the ground of improper service. Plaintiff opposed these motions and cross-moved to have affidavits of service for Adams and Johnson deemed timely nunc pro tunc. Adams and Johnson opposed the cross motion. Supreme Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (4) and denied plaintiff's cross motion. Supreme Court did not address the motion by Braselmann, Adams and Johnson to dismiss based on improper service. Plaintiff now appeals.

         Initially, the Supreme Court action against Braselmann, Adams and Johnson must be dismissed because Correction Law § 24 deprives Supreme Court of subject matter jurisdiction [1] over state law torts brought against employees of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (hereinafter DOCCS) for actions or omissions within the scope of their employment; rather all such claims must be brought in the Court of Claims (see Bahadur v New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs., 88 A.D.3d 629, 630-631 [2011]). Here, the record establishes that these three doctors are DOCCS employees and any medical malpractice or negligence alleged occurred within the scope of that employment, precluding subject matter jurisdiction in Supreme Court (see Upsher v Ramineni, 84 A.D.3d 653, 653-654 [2011], lv denied 17 N.Y.3d 710');">17 N.Y.3d 710 [2011]; cf. Morell v Balasubramanian, 70 N.Y.2d 297, 300-301 [1987]). Further, as any liability against defendant Arnot Ogden Medical Center would be solely vicarious based upon Braselmann's liability, Supreme Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction as to the claims against it. This determination renders academic plaintiff's remaining contentions regarding dismissal of the Supreme Court action against Braselmann, Adams and Johnson.

         Lieb and defendant Alan Angell are not DOCCS employees; rather, they are medical doctors who provided contractual medical services to plaintiff, hence Correction Law § 24 does not deprive Supreme Court of subject matter jurisdiction (see Morell v Balasubramanian, 70 N.Y.2d at 301; Woodward v State of New York, 23 A.D.3d 852, 855-856 [2005], lv dismissed 6 N.Y.3d 807');">6 N.Y.3d 807 [2006]). Nevertheless, these defendants assert that under CPLR 3211 (a) (4), the Supreme Court action must be dismissed against them as duplicative of the federal action and the Court of Claims action. While the federal court possesses supplemental jurisdiction to hear the state claims (see 28 USC § 1367; Grimmett v Corizon Med. Assoc. of New York, U.S. Dist Ct, S.D. NY, 15-CV-7351, Oetken, J., 2017), this jurisdiction is tethered to plaintiff's federal tort claim alleging a violation of the Eighth Amendment. These two actions proceed under different legal theories inasmuch as the federal claim requires proof that the officials were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical issues (see Estelle v Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 [1976]), whereas medical malpractice requires merely the showing that a departure from accepted medical practice was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries (see Webb v Albany Med. Ctr., 151 A.D.3d 1435, 1436 [2017]; Vaughan v Saint Francis Hosp., 29 A.D.3d 1133, 1136-1137 [2006]). Accordingly, plaintiff may be unable to establish the Eighth Amendment claim, and, while the federal court could still retain the supplemental state claims, it is not required to and the action could be dismissed (see Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v Harvey Gerstman Assoc., Inc., U.S. Dist Ct, ED NY, 11-CV-4825, Feuerstein, J., 2012). Because it is impossible to speculate whether the federal court would dismiss or retain jurisdiction in this situation, the federal action cannot be said to be duplicative, as plaintiff may be unable to obtain full relief therein. Further, even though such a dismissal would not be on the merits, savings provisions that would otherwise permit timely refiling in state court may not be available due to core statute of limitations issues that may be present in a state court action. [2]

         The legal theory in the Court of Claims action is nearly identical to the Supreme Court action, and it is not disputed that the two actions arise out of the same set of facts. Moreover, Correction Law § 24-a provides that licensed physicians providing contractual medical care at the request of DOCCS are covered by the defense and indemnity provisions in Public Officers Law § 17, as long as the injury was not the result of intentional wrongdoing. As such, it appears that the dismissal of the Supreme Court action would not prejudice plaintiff's right to receive full recovery from all defendants, as intentional wrongdoing is not ...


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