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Mattox v. Life Care Ctrs. of Am., Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 29, 2014

GENE L. MATTOX, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of ROSAMOND VIVIAN MATTOX, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LIFE CARE CENTERS OF AMERICA, INC., d/b/a LIFE CARE OF LEWISTON, a Tennessee Corporation, Defendant-Respondent, and JOHN DOES I-V, JANE DOES VI-X, and JOHN DOE CORPORATIONS XI-XX, Defendants

2014 Opinion No. 113.

Page 628

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 629

Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Nez Perce County. Hon. Carl B. Kerrick, District Judge.

The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded.

Law Offices of Todd S. Richardson, PLLC, Clarkston, Washington, for appellant. Todd S. Richardson argued.

Garrett Richardson, PLLC, Eagle, for respondent. Bradley S. Richardson argued.

J. JONES, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices EISMANN and HORTON and Justice Pro Tem WALTERS CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 630

[157 Idaho 471] J. JONES, Justice

This is a medical malpractice case arising out of the treatment of Rosamond Mattox at Life Care of Lewiston (LCL). The plaintiff-appellant, Rosamond's son Gene Mattox, claimed that LCL's sub-standard care caused his mother's death. The district court excluded Gene's experts' affidavits after concluding that they failed to demonstrate actual knowledge of the applicable standard of health care practice. The district court then granted summary judgment in favor of LCL.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Life Care of Lewiston is a skilled nursing home that provides long-term and rehabilitative care in Lewiston, Idaho. Rosamond Mattox was a resident of LCL from 2003 until October 31, 2008, when she fractured her femur in a fall at age eighty-eight. She was transported to Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston, Washington. Emergency room physicians administered pain medication, after which Rosamond experienced nausea, vomiting, and aspiration. She suffered a progressive decline in respiratory status and was judged to be too unstable to proceed with what would have been a major surgery to repair her fracture. Having been placed in " comfort care" status, Rosamond's respiratory condition continued to decline and she died shortly after midnight on November 1, 2008. Her son, Gene, filed a complaint against Life Care Centers of America, Inc.--the entity that owns and operates LCL--and unnamed individuals involved in the care of his mother, alleging that she had a history of falling, LCL was aware of that history, LCL failed to provide adequate care to prevent future falls and resulting injuries, and LCL's sub-standard care was a proximate cause of her death.

LCL moved for summary judgment on the ground that Gene had failed to identify an expert who could testify that LCL's care fell below the standard of care for a skilled nursing facility in Lewiston in October of 2008 and that he had not produced any evidence that LCL's care was a proximate cause of Rosamond's death. LCL supported its motion with an affidavit from Carol McIver, the Director of Nursing Services for LCL at the

Page 631

[157 Idaho 472] time of Rosamond's death. In her very brief affidavit, Nurse McIver opined that " the care and treatment provided to Rosamond Mattox by the staff at Life Care Center of Lewiston complied in all respects with the applicable standard of health care practice." [1]

Gene responded with two affidavits.[2] The first was from Dr. Jayme Mackay, Rosamond's primary care physician. Dr. Mackay stated that LCL's failure to follow his orders and LCL's own care plan for Rosamond was " a breach of the standard of care owed" to her. Dr. Mackay also discussed in detail his view that Rosamond's fall proximately caused her death. The second affidavit was from Wendy Thomason, a nurse with experience in skilled nursing homes outside of the Lewiston area. Nurse Thomason claimed that she acquired knowledge of the local standard of care by conducting interviews with four local professionals, reviewing the affidavit of Nurse McIver, reviewing state and federal regulations, and reviewing material concerning LCL, such as reviews, ratings, awards, and complaints. According to Nurse Thomason, LCL's care for Rosamond fell below the standard of care when it failed to follow Dr. Mackay's orders and its own care plan, which were intended to prevent Rosamond from suffering further falls and resulting injuries.

LCL argued that both affidavits were inadmissible because neither Nurse Thomason nor Dr. Mackay demonstrated that they had actual knowledge of the applicable standard of care as required by Idaho Code section 6-1013. Specifically, LCL argued that neither affidavit was admissible because the affiants failed to show that they had " actual knowledge of the applicable standard of health care practice for a long-term care facility in Lewiston during October of 2008."

The district court issued an opinion and order striking the affidavits of Nurse Thomason and Dr. Mackay and granting summary judgment to LCL. It held that the affidavits failed to establish that either Nurse Thomason or Dr. Mackay had actual knowledge of the " local standard of care for nurses in a skilled nursing facility in Lewiston, Idaho, in October, 2008." As a result, it concluded that neither affidavit was admissible under Section 6-1013. It then granted summary judgment for LCL due to the absence of evidence in the record to raise a question of material fact regarding whether LCL was negligent in caring for Rosamond. The district court thereupon entered judgment in favor of LCL, dismissing the complaint. Gene filed a timely appeal.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

" On appeal from the grant of a motion for summary judgment, this Court utilizes the same standard of review used by the district court originally ruling on the motion." Arregui v. Gallegos-Main, 153 Idaho 801, 804, 291 P.3d 1000, 1003 (2012). Summary judgment is proper when " the pleadings, depositions, 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." I.R.C.P. 56(c).

Page 632

[157 Idaho 473] When considering " whether the evidence shows a genuine issue of material fact, the trial court must liberally construe the facts, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Arregui, 153 Idaho at 804, 291 P.3d at 1003.

" The admissibility of expert testimony, however, is a threshold matter that is distinct from whether the testimony raises genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment." Id. With respect to the threshold issue of admissibility, " [t]he liberal construction and reasonable inferences standard does not apply . . . ." Dulaney v. St. Alphonsus Reg'l Med. Ctr., 137 Idaho 160, 163, 45 P.3d 816, 819 (2002). Instead, " [t]he trial court must look at the witness' affidavit or deposition testimony and determine ...


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