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Estate of Bergman v. Eastern Idaho Health Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 6, 2015

ESTATE OF VERNON BERGMAN, acting through personal representative, SANDRA K. BERGMAN; SANDRA K. BERGMAN, surviving child of Vernon Bergman, ANNE M. BERGMAN, surviving child of Vernon Bergman; and LESLIE J. BERGMAN, surviving child of Vernon Bergman, Plaintiff,
v.
EASTERN IDAHO HEALTH SERVICES, INC., an Idaho corporation d/b/a EASTERN IDAHO REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, INTERMOUNTAIN EMERGENCY PHYSICIANS, PLLC, JOSEPH ANDERSON, and TYLER CHRISTENSEN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Declare Idaho Law as Governing this Action and Motion to Compel Election (Dkt. 18). For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege the following facts:

On April 30, 2011, Vernon Bergman and his daughter Sandra were driving through Idaho on the way to their residence in Montana. See Compl., Dkt. 1, ¶ XI. A few miles north of Dubois, Idaho, Mr. Bergman "underwent an altered mental status while in the car...." Id. He complained of weakness, numbness and difficulty standing. He was taken to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

While at the hospital, Mr. Bergman was left unattended and unrestrained in his room. He fell and struck his head. A CT scan taken after the fall indicated he had "an extra-axial hemorrhage adjacent to the left parietal region, with a crescentic configuration, suggesting a hematoma." Id. ¶ XVII. After the fall, Mr. Bergman remained at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center for over six weeks, until June 17, 2011. After his discharge, Mr. Bergman resumed his journey to Montana, where he was placed in rehabilitative care. His condition continued to deteriorate until he passed away on March 28, 2012.

Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Bergman "suffered a severe and debilitating brain injury while a patient at EIRMC." Id. ¶ XXIII. They further allege that "[h]e never recovered from the effects of this injury which ultimately was a substantial factor in his death." Id.

In April 2013, plaintiffs filed this action, alleging that defendants negligently cared for Mr. Bergman. In this motion, defendants ask the Court to "declare that Idaho law governs this matter." Motion, Dkt. 18, at 1. They further request an order compelling "Plaintiffs to elect whether this lawsuit is prosecuted by the individual heirs of Vernon Bergman or by the [estate's] personal representative." Id.

ANALYSIS

1. Defendants' Motion to Declare Idaho as the Governing Law in this Action

The Court will deny defendants' motion for a ruling that Idaho law governs this entire action, though it will do so without prejudice. There are two key problems with defendants' motion - one procedural and one substantive.

Procedurally, defendants do not identify the basis of their motion. They do not say whether they are moving for dismissal, summary judgment, partial summary judgment, or for some other form of relief. Plaintiffs justly complain that it is difficult to respond to such a motion. Response, Dkt. 20, at 2.

Ultimately, however, it is apparent that defendants seek a ruling that will defeat plaintiffs' demand for damages arising from Mr. Bergman's alleged pain and suffering. Plaintiffs acknowledge this point in their response, stating that "Defendants want Idaho law to apply because it would defeat the Estate of Vernon Bergman's claims for his own pain and suffering resulting from the tortious conduct of EIRMC and/or its agents." Response, Dkt. 20, at 8. Under these circumstances, the logical procedural choice is a motion for partial summary judgment. Rule 56 allows parties to move for summary judgment on part of a claim or defense. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) ("A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought.") (emphasis added). The Court therefore intends to treat defendants' motion as one for partial summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion without prejudice, which will allow both sides the opportunity to provide additional evidence and briefing.

A more substantive problem with defendants' motion is that it does not focus on a specific issue. Rather, defendants ask the Court to issue a blanket ruling that Idaho law governs this entire action. A choice-of-law analysis, however, is not only claim-specific, it is issue -specific. See generally Seubert Excavators, Inc. v. Anderson Logging Co., 889 P.2d 82, 85 (Idaho 1995) (choice-of-law analysis in tort action is meant to "to identify the state most significantly related to a particular issue and to apply its law to resolve that issue ") (emphasis added); Jaffe v. Pallotta TeamWorks, 374 F.3d 1223, 1227 (D.C. Cir. 2004) ("choice of law analysis is performed for each issue adjudicated, therefore a different law can apply to different issues"). The Court will therefore deny defendants' motion to ...


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