Judge Roger W. Titus handed down a new opinion last week on the interplay between Maryland health claims arbitration and medical malpractice cases in federal court. The nutshell: regardless of what you may have thought, there is no interplay. At all.
Willever v. United States is a medical malpractice wrongful death claim, alleging medical negligence at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda after the death of a U.S. Army captain. Plaintiffs, who lost their husband/father, sought summary judgment on the grounds that the government did not file a certificate of a qualified expert with an attached report saying the hospital and its employees complied with the standard of care or that any departure was not the cause of death. We all have jobs to do but you can’t go home feeling good after filing that motion, can you?
Judge Titus denied the motion, finding:
- Maryland’s health claims arbitration rules conflict with the Federal Rules of Procedure and cannot be applied in Federal Court
- Maryland’s health claims arbitration system rules are procedural, rather than substantive, which means they don’t apply in federal court in Maryland.
- Sovereign immunity prevents the U.S. government from being subject to the certificate and other statutory requirements for malpractice cases in Maryland.
- Even if none of these three rules listed above were not the law, Maryland’s health claims arbitration statute merely allows summary judgment for Plaintiffs at the court’s discretion and the court would not exercise such discretion in this case. (This makes the opinion bulletproof on appeal.)
In Mayo-Parks v. United States, 384 F. Supp. 2d 818 (D. Md. 2005), the court came to a very different conclusion, finding that Maryland health claims arbitration rules have some substantive aspects that must be honored by federal courts. Judge Titus disagrees, taking this opinion head-on: “This Court has carefully reviewed the opinion as well as the original court file in the Mayo-Parks case, and concludes both that the holding in that case was dictum and that the reasoning was unsound.” So there.
I’m not a scholar of the interplay in Maryland medical malpractice cases between the federal courts and Maryland’s health claims arbitration system. So I really don’t know who is right. But I agree with Judge Titus’ decision to use his discretion not to grant summary judgment. I have always been opposed to form prevailing over substance. I don’t think the Plaintiffs should get summary judgment based on the technicality of whether Defendants filed a certificate of defensibility.