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Client Alert: MCB Obtains Dismissal in a Decision of First Impression Establishing Cessation of Hospital’s Obligations under EMTALA

September 14, 2016

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On August 25, 2016, Senior Partner Kenneth Larywon, assisted by Partner Gregory Radomisli and Senior Associate Brian Osterman, received District Judge Eric Vitaliano’s decision on a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of our hospital-client.  Judge Vitaliano granted the Motion and dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims as to our clients.  In so doing, in a decision of first impression in the Second Circuit, the Court has definitively established that a hospital’s obligations under the EMTALA statute cease upon the admission of a patient.

 

Briefly, the fifty-two year old male plaintiff was transported by ambulance to the Emergency Department at our client hospital on March 12, 2013, following an alleged assault by various officers of the New York City Police Department. The plaintiff was assigned to the Trauma Area and was in Police Department custody.  He was admitted to Surgery, where he was treated for multiple left-side rib fractures.  On March 16, 2013, the plaintiff was without complaint and had been cleared for discharge but was kept until March 18, 2013 for pain management.  On March 18, 2013, the plaintiff was discharged to the custody of the Police Department.  Plaintiff alleged that the defendants violated the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) and committed malpractice by failing to stabilize him and discharging him to the custody of the NYPD.

 

MCB moved to dismiss the action on the grounds that EMTALA was inapplicable to the plaintiff in this case, as the statute was enacted to prevent hospitals from discharging patients before they were stabilized, and does not apply where the patient is admitted to the hospital.  This is a scenario in which the federal circuits are split, and courts within the Second Circuit had not previously addressed the issue. 

 

Judge Vitaliano agreed with our argument, holding that EMTALA does not apply after a patient has been admitted to the hospital from the Emergency Room.  The Court recognized that allowing a patient to rely on EMTALA as a predicate for federal jurisdiction based upon allegations of negligence arising out of in-patient care would essentially create a federal malpractice statute. 

 

Judge Vitaliano went on to dismiss plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims, holding that our hospital client was not a “person,” and therefore not subject to direct claims for alleged civil rights violations, and that the complaint was not sufficient to demonstrate, even circumstantially, that there was an agreement or concerted action between the City Defendants and the hospital staff to deprive the plaintiff of his civil rights.  The Court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s state law claims.  Accordingly, all of the plaintiff’s claims as to our clients were dismissed. 

 

This decision is especially significant in that it has established precedent within the federal courts of the Second Circuit that a hospital’s obligations under EMTALA do not apply when a patient is admitted to the hospital.  Plaintiffs will no longer be able to bring an action under EMTALA when the patient is admitted.  This is already a positive precedent for all hospitals in New York State.

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