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Barbara Haysom, et al v. Robert Mcguiness

December 7, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Seeborg United States District Judge

*E-Filed 12/7/11*


Plaintiffs Barbara Haysom, Jeremiah Vargas, and Dorothy Mielke are the decedents of Winifred Vargas. Winifred Vargas died in April 2005, and although the cause of her death is 19 disputed, she died after undergoing voluntary plastic surgery and receiving care in the emergency 20 department at a Kaiser Hospital. In a suit filed in June 2006 before the Alameda County Superior Court, plaintiffs advanced claims against several physicians, nurses, and paramedics, the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and several affiliates, as well as the county coroner, and other state actors.*fn1

The state case proceeded until the California Supreme Court held, in Ruiz v. Podolsky, Cal. 4th 838, 854 (Cal. 2010), that a deceased patient's agreement to arbitrate any potential 25 wrongful death claims may bind her heirs. As a result of that decision, and pursuant to an 26 arbitration agreement signed by Vargas, the Superior Court granted the Kaiser defendants' petition to compel arbitration of plaintiffs' wrongful death claim, over plaintiffs' objections, on February 4, 2011. The Court also stayed the litigation, pending completion of the arbitration.*fn2 Plaintiffs admit 3 that they "have refused to participate in the arbitration selection process, except to reject any 4 arbitrator appointed by OIA [e.g., Kaiser's Office of the Independent Administrator]." Compl., ¶ 5 9. Five arbitrators appointed by OIA have been disqualified by the parties. The Kaiser defendants 6 then filed a pending petition requesting the Superior Court to appoint a neutral arbitrator. See Cal. 7 Code of Civ. Proc. § 1281.6. At a status conference on September 12, 2011, the judge ruled that he 8 would appoint one unless an arbitrator was agreed upon in the next 45 days. 9

September 19, 2011, asking the District Court to set aside the arbitration order and enjoin the Superior Court from bifurcating the litigation and compelling arbitration on plaintiffs' claims against the Kaiser defendants.*fn3 Plaintiffs' request for relief also requests attorneys' fees and costs.

The complaint names all of the defendants in the state court action, as well as the Superior Court judge, the Superior Court, the County, and the state. The state actors and the Kaiser defendants 15 have each filed motions to dismiss. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the motion is suitable for disposition without oral argument, and for the reasons stated below, defendants' motions is granted.

Plaintiffs' complaint borders on frivolous. As an initial matter, as for the merits, plaintiffs' argument that compelled arbitration will prove so expensive as to bar continuation of the case, and 19 thereby violate their constitutional rights, is likely meritless for the reasons discussed in the 20 defendants' briefs. Even putting aside the merits, however, it would be improper for this Court to 21 interfere with the ongoing state court proceedings in present circumstances. In the first instance, 22

Absent "extraordinary circumstances," abstention is required if: (1) the state court proceedings are 24 ongoing; (2) they "implicate important state interests"; (3) there is an "adequate opportunity" to 25

Without seeking redress in the California Court of Appeal, plaintiffs filed this action on Younger abstention undoubtedly applies. See generally Young v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).

raise federal questions; and (4) federal court action would enjoin the proceedings or have the 2 practical effect of doing so, in contravention of Younger. Gilbertson v. Albright, 381 F.3d 965, 978 (9th Cir.2004) (en banc).

As applied here, first, plaintiffs cannot seriously contend that there are no "ongoing" 5 proceedings before the Superior Court because the case has been stayed pending resolution of 6 arbitration. Second, without question, the efficient resolution of malpractice and wrongful death 7 claims qualifies as an "important state interest." See, e.g., Fein v. Permanente Med. Grp., 38 Cal. 8 3d 137, 158-59 (1985) (holding California Civil Code § 3333.2's cap on malpractice damages 9 rationally related to legitimate state interests and therefore constitutionally sound), and 10 Reigelsperger v. Siller, 40 Cal. 4th 574, 577-78 (2007) (requirements for arbitration agreement

concerning medical practice claims, set forth in California Code of Civil Procedure § 1295, advance public policy). Next, plaintiffs do not appear to argue that they have been denied a venue to advance their federal constitutional claims before the Superior Court. Finally, the complaint expressly pleads for an injunction against the Superior Court, thereby implicating Young. Although 15 plaintiffs attempt to argue, at length, that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts the relevant

California statutory scheme, they invoke no authority to suggest that their case presents "extraordinary circumstances" that would warrant intervention in contravention of Young's general 18 rule. As a result, the case must be dismissed as to all defendants with prejudice.*fn4 Plaintiffs' motion 19 for fees and costs is also ...

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