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Smith v. United States Government

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 28, 2019

CHARLES E. SMITH, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Charles E. Smith, representing himself, brings claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for “gross negligence” and lost property against David Grant United States Air Force Medical Center (“DGMC”) and the United States Department of the Air Force (together, “the United States” or “Defendant”) arising out of medical treatment Plaintiff received in December 2015. (Dkt. No. 1.)[1] Now before the Court is Defendant's[2] motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's medical malpractice claims alleging Defendant's conduct caused him to suffer a hernia and stroke.[3] (Dkt. No. 37.) After careful consideration of the parties' briefing, and having had the benefit of oral argument on June 20, 2019, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion in part and DENIES it in part.

         The Court denies the motion to the extent Defendant contends that expert testimony is required to prove that hospital personnel breached the standard of care. Such a ruling cannot be made on this record. However, Defendant has satisfied its burden on summary judgment of demonstrating the absence of evidence on the causation element of Plaintiff's claims related to his abdominal hernia and stroke, and Plaintiff fails to raise a genuine dispute of material fact on that score. In particular, Plaintiff cannot prevail on his claims that Defendant's conduct caused his hernia and/or stroke in the absence of expert testimony. Because Plaintiff does not have expert testimony, summary judgment is granted on his claims to the extent he seeks to recover damages for his hernia and stroke.


         I. Factual Background

         On December 14, 2015, Plaintiff reported for surgery at DGMC, which is located at Travis Air Force Base, to remove polyps from his colon. (Dkt. No. 1 at 9.) DGMC medical staff removed Plaintiff's “dental appliances” (i.e., dentures) to prepare him for surgery. (Id.) The day after his surgery Plaintiff inquired with DGMC nurses and his surgeons regarding his dental appliances and they “assured him that [his dental appliances] would be found.” (Id.)

         On the morning of December 17, 2015, while still hospitalized and recovering from his surgery, Plaintiff suffered a stroke after DGMC medical staff did not provide Plaintiff with his “regularly prescribed medic[ation]” and subjected him to “45-minutes of trauma” in attempting to relocate Plaintiff's intravenous tubes (“IV”). (Id. at 4, 8-9.) DGMC personnel forcibly “insert[ed] needles into each of Plaintiff's arms at the same time trying to find a vein to relocate the IV, ” despite Plaintiff's “resistance and objection.” (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff suffered a stroke “approximately one hour later.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff was then transferred to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital (“VA Hospital”) in Martinez, California on December 22, 2015, “for rehabilitation from the stroke.” (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff remained hospitalized there until December 31, 2015. (Id. at 9.) Prior to being transferred, Plaintiff asked the DGMC staff each day whether his dental appliances “had been found.” (Id.) He also inquired about his missing dental appliances with VA Hospital staff. (Id.) Plaintiff's dental appliances were never found. (Id. at 8.)

         Due to his missing dental appliances, “Plaintiff lost many teeth.” (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff further suffered an abdominal hernia because he “could not properly chew and digest food, ” and underwent surgery for that hernia in September 2016. (Id.) Plaintiff continues to suffer residuals from his December 2015 stroke. (Id.)

         The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff's complaint states at least three claims: (1) property loss based on the missing dental appliances; (2) “gross negligence” based on the abdominal hernia resulting from the lost dental appliances (“hernia claim”); and (3) “gross negligence” based on acts and omissions of DGMC medical personnel on December 17, 2015 that resulted in a stroke (“stroke claim”). Defendant moves for summary judgment only as to Plaintiff's hernia and stroke claims.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on July 12, 2018, bringing FTCA claims for lost property and “gross negligence” related to medical treatment received at the DGMC on December 14, 2015 and December 17, 2015, respectively. Following the initial case management conference on December 27, 2018, (see Dkt. No. 28), and further case management conference on April 4, 2019, (see Dkt. No. 35), the Court issued an order setting forth the briefing schedule for Defendant's motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 36). The scheduling order set a deadline of June 7, 2019 for Plaintiff to file his opposition. (Dkt. No. 36 at 2.)

         Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment on April 9, 2019. (Dkt. No. 37.) Plaintiff filed his opposition on June 11, 2019; however, the opposition is signed and dated June 7, 2019. (See Dkt. No. 39.) The Court heard oral argument on June 20, 2019.


         On summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Where the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial for the underlying claims, it satisfies its burden if it can show that there is an absence of evidence to support “an element essential to [the nonmovant's] case, and on which [the nonmovant] will bear the burden of proof at trial, ” and the nonmovant ...

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