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The Estate of Richardson v. Healthcare

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

August 1, 2017

LIFEPOINT HEALTHCARE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs Theresa Richardson and John G. Stephens, proceeding pro se, initiated this action on behalf of the estate of Harold Lee Richardson (“Richardson”) on January 10, 2017.[1][ECF No. 3]. Plaintiffs are alleging violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) and unlawful discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 as well as medical malpractice and wrongful death under Virginia law. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [ECF No. 6]. The matter was fully briefed, and oral arguments were held on July 25, 2017. The matter is now ripe for a decision. For the reasons stated below, I will grant Defendants' Motion and dismiss the federal claims. Consequently, I will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).


         On December 8, 2014, Richardson went to the Danville Regional Medical Center (“DRMC”)[3] with a sore throat. (Id. at ¶ 9.) He was examined and “told he had a cold or perhaps a light flu.” (Id.) A throat culture was taken, and he was released with antibiotics prior to receiving the results. (Id.) Richardson returned to DRMC on December 11, 2014, and was diagnosed with strep throat. (Id. at ¶ 10.) According to the Complaint,

Mr. Richardson walked into [DRMC] with strep throat and 16 days later was “dumped” to a lesser facility, placed in a coma, transferred to [the ICU at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital] and removed from life support eight days later in Greensboro, North Carolina. [Twenty -four] days after walking into [DRMC] with strep throat[, ] Mr. Richardson was dead.

(Id. at ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiffs allege “multiple instances of gross medical negligence, physical abuse, and racial discrimination . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 6.) They claim that they were discriminated against for being Jewish in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiffs allege that “[w]hen walking away from one group of [four] personnel she spoke with[, ] Mrs. Richardson heard ‘what do you expect, she's a fucking Jew.'” (Id. at ¶ 23.) Apparently, this was the second time that Mrs. Richardson had heard a reference to “fucking Jews.” (Id.) They further allege that Richardson's death was caused by “student doctors” who were not licensed to practice medicine. (Id. at ¶ 12.) When Richardson was eventually transferred from DRMC to Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Regional One EMS employees[4] that provided the transfer “were not paramedics and not qualified to transport a patient . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 26.) Defendants allegedly violated the FCA when they billed Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other, unnamed agencies for the work of unlicensed practitioners. Plaintiffs seek to “recover all sums fraudulently billed to Medicare, the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs], and other government agencies by [Defendants] for unlicensed medical providers.” (Id. at ¶ 5).

         The False Claims Act claim is brought on behalf of the United States. When Plaintiffs first filed this suit, it was not clear that they intended to proceed as qui tam plaintiffs until they filed a motion to put the Complaint under seal. (See Mot. to File Doc. Under Seal, Jan. 30, 2017 [ECF No. 6].) At that point, the Court issued an Order putting the entire case under seal in order to serve a copy of the Complaint upon the United States and provide the United States Attorney with an opportunity to intervene. (See Order, Jan. 31, 2017 [ECF No. 7].) The case was also stayed during this period. (See Order Staying Case, Feb. 14, 2017 [ECF No. 20].) The United States declined to intervene. (See Not. of Election to Decline Intervention, Mar. 30, 2017 [ECF No. 24].) Shortly thereafter, the case was unsealed, and the stay was lifted. (See Order, Apr. 4, 2017 [ECF No. 25].)

         After the United States declined to intervene, Plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the Complaint. (Mot. to Am., Apr. 18, 2017 [ECF No. 42].) Plaintiffs stated that they had “retained Thomas C. Wagner[5] . . . to assist them in obtaining appropriate representation in this case. Plaintiffs have contacted attorneys and anticipate that they will have appropriate counsel retained and an appearance entered in the very near future.” (Id. at p. 2 (emphasis added).) Plaintiffs were given fourteen days to file an amended complaint. (See Order, Apr. 21, 2017 [ECF No. 43].) On the fourteenth day, Plaintiffs asked for an extension. (See Mot. for Extension of Time, May 5, 2017 [ECF No. 44].) Plaintiffs requested a one-year extension. (Id. at p. 6.) Apparently, Plaintiffs were in the process of hiring a team of sixteen attorneys, and this legal team would need additional time to prepare an amended complaint. (Id. at p. 3) Plaintiffs did not identify these attorneys, and no attorney has filed a notice of appearance. Because Plaintiffs had already told the Court that they would be ready to proceed “in the very near future, ” the extraordinary length of time requested, and the fact that this case had already been subject to multiple delays, the Motion to extend the deadline was denied. (See Order, May 9, 2017 [ECF No. 56].) Defendants were given fourteen days to respond to the original Complaint. (Id.)

         On May 22, 2017, Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss currently before the Court. Defendants seek dismissal on multiple grounds: (1) failure to state a claim; (2) lack of standing to bring an FCA claim; (3) failure to comply with the statute of limitations; and (4) failure to file a certification of merit as required by Va Code § 8.01-20.1. Because I will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims, there is no reason to reach the statute of limitations or certification issues.


         As an initial matter, pro se complaints are held to “‘less stringent standards than the formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). District courts must give liberal interpretations to pleadings filed by pro se litigants but are not required to “conjure up questions never squarely presented to them.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Pleadings must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint must contain sufficient “[f]actual allegations . . . to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. ...

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