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Fuqua v. V.A. Hospital, Birmingham

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

October 29, 2018

RAY ANTHONY FUQUA, Plaintiff
v.
V.A. HOSPITAL, BIRMINGHAM, AL, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HERMAN N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This medical malpractice action, filed pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, proceeds before the court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10). The court notified the parties it will treat Defendant's motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and allowed the parties an opportunity to submit any additional evidence they deemed pertinent to Defendant's motion. Plaintiff Ray Anthony Fuqua, proceeding pro se, asserts the need to conduct limited discovery before filing any further response to Defendant's motion. Nevertheless, Fuqua responded that he timely filed this action due to a reconsideration request he lodged with the Defendant, which, if construed in his favor, tolled the time for filing this action. (Doc. 23).

         Based upon review of the applicable precedent, authorities, and facts underlying this dispute, Fuqua prevails in his contention he timely filed this action due to the reconsideration request he ostensibly filed with the Defendant. Therefore, the court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         When a party files a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and relies upon material outside of the pleadings in support thereof, the court may accept resort to such material, and therewith, must treat the entreaty as a summary judgment motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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. Rule 56(a). Defendant, as the party seeking summary judgment, bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

         Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “In such a situation, there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 322-23. In addition, a movant may prevail on summary judgment by submitting evidence “negating [an] opponent's claim, ” that is, by producing materials disproving an essential element of a non-movant's claim or defense. Id. at 323 (emphasis in original).

         A non-moving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The “court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (citations omitted). “‘Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.'” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). “Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe.” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151 (citation omitted). “That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that ‘evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'” Id. (citation omitted).

         BACKGROUND

         FTCA Claim

         Plaintiff Ray Anthony Fuqua filed a claim with the United States Department of Veterans' Affairs (“VA”) regarding complications from a knee replacement surgery at the Veterans Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Defendant issued a notice of final denial regarding Fuqua's claim on March 9, 2017, which was mailed on March 13, 2017. (Docs. 10-1 at 2; 10-2 at 2). The notice informed Fuqua that he may file an action in court pursuing his claim “within six months after the date of mailing of [the] notice of final denial as shown by the date of [the] letter . . . .” (Doc. 10-1 at 2).

         In addition, the denial notice also informed Fuqua that he may file a request for reconsideration with the VA by: “(1) mail to Office of General Counsel (021B), 810 Vermont Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20420; (2) fax to 202-273-6385; or (3) email to OGC.torts@mail.va.gov.” (Id.). The VA also advised Fuqua that it must receive any reconsideration request “within six months of the date of mailing” the final denial notice as shown by the date of the letter. (Id.). A properly-filed reconsideration request gave the VA “six months from receipt of that request” to reconsider the claim, “during which the option to file suit in an appropriate federal court . . . [was] suspended.” (Id.).

         Veterans' Benefits Claim

         During the period the VA reviewed Fuqua's FTCA claim, it also assessed a claim for disability benefits tendered by Fuqua. On October 5, 2016, Fuqua applied for disability compensation and benefits seeking “[r]e-establishment of 100% convalescent rate of pay for left knee; right knee arthroplasty [replacement] secondary to left knee condition.” (Doc. 17-1 at 7 & 8-9). On January 25, 2017, a Regional Office of the Department's Veterans Benefits Administration issued a rating decision concerning his October 5, 2016, application, assigning service-connection ratings for his left and ...


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