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Arsenault v. Bhattacharya

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex

August 3, 2016


          Heard: April 13, 2016.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October 21, 2013.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Robert A. Cornetta, J., and a motion for reconsideration was considered by him.

          David Newton for the plaintiff.

          Andrew F. Newton for the defendant.

          Present: Vuono, Meade, & Carhart, JJ.

          CARHART, J.

         In this case, we must decide whether dismissal without prejudice was the appropriate remedy for a failure by the plaintiff, Patricia Arsenault, to provide notice to the defendant, Subroto Bhattacharya, of her intention to sue, as required by G. L. c. 231, § 60L. See St. 2012, c. 224, § 221 ("An Act improving the quality of health care and reducing costs through increased transparency, efficiency and innovation"). The statute is silent as to remedies for a failure to comply with its terms, and there are no decisions interpreting it. See Ashley v. New York State Office of Children & Family Servs., 33 F.Supp.3d 76, 78 n.l (D. Mass. 2014). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that "less Draconian consequences than dismissal" were available and should have been considered by the judge. Paquette v. Department of Envtl. Protection, 55 Mass.App.Ct. 844, 849 (2002). Consequently, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter to Superior Court.


         1. Section 60L.

         We begin with a brief overview of G. L. c. 231, § 60L, set forth in full in the margin.[1] Pursuant to § 60L (a), a plaintiff must give written notice to a health care provider of an intent to file suit 182 days before commencing an action alleging medical malpractice. Notice is not required if the plaintiff "did not identify and could not reasonably have identified a health care provider to which notice shall be sent as a potential party to the action before filing the complaint, " G. L. c. 231, § 60L(d), or if the plaintiff files suit "within [six] months of the statute of limitations expiring ... or within [one] year of the statute of repose expiring as to any claimant." G. L. c. 231, § 60L (j). Nothing in § 60L prohibits "the filing of suit at any time in order to seek court orders to preserve and permit inspection of tangible evidence." G. L. c. 231, § 60L (k) . Section 60L, which applies to actions filed pursuant to G. L. c. 231, § 60B, [2] became effective on November 4, 2012.

         2. The complaint.

         Taking the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, see Ryan v. Holie Donut, Inc., 82 Mass.App.Ct. 633, 635 (2012), the defendant was the plaintiff's primary care physician when he began treating her in January, 2008, for carpal tunnel and cervical spondylosis with radiculopathy.[3] In August, 2008, the defendant administered a cortisone injection to the plaintiff's left wrist. In March and October 2009, the defendant injected both of the plaintiff's wrists with cortisone, and on January 21, 2010, he administered a final cortisone shot to the plaintiff's right wrist.

         On February 1, 2010, the plaintiff met with a surgeon because of a substantial tearing and popping feeling in her right wrist. One week later she underwent surgery on her right wrist. The plaintiff had further surgery on her right wrist in May and June, 2010, and August, 2011, and had surgery on her left wrist in June, 2010. On April 5, 2012, she underwent an independent medical examination by another doctor who found that she had "developed extensor tendon ruptures as a result of her cortisone injections."[4]

         In her complaint filed in Superior Court on October 21, 2013, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant knew or should have known that giving her multiple cortisone shots would increase the risk of rupture to her wrists, especially in light of a letter dated August 1, 2012, that he prepared in connection with the plaintiff's workers' compensation claim. That letter states that "[b]ecause of previous cortisone shots there is a significant risk of tendon rupture of the left side still." The plaintiff alleges that the defendant deviated from the appropriate standard of medical care when he negligently gave her the cortisone shots, which caused a double rupture of her right wrist and resulted in her being totally and permanently disabled.


         A motion to dismiss under Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) "is concerned with the sufficiency of the pleadings." Bayless v. TTS Trio Corp., 474 Mass. 215, 223 (2016). "To survive a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must 'plausibly suggest . . . an entitlement to relief.'" Coghlin Elec. Contractors, Inc. v. Gilbane Bldg. Co., 472 Mass. 549, 554 (2015), quoting from Flagg v. AliMed, Inc., 466 Mass. 23, 26-27 (2013). "A court may grant the radical relief of dismissal only if the plaintiff can set forth no set of facts which would entitle her to relief." Coraccio v. Lowell Five Cents Sav. Bank, 415 Mass. 145, 147 (1993). "Dismissals on the basis of pleadings, before facts have been found, are discouraged." Fabrizio v. Quincy, 9 Mass.App.Ct. 733, 734 (1980). We review de novo the judge's allowance of the motion to dismiss. See Ryan, 82 Mass.App.Ct. at 635.

         3. Procedural posture.

         After return of service was docketed on January 28, 2014, the defendant moved pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), 365 Mass. 755 (1974), to dismiss on the basis that the action was barred by the statute of limitations and by the plaintiff's failure to provide notice pursuant to § 60L. After a hearing, the motion judge, a District Court judge sitting by designation in the Superior Court, found that the plaintiff's cause of action accrued on April 5, 2012, and that the complaint was filed "within the 3 year statute of limitations but before the 6 months notice required and 7 years statute of repose and dates of [§ 60L]." The judge allowed the defendant's motion without prejudice and judgment entered on June 26, 2014. The plaintiff appealed.[5], [6] Rather than refiling, the plaintiff ...

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