Young v. United States, No. 18-3415 (7th Cir. 2019)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Illinois requires medical-malpractice plaintiffs to file an affidavit stating that “there is a reasonable and meritorious cause” for litigation. The plaintiff needs a physician’s report, indicating that the physician has reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records and justifying the conclusion that “a reasonable and meritorious cause” exists. This requirement applies to malpractice litigation in federal court because it is a substantive condition of liability. The suit at issue is against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says that the government is liable to the same extent as a private person, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit found the rule applicable. The court noted that a prisoner may have insuperable difficulty obtaining a favorable physician’s report before filing a complaint and concluded that a complaint in federal court cannot properly be dismissed because it lacks an affidavit and report under 5/2-622. Federal, not state, rules often apply to procedural matters—such as what ought to be attached to pleadings—in federal suits, whether they arise under federal or state law. In federal court, supporting documents come later. Illinois wants insubstantial medical-malpractice suits resolved swiftly. That goal can be achieved in federal court under summary-judgment practice.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 18-3415 REGINALD YOUNG, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Appellee. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 17-cv-946-JPG-RJD — J. Phil Gilbert, Judge. ____________________ SUBMITTED MAY 30, 2019 — DECIDED NOVEMBER 4, 2019 ____________________ Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK and ROVNER, Circuit Judges. EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge. Illinois requires the plainti in a medical-malpractice suit to le an a davit stating that “there is a reasonable and meritorious cause” for litigation. 735 ILCS 5/2-622. The plainti needs a physician’s report to support the a davit’s assertions. The report must show that the physician has reviewed the plainti ’s medical records and must justify the conclusion that “a reasonable and meri- 2 No. 18-3415 torious cause” exists. This requirement applies to malpractice litigation in federal court because §5/2-622 is a substantive condition of liability. Hahn v. Walsh, 762 F.3d 617 (7th Cir. 2014). Hahn was a private suit. Today’s suit is against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says that the United States is liable to the same extent as a private person. 28 U.S.C. §1346(b)(1). The only way to make the United States liable to the same extent as a private entity is to apply §5/2-622. So other courts of appeals have held with respect to equivalent statutes in other states. See Frazier v. United States, 560 F. App’x 320, 323–24 (5th Cir. 2014); Li@lepaige v. United States, 528 F. App’x 289, 292–93 (4th Cir. 2013); Smith v. United States, 498 F. App’x 120, 121–22 (3d Cir. 2012); Swails v. United States, 406 F. App’x 124, 125 (9th Cir. 2010); Cestnik v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 84 F. App’x 51, 53–54 (10th Cir. 2003). None of those decisions carries precedential force, but the conclusion is compelling. The language of §1346(b)(1) shows that §5/2-622 must apply in suits against the national government, just as it applies in suits against private physicians. And we held in Gipson v. United States, 631 F.3d 448, 451–52 (7th Cir. 2011), that an Indiana statute requiring an expert’s report to show the standard of medical care applies under the FTCA. The reasoning of Gipson is equally applicable to a statute such as §5/2-622. Reginald Young, a federal prisoner, led this suit alleging that physicians at his prison commiled malpractice by not performing or authorizing surgery to correct a cataract that causes blurred vision and headaches. Two physicians recommended surgical intervention, but others disagreed; Young maintains that the two physicians’ recommendations No. 18-3415 3 prove that the lack of surgery is medical malpractice. But Young did not provide, with the complaint or later, an a davit complying with §5/2-622, nor did he ask any physician to prepare the sort of report that would have accompanied such an a davit. Instead he asserted that a recommendation for surgery is the only medical document he needs. The district judge disagreed and granted a motion by the United States to dismiss the complaint or for summary judgment. 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151134 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 5, 2018). The judge did not state which of these requests was being granted, and the di erence is potentially important. A motion to dismiss asserts that the complaint is defective. A motion for summary judgment asserts that the evidence of record would not permit a reasonable jury to nd for the nonmoving party. A prisoner may have insuperable di culty obtaining a favorable physician’s report before ling a complaint, so if a complaint not accompanied by a §5/2-622 a davit is defective, many a prisoner will be unable to litigate a malpractice claim. But if a prisoner or other pro se plainti has until the summary judgment stage to comply with the state law, information obtained in discovery may allow a physician to evaluate the medical records and decide whether there is reasonable cause for liability. Section 5/2-622(a) requires the a davit and report to be alached to the complaint unless an exception applies, and the litigants in Hahn assumed that this is when the documents must be led. Because timing was not contested in Hahn—the debate concerned whether the a davit and report were required at all—our decision did not produce a holding on that topic. And having given the maler some thought, we now conclude that a complaint in federal court 4 No. 18-3415 cannot properly be dismissed because it lacks an a davit and report under §5/2-622. As we observed in Cooke v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co., 919 F.3d 1024, 1027 (7th Cir. 2019): “Many cases hold that federal, not state, rules apply to procedural malers—such as what ought to be alached to pleadings—in all federal suits, whether they arise under federal or state law. See, e.g., Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates, P.A. v. Allstate Insurance Co., 559 U.S. 393 (2010); Burlington Northern R.R. v. Woods, 480 U.S. 1 (1987); Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S. 740 (1980); Mayer v. Gary Partners & Co., 29 F.3d 330 (7th Cir. 1994).” Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure speci es what a complaint must contain. It does not require alachments. One can initiate a contract case in federal court without alaching the contract, an insurance case without alaching the policy, a securities case without alaching the registration statement, and a tort case without alaching an expert’s report. Supporting documents come later. Section 5/2622 applies in federal court to the extent that it is a rule of substance; but to the extent that it is a rule of procedure it gives way to Rule 8 and other doctrines that determine how litigation proceeds in a federal tribunal. Section 5/2-622 itself allows delay in ling the a davit and report when, for example, the time to obtain a report would prevent suing within the statute of limitations (§5/2622(a)(2)) or records needed for evaluation are unavailable (§5/2-622(a)(3)). At least the second of these exceptions likely applies to Young’s suit. But these exceptions are accompanied by language that excuses the defendant from answering the complaint until the a davit and report have been led. Just as Rule 8 speci es what must be in a complaint, so Fed. No. 18-3415 5 R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1) tells us when the answer is due. A defendant in federal court may ask a district court for an extension but cannot rely on state law as canceling or deferring the need to answer a complaint. Illinois wants insubstantial medical-malpractice suits resolved swiftly. That goal can be achieved in federal court under summary-judgment practice, because Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b) allows such a motion to be led “at any time”. A defendant may submit a motion with its answer and ask the court to grant summary judgment because the plainti has not supplied the required a davit and report. And just as §5/2-622(a)(3) allows extra time if necessary to provide the reviewing physician with vital information, so Rule 56(d) allows a district court to grant extra time to the nonmovant to gather essential evidence. The state substantive goal and the federal procedural system thus can exist harmoniously. By requesting summary judgment as an alternative to its motion to dismiss the complaint, the United States put Young on notice of the need for an a davit and report. In the ensuing six months he did not try to comply. Instead he argued that two physicians’ recommendations in favor of surgery su ced. The district judge replied: No medical record Young has submiled indicates (1) that the doctors making the records had reviewed all of Young’s medical records and other relevant documents, (2) that there was “reasonable and meritorious cause” for ling a medical malpractice action, or (3) the reasons for that conclusion. It is true that the authors of [some] medical records recommended a di erent course of treatment than Young received, but in medicine there is often a range of reasonable treatments, and a doctor’s recommending one course does not necessarily imply that a doctor who choses [sic] another commits malpractice. This is why the certi cate of merit [i.e., the documents under §5/2-622] requires not a state- 6 No. 18-3415 ment that a course of treatment desired by the plainti is “reasonable and meritorious” but a statement that the medical malpractice cause of action is. Young has provided no such statement in this case. 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151134 at *6 (emphasis in original). We agree with this analysis, which means that the judgment must be AFFIRMED.
Primary Holding
Illinois requirement that medical malpractice plaintiffs supply a physician's report indicating that the case is meritorious applies to federal litigation against the U.S. government, but the documentation need not be attached to the complaint.

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