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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. MOXLEY

April 26, 1979

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Plaintiff,
v.
Lawrence P. MOXLEY, Administrator of the Estate of Walter Carroll Moxley,Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff, v. Dr. Charles MEREDITH, Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Third-Party Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIRICA

MEMORANDUM

This case is before the Court on the motion of the federal third-party defendant, Dr. Charles Meredith, to dismiss the third-party complaint for failure to state a cause of action. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motion and remand the case to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where it was originally filed. *fn1"

 I.

 This action originated as a claim by the District of Columbia against the estate of Walter Carroll Moxley, deceased, for costs of his care and treatment at St. Elizabeth's Hospital paid by the District during his confinement there. Lawrence Moxley (hereinafter Moxley), the administrator of the estate, contests the liability of the estate for these costs, and, in addition, has impleaded Dr. Meredith (hereinafter Meredith) in his official capacity as superintendent of St. Elizabeth's. Moxley claims that if the estate is found liable for the costs of care and treatment, then Meredith should be found liable to the estate for failing to advise the decedent that he could have received the same care and treatment he received at St. Elizabeth's elsewhere, at no expense.

 The decedent, a District resident, was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital by court order in 1968 *fn2" and was treated there intermittently until 1977. Pursuant to that order, the expenses of his treatment at St. Elizabeth's, a federal institution, were to be borne by the District of Columbia under the terms of D.C. Code 1967 §§ 32-401, 32-405, except to the extent that his relatives or his estate, as provided by D.C. Code 1967 § 21-586, were able to pay for his care. *fn3" After deductions for costs covered by Medicare, the total amount paid by the District for this treatment came to $ 10,479.93, according to its complaint. The District now seeks to recover this amount, plus interest and costs, from the decedent's estate under the terms of D.C. Code 1973 § 21-586. This section provides that:

 
The father, mother, husband, wife, and adult children of a mentally ill person, if of sufficient ability, and the estate of the mentally ill person, if the estate is sufficient for the purpose, shall pay the cost to the District of Columbia of the mentally ill person's maintenance, including treatment, in a hospital in which the person is hospitalized under this chapter. . . .

 Moxley opposes this claim on the merits, but, as noted above, has also filed a third-party claim against Meredith based on an indemnification (or contribution) theory.

 Moxley premises his third-party negligence action against Meredith on three alleged negligent failures or omissions of the hospital and its staff: First, that the hospital failed to advise the decedent that he could have received the same care he was receiving at St. Elizabeth's at another institution at no cost, since he was both a veteran and disabled. Second, that it failed to advise him that his Veterans Administration and Social Security benefits would not cover the cost of his treatment at St. Elizabeth's. Third, that the hospital failed to bill him for services rendered. Moxley concludes that, as a result of its negligence, the hospital should be liable to him for any amount he is adjudged to owe the District of Columbia for the decedent's care.

 Meredith's rejoinder, and the basis for this motion to dismiss, is that the hospital "had no duty recognized by law to perform the services and supply the information that constitute the basis for the Third-Party Complaint." Third-Party Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, at 2. Absent some showing that a legal duty existed, he argues, the plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action in negligence, and the action must be dismissed. Id. at 3.

 II.

 The Court's inquiry in a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is limited. In Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421, 89 S. Ct. 1843, 1849, 23 L. Ed. 2d 404 (1969), the Supreme Court described it as follows:

 
For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the material allegations of the complaint are taken as admitted. And, the complaint is to be liberally construed in favor of plaintiff. The complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears that appellant could "prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." (citations omitted) *fn4"
 
Thus, the party defending the motion bears only a very light burden. Moxley has been unable to carry even this burden, however, since it appears that Meredith is correct in his assertion that, as a matter of law, the hospital had no legal duty to advise the decedent in the manner Moxley would have ...

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