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STEWART v. CAPITOL AREA PERMANENTE MED. GROUP

August 16, 1989

TIMOTHY STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPITOL AREA PERMANENTE MEDICAL GROUP, P.C., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REVERCOMB

 GEORGE H. REVERCOMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 The defendants in this medical malpractice case have moved to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The defendants also moved to dismiss the wrongful death claim, in case the Court denies the dismissal motion. In this order, the Court denies both motions.

 Alleged Facts

 The plaintiff alleges that defendants Capitol Area Permanente Medical Group, P.C., and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., were negligent in their medical treatment of the plaintiff's wife, Willa M. Stewart, who died on February 4, 1987. The alleged negligent care took place at the defendants' medical facilities in Landover, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., on or about March 12, 1986. The plaintiffs lived in Landover, although the plaintiff and his wife were entitled to medical care through a group health care plan obtained at plaintiff's job, which was located in the District of Columbia. The defendants are District of Columbia corporations who each do business in both the District of Columbia and Maryland.

 Pursuant to Maryland law, the plaintiff submitted his claims to the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Office. After a hearing, the arbitration panel ruled in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff filed this action rejecting the panel's decision. The plaintiff made claims under the survival act, for loss of consortium, and for wrongful death.

 Transfer Pursuant to § 1404(a)

 A United States District Court may transfer any case to another district where the case could have been brought, for "the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). This standard is substantially similar to the common-law test of forum non conveniens, although a district court is given greater discretion to grant a motion under § 1404(a) than it has under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. E.g., SEC v. Savoy Industries, Inc., 190 U.S. App. D.C. 252, 587 F.2d 1149, 1154-55 (D.C. Cir. 1978), cert. denied sub nom., Zimmerman v. SEC, 440 U.S. 913, 59 L. Ed. 2d 462, 99 S. Ct. 1227 (1979).

 Despite the greater discretion that is afforded to judges under § 1404(a), a Court naturally should still be guided by the factors traditionally used in forum non conveniens determinations. In Pain v. United Technologies Corp., 205 U.S. App. D.C. 229, 637 F.2d 775 (D.C. Cir. 1980), the Court of Appeals ruled that after the moving party has established the existence of an adequate alternative forum, a Judge's forum non conveniens inquiry should consider the relevant "private" factors, which include the relative ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of of obtaining attendance of willing witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process. Id. at 784, 782. If the private factors are in at least "near equipoise," then the judge should consider "public" factors, such as which state's substantive law governs the case. Id. at 784-85, 782. Although the § 1404(a) inquiry does not necessarily require such a rigid two-step inquiry, the plain words of the statute give prominence to the private, convenience factors. Because these factors, as well as choice of law considerations, tilt in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum, the Court denies the defendants' motion.

 Much of the defendants' case is based on the allegation that the State of Maryland has more ties to this matter than does the District of Columbia. *fn1" Even if this were true, the Court must be careful not to confuse the factors that are paramount in the choice of law determination -- which state has the greatest interest in the litigation -- with the factors to be considered in a § 1404(a) motion, of which "convenience of the parties" is among the most prominent. State lines are of crucial importance in making the proper choice of law, but are less important in deciding which forum is more convenient to the parties and would best serve the interests of justice. Finally, the Court notes that the "interest of the states" argument has less force in a § 1404(a) matter than in the "choice of law" decision, because the former does not implicate the doctrine of federalism. The question in a § 1404(a) motion does not necessarily involve deciding between federal or state interests or between the substantive law of two states; the matter involves a choice between having the case litigated in either one or another court established by the United States government.

 The Court analyzes each of the § 1404(a) factors in turn.

 Convenience of the Parties

 The convenience factors weigh heavily in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff, the doctors involved, the likely witnesses, the medical records, and the center of the business operations of the defendants are all in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Indeed, the plaintiff works in the District of Columbia. Parties and witnesses can reach the United States Courthouse in Washington by public transportation or by a short car ride; travel to the United States Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, would be a far longer and more difficult proposition. While the defendants note correctly that the plaintiff, the witnesses and the records in this case are "in Maryland" -- meaning the Maryland suburbs of Washington -- the Court points out that state lines are of little significance per se in determining convenience; it is clear to the Court that ...


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