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Blanchita Porter, et al v. Hon. John Mchugh

March 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Signed by Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge,



Plaintiffs, Blanchita Porter and her siblings, bring this medical malpractice claim pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), against defendants, Walter Reed Army Medical Center ("WRAMC") and the United States Army. Plaintiffs are the surviving children and adult heirs to Blanche Porter ("Blanche"). Plaintiffs allege that during Blanche's 1995 hospital stay at WRAMC, the defendants negligently used restraints on Blanche and administered the drug Dilantin to her. Plaintiffs additionally allege that these actions caused Blanche to suffer, inter alia, speech loss, memory loss, mental anguish, and impairment of bodily functions until her death in 2001. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs have failed to establish an applicable standard of care with regard to both allegations. Defs.' Mot. [19]. For the reasons stated herein, this motion will be GRANTED.


Blanche was the spouse of an Army retiree and therefore entitled to receive medical treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. Defs.' Mot. at 2. Blanche suffered from progressive dementia and began exhibiting symptoms of dementia in the early 1990s. Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at 1.

On December 20, 1994, Blanche's private physician, Dr. Duvall, began treating her with Dilantin, an anti-seizure drug, in response to her repeated syncope (loss of consciousness) spells. Id. at 2. At this time, Blanche was 82 years old. Eight days later, Blanche's daughter called Dr. Duvall and informed him that her mother appeared "zombie-like." Id. Dr. Duvall recommended Blanche be taken to the hospital. Id. Upon arrival at WRAMC, Blanche's treatment with Dilantin was discontinued. Id. at 3. Blanche's discharge diagnosis read "decreased sensorium due to Dilantin." Id.

On October 23, 1995, Blanche was admitted to the Emergency Room at Washington Adventist Hospital due to a syncope spell, decreased responsiveness, and altered mental status. Id. During her treatment at Washington Adventist, Blanche received results from a blood culture test that showed positive for bacteria. Id. at 4. On October 28, 1995, Blanche was admitted to WRAMC's Emergency Room for evaluation of mental status changes and the positive blood culture test. Defs.' Mot., Ex. A.*fn2

After being admitted to WRMAC, restraints were used to secure Blanche to her bed. 4-5. When Blanche's daughter observed her mother in the restraints, she requested the hospital discontinue using them. Id. at 5. The hospital complied with this request. Id. On October 31, 1995, the physicians began administering Dilantin to Blanche in response to the concern that she was at risk for complications resulting from seizure-induced ischemia (restriction in blood supply to tissues). Id. at 6. After being alerted to Blanche's prior adverse reaction to Dilantin, the physicians discussed whether to stop administering the drug because of presumed lethargic effects it had on her. Id. The physicians decided not to discontinue use at that time. See id.

On November 3, 1995, Blanche developed a fever. Id. Due to the possibility that the fever was drug-induced, Blanche's physicians discontinued all of the medications she had been on for the past six days, including Dilantin. Id. Blanche's neurologist noted his concern with the decision to stop administering Dilantin due to her continued high risk of seizures and past CT scans. Id. at 7. On November 10, 1995, Blanche's fever subsided. Id.

Blanche was discharged from the hospital on November 22, 1995. Id. at 8. Following her discharge, Blanche resided with her daughter. Id. On February 19, 2001, Blanche died due to pneumonia. Id.

On September 9, 1997, plaintiffs submitted an administrative claim on behalf of their mother under the Federal Tort Claims Act, asserting that Blanche was given "one or more improper drugs, including Dilantin, that caused her to go into a coma and become permanently incapacitated." Pls.' Opp'n at 3. After spending eleven years in the administrative process, plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit on June 24, 2009. Id. In their complaint, plaintiffs assert that, by using restraints and administering Dilantin, defendants "failed and neglected to provide proper medical treatment" to Blanche. Compl. ¶¶ 27-29.


A.Standard of Review

As a general matter, a court should grant summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" suitable for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To ascertain whether an issue involves "material" facts, a court must look to the substantive law on which the claim or defense rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if its resolution could establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's challenged claim or defense. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The court must accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true and must draw "all justifiable inferences" in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ." Id. at 255. Yet "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient." Id. at 252. This standard is " 'very close' to the 'reasonable jury' directed verdict ...

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