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Jones v. Clinch

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 1, 2013

Elvita Jones, Appellant
v.
Thomas E. Clinch, M.D., et al., Appellees

Argued January 28, 2010

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAM-3180-06) (Hon. Judith E. Retchin, Trial Judge)

Victor E. Long for appellant.

James M. Heffler for appellees. Daniel C. Costello entered an appearance for appellees. [*]

Before Glickman, Associate Judge, and Terry and Ruiz, Senior Judges.[**]

OPINION

Terry, Senior Judge.

Appellant Elvita Jones filed a two-count civil complaint against appellees, Dr. Thomas E. Clinch and his employer, Eye Doctors of Washington, P.C. ("Eye Doctors").[1] The first count asserted a medical malpractice claim, in which appellant alleged that Dr. Clinch had failed to obtain her informed consent before he performed an intraocular lens replacement surgery known as the "Crystalens" procedure. The second count alleged a violation of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. Code §§ 28-3901 et seq. (2001), and sought damages for that violation. The trial court granted appellees' motion for partial summary judgment and dismissed the second count with prejudice. The case then went to trial on the first count, and at its conclusion the jury returned a verdict for appellees.

On appeal from the judgment on that verdict, appellant argues that the trial court erred in granting appellees' motion for summary judgment on Count II of her complaint, and that the court abused its discretion in excluding certain evidence regarding the relative cost of the Crystalens procedure. Given the particular circumstances of this case, we agree with the trial court that Maryland had a greater governmental interest in this dispute and therefore that Maryland law, rather than District of Columbia law, governed this case. We hold accordingly that the trial court committed no error in granting summary judgment for appellees on Count II. In addition, we find no ground for reversal in the evidentiary ruling of which appellant now complains. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment in all respects.

I

The trial court granted summary judgment to appellees on Count II of appellant's complaint, in which she sought damages for alleged violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act ("CPPA"). Appellees argued in their motion for partial summary judgment that because the eye surgery and other underlying acts all took place in Maryland, the "governmental interests" doctrine, by which our courts determine which law to apply, required that Maryland law — rather than District of Columbia law — govern this case since Maryland had a greater interest in the litigation. Appellees relied on our decision in Drs. Groover, Christie & Merritt, P.C. v. Burke, 917 A.2d 1110 (D.C. 2007), a case with very similar facts. The trial court agreed with appellees that Maryland law was controlling and granted the motion. The result of that ruling was the dismissal of Count II of appellant's complaint with prejudice because in Maryland, unlike the District of Columbia, appellant could not bring a consumer protection suit against appellees. As the court explained in its order:

There is a conflict in the consumer protection laws. Maryland law exempts doctors from its consumer protection law, whereas the District has no such exemption. [Statutory citations omitted.]

"Questions of choice of law are . . . generally treated as issues of law subject to de novo review by the appellate court." Hercules & Co. v. Shama Restaurant Corp., 566 A.2d 31, 40 (D.C. 1989). In tort cases, when two jurisdictions "have an interest in applying their own laws to the underlying facts . . . the forum law will be applied unless the foreign state has a greater interest in the controversy." Kaiser-Georgetown Community Health Plan, Inc. v. Stutsman, 491 A.2d 502, 509 (D.C. 1985) (emphasis added). We have summarized our choice-of-law analysis as follows:

In determining which jurisdiction's law to apply in a tort case, we use the "governmental interests" analysis, under which we evaluate the governmental policies underlying the applicable laws and determine which jurisdiction's policy would be more advanced by the application of its law to the facts of the case under review. . . . As part of this analysis, we also consider ...

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