RODAS v. SEIDLIN (August 31, 2011)

The Crusaders Central Clinic Association is a federally funded community health center in Rockford, Illinois that serves an underserved population. Dr. William Baxter is one of the Clinic's physicians. The Clinic also contracted with the University of Illinois College of Medicine. For a fixed annual fee, the College provided backup services. When College physicians provided services, the Clinic was authorized to collect fees from its patients. One of Dr. Baxter's patients was Gloria Rodas. In the early morning of August 2, 2001, Rodas went into labor. Dr. Baxter met her at the hospital and assumed her care. The delivery turned problematic and Dr. Baxter sought the assistance of two College physicians. They eventually delivered the baby by Cesarean section, but she died within weeks. One of the College physicians prepared a bill for her services rendered and transmitted it to the Clinic -- the other physician did not. Rodas filed a medical malpractice suit in 2003. Because of the Clinic's federal funding, it and Dr. Baxter were considered to have federal status. Rodas’ suit was against the United States in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The United States removed and substituted itself as defendant. Since Rodas had not exhausted administrative remedies, she dismissed her claims against the United States The case was remanded to state court. Rodas exhausted her administrative remedies and then amended her state court complaint, adding the United States. The United States again removed. The two College physicians moved for summary judgment under the Illinois Good Samaritan Act. Under the Act, a physician who provides emergency care in good faith without a fee is not liable for malpractice. Judge Kapala (N.D. Ill.) agreed and granted summary judgment to the physicians. After that judgment was entered, the United States moved to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds under the doctrine of derivative jurisdiction. The district court denied that motion. Rodas appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Bauer, Flaum, and Williams reversed and remanded. The Court first addressed the jurisdictional issue. Under the doctrine of derivative jurisdiction, a federal court lacks jurisdiction of a suit removed from state court if the state court had no jurisdiction. This is true even if the suit could have been brought originally in the federal court. The Court looked at the propriety of the removal itself. Under § 1442, the federal officer removal statute, a case "commenced" in state court against the United States may be removed. The United States (as amicus) argues that the case was not commenced against it since it was not an originally named defendant. The Court rejected that argument, relying on the plain language of the statute and congressional intent. Removal was proper if the United States was named in an amended pleading, which it was. Therefore, removal under § 1441 was proper and the derivative jurisdiction doctrine would seem to lead to the conclusion that jurisdiction does not exist. The Court looked to the Supreme Court decisions in Grubbs and Caterpillar, in which the Court distinguished between procedural defects and true jurisdictional defects. In those cases, improper removals were not discovered until after judgment was entered. In both cases, the Supreme Court concluded that jurisdiction was present in cases where procedural defects were corrected before judgment. The Court concluded that the derivative jurisdiction doctrine was not an essential ingredient of subject matter jurisdiction but was more akin to a procedural defect. That the state court lacked jurisdiction does not, therefore, defeat the federal court’s jurisdiction.          

The Court turned to the merits and the interpretation of the Illinois Good Samaritan Act. The Court first rejected the defendants' argument that, because they occupy salaried positions and received no compensation from Rodas, neither received a fee. Relying on the plain language of the statute and the dictionary, the Court concluded that services can be rendered for a fee even if the rendering physician receives no compensation directly from that fee. That concluded the matter with respect to the physician who actually submitted the paperwork to the Clinic for processing the fee. The other physician never submitted the paperwork. There was no fee at all. But the physician’s general practice was to complete the paperwork. In fact, he testified that he did not recall ever providing services without preparing the fee paperwork. The Court concluded that there was a genuine issue of fact regarding whether he acted in good faith.