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Fecteau v. Spring Harbor Hospital

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

February 28, 2014

STEPHEN A. FECTEAU, etal., Plaintiffs
v.
SPRING HARBOR HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants

JULIAN SWEET ESQ

MARK LAVOIE ESQ

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Nancy Mills, Justice, Superior Court

Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Defendants allege that they are immune from suit under the Maine Tort Claims Act. 14 M.R.S. § 8103(1) (2013). For the following reasons, the morion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Kathryn Fecteau suffered from depression for much of her adult life. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 39.) On 2/27/10, Ms. Fecteau presented for voluntary admission to Spring Harbor Hospital through the Maine Medical Center Emergency Department. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 43.) Ms. Fecteau was admitted as a voluntary patient and payment for her admission was authorized by her CIGNA health insurance. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶45.)

Defendant Dr. Daria Hanson first saw Ms. Fecteau at Spring Harbor on 3/1/10. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 46.) During that first visit, Dr. Hanson noted that Ms. Fecteau was depressed and had suicidal thoughts. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 46.) Ms. Fecteau expressed an interest in electroconvulsive therapy ("ECT") to treat her depression. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 46.) During the next five days after that first visit, Dr. Hanson took steps to enroll Ms. Fecteau in ECT. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 47.) Dr. Hanson consulted another psychiatrist at Spring Harbor for a second opinion about Ms. Fecteau; the other psychiatrist concluded that ECT was not an unreasonable treatment option. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 48.)

On 3/5/10, Dr. Hanson told Ms. Fecteau that she was scheduled to begin ECT treatment at Maine Medical Center on 3/8/10. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 49.) Shortly before the ECT treatment was scheduled to begin on 3/8/10, the treatment was cancelled because of medical concerns. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 50.) The plaintiffs' allegation that the "cancellation had nothing to do with any change in psychiatric diagnosis" is not supported by the record citation. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 51; Reply S.M.F. ¶50.)

After the ECT was cancelled, Ms. Fecteau became angry, disappointed, and dysregulated. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 52.) She returned to her room, tied a sheet around her neck, and attempted to suffocate herself with a pillow. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 52.) After this incident, Ms. Fecteau was placed on one-on-one observation. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 53.) When William Gelinas, a physician's assistant, met with Ms. Fecteau later that morning, she demanded to be discharged from Spring Harbor. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶54.)

Mr. Gelinas recorded a diagnosis of "Major Depressive Disorder, recurrent, severe, without psychotic features. Consider Anxiety Disorder, [Not Otherwise Specified], PTSD, chronic symptoms." (Opp. S.M.F.¶ 54.) He concluded that Ms. Fecteau required extended involuntary commitment because she posed a risk of harm to herself. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 54.) Mr. Gelinas ordered the preparation of an application for involuntary commitment and signed the order as the certifying examiner.[1] (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 55.) Later in the day on 3/8/10, Ms. Fecteau required a floor hold and restraint and again was placed on one-on-one observation. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 56.) The following day, she revoked her authorizations for Spring Harbor to speak with her family members. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 57.)

On 3/10/10, Ms. Fecteau agreed to participate in a treatment meeting the following day with her husband, daughter, and Dr. Hanson. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 58.) At the meeting, Dr. Hanson read to them the criteria for the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder; Dr. Hanson felt that diagnosis described Ms. Fecteau. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 59; Reply S.M.F. ¶ 59.) Dr. Hanson stated that borderline personality disorder would not respond well to ECT treatment. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 61.) Ms. Fecteau screamed and hollered during the meeting. (Opp. S.M.F. 1 62; Reply S.M.F. ¶ 62.)

On 3/10/10 at 1:30 p.m., Dr. Hanson initiated the "white paper" process to continue Ms. Fecteau's involuntary admission.[2] (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 63.) Following the treatment meeting, Ms. Fecteau remained angry and focused on discharge. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 64.) Ms. Fecteau told Dr. Hanson, "I could pretend to be better and just leave here and kill myself." (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 64.) Following that conversation, Dr. Hanson allowed Ms. Fecteau to remain in her room with checks every fifteen minutes. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 65.) While alone in her room, Ms. Fecteau hanged herself with the shower curtain in her room. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 67.) She was pronounced dead on 3/11/10 at 9:25 p.m. (Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 70.)

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In the notice of claim filed 12/23/10 and the complaint filed 10/29/12, the plaintiffs allege Dr. Hanson and Spring Harbor Hospital, through its agents and employees, breached the applicable standard of care in the treatment and care of Ms. Fecteau. They allege Ms. Fecteau endured conscious pain and suffering and the heirs have been damaged. Defendants moved for summary judgment on 9/6/13 on all counts of the complaint.

DISCUSSION

1. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact that is in dispute and, at trial, the parties would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fitzgerald v. Hutchins, 2009 ME 115, ¶ 9, 983 A.2d 382. "An issue is genuine if there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute to require a choice between the differing versions; an issue is material if it could potentially affect the outcome of the matter." Brown Dev. Corp. v. Hemond, 2008 ME 146, ¶10, 956 A.2d 104. Defendants have the burden to establish that their affirmative defense bars plaintiffs' claim. See Baker v. Farrand, 2011 ME 91, ¶ 31, 26 A.3d 806 ("[Defendant asserting the affirmative defense of a statute of ...


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