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Estate of Treworgy v. Commissioner, Department of Health and Human Services

Supreme Court of Maine

August 15, 2017

ESTATE OF PAUL F. TREWORGY et al.
v.
COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al.

          Argued: March 3, 2017

          Cynthia A. Dill, Esq. (orally), Troubh Heisler, PA, Portland, for appellants Jane M. Treworgy, John F. Treworgy, and the Estate of Paul F. Treworgy

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Christopher C. Taub, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellees Jodi Ingraham, Martha Perkins, and the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HUMPRHEY, J.

         [¶1] Jane M. Treworgy, John F. Treworgy, and the Estate of Paul F. Treworgy (collectively, the Treworgys) appeal from a judgment entered in the Superior Court (Penobscot County, Mallonee, J.) dismissing their constitutional and statutory claims against the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services and two Department employees, Jodi Ingraham and Martha Perkins. The court concluded that the Treworgys' claims are precluded by a previous judgment in the Commissioner's favor in an action in federal court arising out of the same allegedly wrongful acts. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In both their June 2014 action in federal court and their February 2016 action in the Superior Court, the Treworgys alleged the following facts. See Sabina v.JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 2016 ME 141, ¶ 2, 148 A.3d 284. Paul Treworgy was Jane's husband and John's father. In June 2010, after encountering various health problems, he signed an advance healthcare directive authorizing Jane (or, in the alternative, John) to make healthcare decisions for him. See 18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-801, 5-802 (2016). He indicated that he wanted Jane to serve as his guardian if he ever needed one, that he wanted "to be kept alive as long as possible within the limits of generally accepted health care standards, " and that he did not want to be given morphine or other opiates unless he was in extreme pain.

         [¶3] The Treworgys allege that despite being aware of Paul's wishes as expressed in his advance healthcare directive, the Department, through its employees, unlawfully instituted temporary guardianship proceedings, see 18-A M.R.S. § 5-310-A (2016), [1] and took control of his healthcare decisions. The Treworgys also allege that while acting unlawfully as the public guardian, the Department, through its employees, made healthcare decisions for Paul that ran contrary to his wishes and the wishes of Jane and John. According to the Treworgys' complaints, the Department and its employees took unauthorized steps to place Paul in a nursing home in September 2011, where he was mistreated; ordered the administration of opiates and cessation of his cancer treatment; and refused to disclose documentation to the Treworgys. Paul died in the nursing home on October 29, 2011.

         [¶4] The Treworgys first filed an action in the United States District Court for the District of Maine on June 13, 2014. They named as defendants the Commissioner, in her official capacity; Ingraham, "in her individual capacity"; the Penobscot County Commissioners; and the Penobscot County Register of Probate, in her official capacity. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 115-45), the Treworgys claimed that all defendants violated various rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. They also claimed violations of the Maine Constitution and Maine's Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act, see 18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-801 to 5-818 (2016).

         [¶5] In February 2015, the court [Singal, I.) dismissed all claims against the Commissioner and the County defendants with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). It also dismissed the claims against Ingraham without prejudice upon determining that the Treworgys did not demonstrate good cause for failing to timely serve her. The Treworgys did not appeal from the judgment.

         [¶6] Approximately one year later, the Treworgys filed the Superior Court action giving rise to this appeal. In this action, they named the Commissioner, in her official capacity; Ingraham; and Perkins as defendants. They alleged the facts described above. Against the Commissioner, they asserted claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of a duty to properly supervise employees. Against Ingraham and Perkins, they asserted claims for due process and privacy rights violations pursuant to the Maine Civil Rights Act, see 5 M.R.S. §§4681-4685 (2016), and violation of the Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act, see 18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-801 to 5-818.

         [¶7] The Commissioner, Ingraham, and Perkins moved to dismiss the Treworgys' claims, arguing, inter alia, that the claims against the Commissioner were barred by the doctrine of res judicata given the disposition of the prior action in federal court. They attached a copy of the Treworgys' federal court complaint.[2] In a reply to the Treworgys' opposition, they argued that the statutory claims against Ingraham and Perkins were also precluded by the judgment in the Commissioner's favor in the previous federal court action.

         [¶8] After holding a hearing, the court [Mallonee, J.) dismissed all of the Treworgys' claims. The court concluded that the claims against all three defendants were barred by the claim preclusion component of the doctrine of res judicata, in part because "[a]ll parties to [the Superior Court] action ...


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