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Hawkins v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 31, 2017

SABELITA HAWKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES L. ROBART UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendant United States of America's (“the Government”)[1]motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or for summary judgment. (Mot. (Dkt. # 16).) Plaintiff Sabelita Hawkins opposes the Government's motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 17).) The court has considered the Government's motion, the parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [2] the court GRANTS the Government's motion for the reasons set forth below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This matter arises from a mental health breakdown that Ms. Hawkins suffered as a result of workplace bullying. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 1) ¶ 4.3-4.4; Claim (Dkt. # 1-1) at 4.) Ms. Hawkins alleges that on October 22, 2011, she suffered a psychotic episode at work resulting from a failed meeting to address workplace bullying. (Compl. ¶¶ 4.4-4.5.) After this psychotic episode, Ms. Hawkins was admitted to Swedish-Edmonds Hospital for observation from October 22, 2011, to October 24, 2011. (Id. ¶ 4.5; Longosky Decl. (Dkt. # 21) at 1, Ex. D at 14 (stating a discharge date of October 24th).) After her release, Ms. Hawkins followed up with resident physician Daniel Doan on October 26, 2011, at the Veterans Hospital Women's Clinic. (Compl. ¶ 4.6.) Ms. Hawkins told Dr. Doan that she was experiencing insomnia, anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating that interfered with her daily activities. (Id. ¶ 4.7; see also Claim at 4 (stating that Ms. Hawkins informed Dr. Doan she was suffering “worsening insomnia, extreme anxiety, severe depression, difficulty concentrating[, ] and nervousness”); Johnson Decl. (Dkt. # 20) ¶ 3, Ex. E (“Hawkins Dep.) at 37:17-22, 54:11.) Ms. Hawkins was also treated for gastrointestinal issues at this time. (See Longosky Decl., Ex. D at 6-7, 9.) Ms. Hawkins allegedly requested that Dr. Doan prescribe lorazepam, but Dr. Doan allegedly declined that request due to that medication's habit-forming characteristics. (Compl. ¶ 4.7.) Dr. Doan instead prescribed Zoloft for Ms. Hawkins's anxiety and depression. (Id. ¶ 4.8.) Ms. Hawkins further alleges that Dr. Doan recommended she avoid drugs and alcohol and “follow up with her outside Bellevue Counselor.” (Id. ¶ 4.9.) Despite Dr. Doan's recommendations, Ms. Hawkins asserts that her anxiety and insomnia worsened. (Id.)

         Ms. Hawkins followed up with Dr. Doan on November 16, 2011, and complained that the medication Dr. Doan had prescribed was not working. (Id. ¶ 4.10.) Dr. Doan allegedly told Ms. Hawkins that she had not given Zoloft enough time to effectively work. (Id.) Later that month, on November 30, 2011, Dr. Carl Jensen evaluated Ms. Hawkins to determine whether she could return to work. (Id. ¶ 4.11.) According to Ms. Hawkins, Dr. Jensen diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) during that evaluation and did not prescribe any additional medication for Ms. Hawkins's anxiety and insomnia. (Id. ¶ 4.12.)

         Ms. Hawkins alleges that she further deteriorated in December 2011 after prolonged sleeplessness over two to three days. (Id. ¶ 4.13.) Due to the lack of sleep, Ms. Hawkins alleges that on December 15, 2011, she became psychotic again. (Id.) During this episode, she attacked her mother and was arrested. (Id.; Longosky Decl. at 1, Ex. C at 7.)

         On October 24, 2013, Ms. Hawkins presented a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., to the VA for the doctors' alleged malpractice in treating Ms. Hawkins after the workplace psychotic episode. (See Claim at 2, 4-5.) The VA denied Ms. Hawkins's claim on April 18, 2014, concluding that “there was no negligent or wrongful act on the part of an employee of the [VA] acting within the scope of his or her employment.” (Denial (Dkt. # 1-2) at 2).) On October 1, 2014, Ms. Hawkins requested that the VA reconsider its denial. (Recons. (Dkt. # 1-3) at 2-4.)

         Based on these events, Ms. Hawkins filed this lawsuit on April 6, 2016. (See Dkt.) She brings an FTCA claim on theories of negligence, medical malpractice, corporate negligence, and violation of Washington's Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, RCW 74.34.[3] (Compl. ¶¶ 5.1-5.32.) Ms. Hawkins seeks damages of $1, 500, 000.00 for “serious personal injuries, pain and suffering[, ] and mental anguish.” (Id. ¶¶ 6.1-6.2.) Ms. Hawkins also seeks special damages, including out-of-pocket costs, medical costs, lost income, loss of household services, and other special damages in an amount to be proven at trial. (Id. ¶ 6.3.) Ms. Hawkins contends that the Government is liable for negligence in Ms. Hawkins's treatment and the supervision of her treatment because the treatments Drs. Doan and Jensen prescribed did not work, the doctors did not suggest any treatment for insomnia, and the doctors' care fell below that of a reasonably prudent physician. (See Id. ¶¶ 4.15-4.22.)

         On May 25, 2017, the Government moved for summary judgment on Ms. Hawkins's FTCA claim or to dismiss her claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[4](See Mot.) The court now addresses the Government's motion, which Ms. Hawkins opposes. (See Resp.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Government moves for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on the basis that the FTCA's statute of limitations bars Ms. Hawkins's claim. (Mot. at 1.) The Government also argues that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Ms. Hawkins's FTCA claim because her claim falls within the Federal Employees Compensation Act (“FECA”), 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq., which compensates federal employees for injuries they sustain on the job. (Id. at 1-2.) Because the Government raises the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the court first analyzes that issue.[5] See Potter v. Hughes, 546 F.3d 1051, 1061 (9th Cir. 2008) (“[F]ederal courts normally must resolve questions of subject matter jurisdiction before reaching other threshold issues.”).

         A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         1. Le ...


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