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Estate of Vera Cummings v. Community Health Systems, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 29, 2018

ESTATE OF VERA CUMMINGS, by and through personal representative Elicia Montoya, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
COMMUNITY HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant-Appellant, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; LAS CRUCES MEDICAL CENTER, d/b/a MOUNTAIN VIEW REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Defendants.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico (D.C. No. 1:12-CV-00081-WJ-GBW)

          Michael J. Dekleva (William C. Madison and M. Eliza Stewart, with him on the briefs), Madison, Mroz, Steinman & Dekleva, P.A., Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Lisa K. Curtis, Curtis & Lucero, Albuquerque, New Mexico (Amalia S. Lucero, Curtis & Lucero, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Steven L. Tucker, Tucker Law Firm, P.C., Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her on the brief) for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before HARTZ, HOLMES, and BACHARACH, Circuit Judges.

          HARTZ, Circuit Judge.

         This is the second appeal in this litigation to come before this court. The first appeal involved claims by the estate of Vera Cummings (the Estate) against Community Health Systems, Inc. (CHSI) under state law, against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and against Mountain View Regional Medical Center (Mountain View) under state law. We disposed of the appeal by (1) entering an order approving the stipulated dismissal with prejudice of the appeal of the district court's dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction of the claims against CHSI, (2) affirming the district court's dismissal of the claims under the FTCA for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and (3) directing the district court to vacate its judgment in favor of Mountain View and to remand the claims against Mountain View-but not the claims against CHSI- to state court for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         On remand to the district court, however, it went beyond our mandate by vacating its dismissal of the claims against CHSI and remanding those claims to state court. CHSI appealed. We reverse the order vacating the dismissal of the claims against CHSI and remanding those claims to state court. We also reject the Estate's motion to dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Initial Proceedings

         On January 28, 2008, Mountain View admitted Vera Cummings, who complained of dizziness and confusion. See Estate of Cummings v. United States, 651 Fed.Appx. 822, 824 (10th Cir. 2016) (Estate of Cummings I). After doctors at Mountain View treated her for about 10 days, she was released to another health-care facility and died four days later. See id. In January 2011 the Estate filed suit in New Mexico state court against three physicians, Mountain View, and CHSI. The Estate alleged that negligent care by Mountain View and the physicians caused Cummings's death, and that CHSI "controlled and operated" Mountain View and was "vicariously liable" for the negligence of the other defendants. Aplt. App. at 37-38.

         In January 2012 the United States certified that the physicians were acting in the scope of their employment with the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and removed the action to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, with the United States substituted for the physicians as a defendant. See 42 U.S.C. § 233(c) (authorizing such removal and substitution).[1] After removal and substitution, the sole remedy for the conduct of the physicians is under the FTCA. See id. at § 233(a). In September 2012 the district court dismissed the claims against CHSI for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court held that exercising jurisdiction over CHSI would violate its constitutional right to due process because "CHSI is a nonresident holding company with no minimum contacts with New Mexico . . . ." Aplt. App. at 58. In 2014 the district court granted Mountain View summary judgment because of the Estate's failure to disclose an expert report on an essential element of its claims against Mountain View. And in February 2015 the court entered final judgment, disposing of the only remaining claims-those against the government-for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because the Estate had not exhausted administrative remedies as required by the FTCA.

         B. The First Appeal

         The Estate appealed the district court's judgment in March 2015. Its docketing statement listed five issues for appeal, including whether the district court had erred by dismissing CHSI for lack of personal jurisdiction. The next month, this court scheduled a mediation conference, see 10th Cir. Loc. R. 33.1, which was a partial success. The parties filed a "Stipulation to Dismiss" stating that "[p]ursuant to discussions held under Tenth Circuit Rule 33.1 . . . and the agreement of the parties, [the Estate and CHSI] hereby stipulate that the above appeal be dismissed with prejudice as to [CHSI] only." Aplt. App. at 96. This court then entered an order stating that "[u]pon consideration of the stipulation this appeal is dismissed with respect to [CHSI] only." Id. at 99.

         On June 7, 2016, we entered an order and judgment disposing of the remaining issues on appeal (the First 2016 Order). The caption included the Estate as the plaintiff and the United States and Mountain View (but not CHSI) as the defendants. We affirmed the dismissal of the claims against the government for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, agreeing that (1) the doctors had been federal actors, (2) the Estate had not exhausted administrative remedies before suing, and (3) exhaustion is a statutory jurisdictional requirement under the FTCA. See First 2016 Order at 12. As for the claims against Mountain View, the Estate had contended that "[s]hould this court affirm the district court's dismissal of the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, . . . it must extinguish all rulings in the case and remand the case against Mountain View to New Mexico state district court." Aplt.'s Opening Br. at 27, Estate of Cummings I (10th Cir. July 15, 2015). We agreed. Our opinion concluded with the following dispositional language:

The dismissal of the federal claims is AFFIRMED. The district court's rulings on the supplemental claims are VACATED with instructions to the district court to remand to New Mexico state court.

First 2016 Order at 13 (emphasis added).

         Two weeks later, Mountain View asked this court "to clarify and confirm that the claims against [CHSI] have not been remanded to New Mexico state court." Aplt. App. at 105. It asserted that because the Estate voluntarily dismissed with prejudice its appeal as to CHSI, "the Court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to hear an appeal of the district court's order dismissing CHSI for lack of personal jurisdiction" and "could not have remanded the claims against CHSI to state court." Id. at 107. On June 24 this court entered an order granting this request by changing the dispositional language to read:

The dismissal of the federal claims is AFFIRMED. The district court's rulings on the supplemental claims against Mountain View are VACATED with instructions to the district court to remand to New Mexico state court.

Estate of Cummings, 651 Fed.Appx. at 828 (emphasis added). Mandate issued on August 30, 2016.

         C. District-Court Proceedings on Remand

         Complying with the mandate, the district court entered an order on August 31, 2016, stating that "the Clerk of Court shall REMAND [the Estate's] claims against [Mountain View]" to New Mexico state court "as directed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals." Aplt. App. at 70. But that did not end the district court's involvement with the case. More than four months later, on January 19, 2017, Mountain View asked the district court for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. It represented that the Estate was pursuing its claims against CHSI in state court and requested an injunction barring the Estate from "prosecuting [the remanded case] against [CHSI]" or "filing further suits or prosecuting further litigation against CHSI in the State of New Mexico." Id. at 71. Injunctive relief was allegedly needed "to prevent the Estate from relitigating the personal jurisdiction issue that [the district court had] already decided." Id.; see 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (permitting a federal court to enjoin state-court proceedings "where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments"); Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 150-51 (1988) (federal district court could enjoin state court from considering state-law claim whose validity had already been adjudicated by the federal court); Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah & Ouray Reservation v. Utah, 790 F.3d 1000, 1007-09 (10th Cir. 2015) (remanding to district court with instructions to enjoin state prosecution being pursued contrary to prior federal-court decision that certain lands are Indian country).

         On January 25, 2017, the district court denied Mountain View's request, explaining that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the merits of the motion. It then entered the order that is the subject of this appeal. It sua sponte decided to vacate its earlier dismissal of the claims against CHSI and remanded those claims to state court. It said that "[u]nder its inherent jurisdiction" it needed to "attend to a piece of this case" that had been "left behind and inadvertently overlooked." Aplt. App. at 135. Because "[i]t ha[d] been definitively decided that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this entire case, including all supplemental state law claims, " the court stated that "in addition to vacating its ruling on the Mountain View claims, the Court should have also vacated its rulings on the CHSI claim[s] and remanded them" to state court. Id. at 134. The order declared that the court's "prior rulings on the supplemental claims asserted against CHSI . . . are hereby VACATED, " and it directed the clerk to send the ...


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