EMTALA Plaintiff Trips Over State Law Requirement

If you bring a case in federal court alleging violation of federal law, you might assume that you needn’t be concerned with procedural requirements of state law.  But you could be wrong.  Just ask Cynthia Glaskox.

Cynthia filed suit against George County Hospital for violating EMTALA by transferring her to another hospital before her condition had stabilized.  The alleged violation occurred on Jan. 12, 2014, and she filed on Jan. 11, 2016, just within EMTALA’s two-year statute of limitations.

The hospital—a political subdivision of Mississippi–moved for judgment on the pleadings, on the grounds that Cynthia hadn’t filed the 90-day pre-suit notice required by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MCTA) for suits against political subdivisions.   Granting the motion could be fatal to Cynthia’s case because the same MCTA section also contains a one-year statute of limitations and says failure to file on time “is an absolute bar to any further proceedings.”

Cynthia responded that the notice requirement was inapplicable because it conflicted with, and was therefore preempted by, EMTALA.   But the lion’s share of her 16-page opposing memorandum focused on the difference between the MCTA’s one-year statute and EMTALA’s two-year statute rather than the pre-suit notice requirement that was the basis of the hospital’s motion.

The court didn’t buy Cynthia’s argument.  Instead, it followed Second and Fifth Circuit precedents holding that EMTALA doesn’t preempt state pre-suit notice requirements for suing government hospitals, and it granted the hospital’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.  Cynthia has filed a notice of appeal.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, while Cynthia argues that EMTALA preempts the MCTA’s procedural provisions, she doesn’t challenge its substantive provisions.  That’s probably because without the MCTA’s waiver of sovereign immunity, the hospital would be immune from suit.

The case is Glaskox v. George County Hospital, No. 1:16cv9-HSO-JCG (S.D. Miss. Aug. 1, 2016).

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