Discrimination suit against physicians dismissed over failure to state a claim

By Scott Holland | May 7, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge has dismissed a discrimination lawsuit against several physicians because it failed to meet statutory deadlines and failed to state a claim.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled April 24 to grant motions to dismiss filed by Dr. Tom Lue and others.

Plaintiff Anthony Fruciano’s complaint involves three different medical appointments that took place in April, May and July 2016, at which he sought treatment for a curved penis, according to the opinion. He named as defendants Dr. Tom Lue, a urologist with the University of California Urology Clinic, his fellow, Dr. Amanda Reed-Maldonado, and the university regents; Dr. Michael Eisenberg, at Stanford Health’s Urology Clinic; and Dr. Edward Karpman, of the Urological Surgeons of Northern California at El Camino Hospital.

Fruciano originally filed a complaint in Alameda County Superior Court on May 22, 2018, pleading three claims for relief under the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act as well as a state law sexual harassment complaint. Two weeks later, he filed an amended complaint changing the sexual harassment claim to an alleged violation of federal law, prompting the regents to remove the complaint to federal court, later joined by the other defendants

In turn, Fruciano opposed the removal. The regents, Lue and Reed-Maldonado responded by opposing the motion to remand and moving to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The court denied the motion to remand and partially granted the motion to dismiss, giving rise to Fruciano’s second amended complaint.

The federal government specially appeared on behalf of Reed-Maldonado, eventually moving for dismissal of claims against her. Fruciano dismissed his complaints against Eisenberg and Stanford Health Care with prejudice, leaving only his Unruh Act claims against Lue, the Regents and Karpman.

According to Corley, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act sets the statute of limitations of one year from discovery or three years from injury for professional negligence claims, a schedule she said applies to Fruciano’s claims even though they arise under the Unruh Act, despite his position his claims are those of discrimination and not medical malpractice.

While Luciano alleged “Lue and Reed-Maldonado were insensitive and even rude, and that they provided inadequate treatment for his medical condition,” Corley wrote, “his allegations did not plausibly suggest that this was because of plaintiff’s anxiety or swallowing disorder or his asexual sexual orientation.”

All the allegations against Lue involve ordinary medical professional services, Corley continued, and therefore are medical malpractice claims, which trigger the MICRA timetable. Neither party disputes the timing of Luciano’s complaint as more than one year after the appointment in the allegations, meaning statutory limitations bar Luciano from proceeding.

Corley further rejected a second Unruh Act claim, saying the allegation Lue did not prescribe the correct prescription cannot be used to support a discrimination claim because it does not suggest “willful, affirmative discriminatory misconduct.”

The professional negligence claim against Karpman failed on the same grounds, Corley explained, as the allegations “emanate from the manner in which he treated plaintiff during his appointment, the course of treatment prescribed and the decision to terminate the doctor-patient relationship."

Corley granted the motions to dismiss. She did not allow Luciano to amend his complaint against Lue and denied Lue’s motion to strike, but did leave room to amend the complaint against Karpman and his practice within 20 days of the date of the order.

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