In this case we must determine whether the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County erred in striking the affidavits of two proposed expert witnesses pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-501(e). Because we conclude that it was error to strike the affidavits, we shall hold that the Circuit Court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of Respondents, Melissa Moen, M.D. et. al ("The Medical Providers"),
In August of 2000, Sherri Schaefer visited her gynecologist, Melissa Moen, M.D., and informed Dr. Moen that she was experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding. It is
After the August and September, 2000 visits, Ms. Schaefer continued to experience physical problems and complained to Dr. Moen of pelvic symptoms and irregular bleeding. In April of 2001, Dr. Moen performed an endometrial biopsy of Ms. Schaefer's uterus and discovered that Ms. Schaefer had endometrial cancer. In May of 2001, after being diagnosed with cancer, Ms. Schaefer began treatment with Robert Bristow, M.D., a gynecological oncologist, at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Dr. Bristow operated on Ms. Schaefer in June of 2001; however, the operation did not help Ms. Schaefer survive her cancer. Dr. Bristow continued to treat Ms. Schaefer until her death on May 18, 2005.
Prior to her death, Ms. Schaefer and her husband, Charles Marcantonio, filed a cause of action for medical negligence against The Medical Providers alleging that they negligently failed to diagnose and treat Ms. Schaefer's endometrial and ovarian cancer in August and September of 2000. Specifically, the complaint alleged that Dr. Moen breached the applicable standard of care by failing to perform an endometrial biopsy in August of 2000 and that Dr. DeCandido breached the standard of care by failing to report the 1.5 centimeter mass disclosed as a result of Ms. Schaefer's September 2000 ultrasound. After Ms. Schaefer's death, Charles Marcantonio amended the complaint to add wrongful death and survivorship claims against The Medical Providers.
The depositions of two of the Marcantonios' expert witnesses, Drs. Hutchins and Shmookler, are pertinent to our review of this case. At his deposition, Dr. Hutchins testified that he believed to a reasonable degree of medical probability that Dr. Moen departed from the applicable standard of care in failing to perform an endometrial biopsy of Ms. Schaefer's uterus during or shortly after Ms. Schaefer's August 2000 visit. Dr. Hutchins opined that if Dr. Moen had performed the endometrial biopsy, she would have been able to properly diagnose and treat Ms. Schaefer's condition. Dr. Hutchins' exact words were as follows:
Moreover, Dr. Hutchins indicated that had Ms. Schaefer's condition been properly diagnosed and treated in August or September of 2000, she would have had an 80 percent chance of survival. During the
In a subsequent affidavit, Dr. Hutchins stated:
The second expert witness, Dr. Shmookler, testified at his deposition that the 1.5 centimeter mass on Ms. Schaefer's right ovary that Dr. DeCandido failed to report in September of 2000 was in all probability benign, yet a precursor to cancer. He went on to opine that had Ms. Schaefer's condition been properly diagnosed in September 2000, that in all medical probability, her cancer would have been curable. Later in his deposition, the following exchange occurred:
In a subsequent affidavit, Dr. Shmookler stated:
Upon motions by The Medical Providers, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County struck the affidavits of Drs. Shmookler and Hutchins on the basis that the affidavits materially contradicted the experts' deposition testimony in violation of Maryland Rule 2-501(e).
A majority of the Court of Special Appeals agreed with the Circuit Court's conclusion that the affidavits of Drs. Hutchins and Shmookler materially contradicted the experts' deposition testimony. Marcantonio v. Moen, 177 Md.App. 664, 937 A.2d 861 (2007). In regard to the decision to
Marcantonio, 177 Md.App. at 693, 937 A.2d at 878. Pertaining to Dr. Shmookler's affidavit, the court reasoned:
Marcantonio, 177 Md.App. at 697, 937 A.2d at 880. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that "without [the affidavits of Drs. Shmookler and Hutchins], summary judgment was appropriate because the evidence, taken in a light most favorable to the [Marcantonios], showed only a possibility that [The Medical Providers'] negligence caused Ms. Schaefer's death." Marcantonio, 177 Md.App. at 691, 937 A.2d at 877. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Meredith concluded that the "[t]he affidavits were not irreconcilably at odds with the opinions expressed by [the experts] at their depositions, and . . . should not have been considered mere shams subject to being stricken under Rule 2-501(e)." Marcantonio, 177 Md.App. at 706, 937 A.2d at 885 (Meredith, J., dissenting). We granted the Marcantonios' petition for writ of certiorari,
Rule 2-501 (e), Contradictory Affidavits or Statements
The "sham affidavit" rule is a doctrine that was first articulated by the Second
Pittman, 359 Md. at 529, 754 A.2d at 1038. In Pittman, we declined to adopt the Perma sham affidavit rule, or any variation thereof, utilized by the federal courts. Because the reasoning and analysis in Pittman is dispositive to our interpretation of Maryland Rule 2-501(e), we discuss the opinion at some length below.
In Pittman, Shari Hall ("Hall") and her young son, Terran, filed an action against the owners of a residential property. 359 Md. at 518, 754 A.2d at 1032. The complaint alleged that Terran had become ill due to lead paint exposure while at the property. Id. During discovery, Hall provided "vague, confused and inconsistent" information pertaining to the duration of Terran's stay at the subject premises. Pittman, 359 Md. at 519, 754 A.2d at 1033. In response to interrogatories, Hall indicated that Terran lived at the premises from 1992 to 1993 and was cared for there from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday. Id. At deposition, however, Hall indicated that Terran lived at the premises for a maximum of two months and visited the premises around two times per week before residing there and three to four times a week after residing there. Pittman, 359 Md. at 520-21, 754 A.2d at 1034. Based on the information that Hall provided at her deposition, her and Terran's causal relation expert, Howard Klein, M.D., opined that a two month residency was an insufficient period of exposure to make the premises a substantial factor in causing Terran's injuries. Pittman, 359 Md. at 522-23, 754 A.2d at 1034-35.
Citing Dr. Klein's deposition testimony, the defendants moved for summary judgment and asserted that Hall had failed to establish that exposure to lead at the subject premises was a substantial causal factor in bringing about Terran's injuries. Pittman, 359 Md. at 523, 754 A.2d at 1035. In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Hall submitted an affidavit stating that Terran lived at the residence for longer than five months and visited the premises for seven to eight hours daily before and after living there. Id. In light of this information, Dr. Klein also filed an affidavit opining that the presence of lead paint in the subject premises was a substantial cause of Terran's elevated blood lead levels. Pittman, 359 Md. at 524, 754 A.2d at 1036. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City struck the affidavits, concluding that they significantly contradicted Hall's deposition testimony.
This Court reversed, holding that the sham affidavit rule was inconsistent with Maryland law because the rule improperly shifts credibility determinations from the trier of fact to the trial court on summary judgment. Pittman, 359 Md. at 540-42, 754 A.2d at 1041. In so holding, we stated:
Pittman, 359 Md. at 541-42, 754 A.2d at 1045.
In 2003, the Rules Committee recommended amending Maryland Rule 2-501 to include a subsection that addresses contradictory affidavits or statements. 30 Md. Reg. 1907-08 (Dec. 26, 2003). The Reporter's Note accompanying the Rules Committee's recommendation indicates that the proposed amendment was "intended to respond to the Court of Appeals' invitation in Pittman v. Atlantic Realty Co., 359 Md. 513, 754 A.2d 1030 (2000), for the Rules Committee to study the issue of `sham affidavits.'" 30 Md. Reg. 1125 (Aug. 22, 2003). The Court acted on the Rules Committee's recommendation and amended Maryland Rule 5-201 to include subsection (e) In relevant part Rule 2-501(e) specifically provides that "[i]f the court finds that the affidavit or other statement under oath materially contradicts the prior sworn statement, the court shall strike the contradictory part. . . ."
In the instant case, The Medical Providers argue that the plain language of Rule 2-501(e) mandates that the Rule applies any time an affiant contradicts any prior sworn statement and not only when an affiant irreconcilably contradicts a prior statement of fact. They further maintain that the Circuit Court appropriately applied Rule 2-501(e) when striking the affidavits of Drs. Hutchins and Shmookler. According to The Medical Providers, Dr. Hutchins' affidavit materially contradicts his prior deposition testimony because the affidavit renders an opinion as to the cause of Ms. Schaefer's death, whereas at his deposition, Dr. Hutchins stated he was not going to be giving an opinion on this matter.
As to Dr. Shmookler, The Medical Providers contend that Dr. Shmookler materially
The Marcantonios counter that the affidavits of Drs. Hutchins and Shmookler do not materially contradict the experts' earlier deposition testimony and that the Circuit Court erroneously struck those documents. The Marcantonios urge that Pittman is instructive in determining if the affidavits in this case materially contradict the experts' earlier deposition testimony. They further point out that, in Pittman, the Court stated that, theoretically, the sham affidavit rule only applies when there is a flat contradiction of material fact between deposition testimony and affidavits opposing summary judgment.
The Marcantonios contend that neither Dr. Hutchins' nor Dr. Shmookler's affidavit contains flat contradictions of material fact. They posit that Dr. Hutchins did not state that he could not render an opinion as to causation, or that The Medical Providers' negligence was not a cause of Ms. Schaefer's death. Rather, they assert, that at the time of deposition, Dr. Hutchins simply conveyed that he did not intend to render an opinion as to causation. The Marcantonios' argument in regard to Dr. Shmookler is that, his act of providing an opinion regarding the ramifications of the failure to properly evaluate Ms. Schaefer's tumor in September of 2000 does not materially contradict his statements that he would defer to another type of specialist as to her prognosis in May of 2001 or would not be rendering an opinion as to her staging in July of 2001.
We hold that the affidavits of Drs. Hutchins and Shmookler do not materially contradict their respective deposition testimony within the meaning of Rule 2-501(e).
This definition of material contradiction addresses concerns raised by affidavits like Shari Hall's in Pittman. During the Rules Committee's deliberations on the issue of sham affidavits, the Committee Chair
Hinch v. Lucy Webb Hayes Nat. Training, 814 A.2d 926 (D.C.2003), however, provides an example of an affidavit that does not materially contradict prior sworn testimony. Hinch is similar to the case at bar. In Hinch, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants as to the medical negligence claim, on the basis that the plaintiff had failed to provide sufficient evidence of causation. 814 A.2d at 928. The court reached that conclusion after striking the affidavit of the plaintiff's expert witness wherein the expert stated to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff's injuries. Id. The court found the expert's affidavit to be a sham because it contradicted the expert's earlier deposition testimony, where the expert indicated that she could not "tease apart" which of several possible causes of the plaintiff's injury was the actual cause of the injury. Hinch, 814 A.2d at 931.
On appeal, in Hinch, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the basis that the court improperly struck the expert's affidavit. Id. After offering a detailed explanation of the sham affidavit doctrine, the court held that it was too far of a "stretch" to apply the doctrine to situations where the expert's testimony was not "unambiguously and directly" contradictory. Id. The court concluded that the expert's statement that the defendant's negligence more likely than not caused the plaintiff's injury, did not materially contradict the expert's earlier deposition testimony where she stated that she could not "tease apart" which of several possible causes actually caused the plaintiff's injury. Id. The court found these statements reconcilable, reasoning: "[a]t a minimum,
Other jurisdictions also have determined that an affidavit contains material contradictions only when the assertions contained in the affidavit are significantly contradictory to, or irreconcilable with, the affiant's prior sworn testimony. See Shelcusky, 797 A.2d at 149 (indicating that a court should not exclude an affidavit if it does not "patently" and "sharply" contradict earlier deposition testimony); Tippens v. Celotex Corp., 805 F.2d 949, 954-55 (11th Cir.1986) (concluding that when an affiant indicated at three places in the deposition testimony that an agreement contained no requirement to purchase a building in order to obtain a contract, the affiant's affidavit that stated there was an agreement to purchase a building in order to obtain a contract, represented "the type of irreconcilable conflict that amounts to a transparent sham which should be disregarded"); Webster v. Sill, 675 P.2d 1170 (Utah 1983) (holding that an affidavit that stated the affiant slipped on wet grass materially contradicted the affiant's deposition testimony where the affiant stated that he had not noticed the grass was wet or slippery); Kennett-Murray Corp. v. Bone, 622 F.2d 887, 894 (5th Cir.1980) (stating that, "[c]ertainly, every discrepancy contained in an affidavit does not justify a district court's refusal to give credence to such evidence").
Interpreting the terms "material contradiction" to apply to irreconcilable statements of material fact comports with and furthers the purpose of the Maryland summary judgment procedure. Such an interpretation ensures that subsection (e) is utilized to strike affidavits that contain factual assertions that are not genuine. See Pittman, 359 Md. at 534, 754 A.2d at 1041 ("[C]ourts that have adopted the sham affidavit rule have said that `[t]he very object of summary judgment is to separate real and genuine issues from those that are formal or pretended, so that only the former may subject the moving party to the burden of trial.'") (quoting Radobenko v. Automated Equip. Corp., 520 F.2d 540, 544 (9th Cir.1975)). Yet, our interpretation of a material contradiction also observes the lessons of Pittman by preventing the motions court from making credibility determinations. See Baltimore v. Kelly, 391 Md. 64, 73, 891 A.2d 1103, 1108 (2006) (indicating that although summary judgment is useful in "facilitat[ing] the efficient disposition of litigation" in appropriate circumstances, its function is not to make credibility determinations or factual findings); See also Taylor v. NationsBank, 365 Md. 166, 174, 776 A.2d 645, 650 (2001) ("Evidentiary matters, credibility issues, and material facts which are in dispute cannot properly be disposed of by summary judgment.").
In the instant case, Dr. Hutchins' affidavit does not make a factual assertion that irreconcilably contradicts his prior sworn testimony. Rather, Dr. Hutchins' affidavit appears to supplement the testimony he provided at deposition.
Dr. Shmookler's affidavit also does not make a factual assertion that plainly contradicts his prior sworn testimony. At his deposition, Counsel asked Dr. Shmookler if he had an opinion as to Ms. Schaefer's June 2001 staging and Dr. Shmookler responded that he would defer to a gynecological oncologist or oncologist. Counsel asked Dr. Shmookler if he had an opinion as to Ms. Schaefer's May 2001 prognosis and Dr. Shmookler responded he would not be going into that. Dr. Shmookler also stated at deposition, however, that he believed that Ms. Schaefer's cancer would have been curable if The Medical Providers had properly diagnosed it in September of 2000. Later, Dr. Shmookler indicated in his affidavit that the failure to properly evaluate Ms. Schaefer's ovarian tumor in September of 2000 was a substantial factor in causing her death.
In our view, Dr. Shmookler's opinion regarding the failure to diagnose the tumor in September does not materially contradict his lack of opinion as to Ms. Schaefer's staging or prognosis in May or June. We disagree with the Court of Special Appeals' conclusion that because Dr. Shmookler did not have an opinion as to Ms. Schaefer's prognosis after she commenced the appropriate treatment for her cancer, that he could not state whether it was more probable than not that a healthcare provider's negligence caused Ms. Schaefer's death. The statements regarding May and June of 2001 are not factually irreconcilable with the statement regarding September of 2000. While it is possible that a reasonable trier of fact might find Dr. Shmookler's affidavit less credible in light of his deposition testimony, the motions court does not and should not make credibility determinations when striking an affidavit pursuant to 2-501(e).
Because we determine that the Circuit Court incorrectly struck the affidavits of Drs. Shmookler and Hutchins, we hold that the Court erroneously entered summary judgment on the basis that the Marcantonios failed to establish sufficient evidence of proximate cause.
In addition, we agree with the Marcantonios and with the Court of Special Appeals and conclude that this case does not involve the issue of "loss of chance" as that doctrine is defined by Maryland law. "Loss of chance" of survival refers to "decreasing the chance of survival as a result of negligent treatment where the likelihood of recovery from the preexisting disease or injury, prior to any alleged negligent treatment, was improbable, i.e., 50% or less." Fennell v. Southern Maryland Hosp., 320 Md. 776, 781, 580 A.2d 206, 208 (1990). On the basis of the record before us, the evidence indicates that Ms. Schaefer had an alleged 80 percent chance of survival prior to The Medical Providers' alleged negligence. Because Ms. Schaefer's alleged chance of survival exceeded 50 percent, the loss of chance doctrine is inapplicable to the Marcantonios' claims.
Moreover, this Court declines the Marcantonios' invitation to revisit our decision in Weimer v. Hetrick, 309 Md. 536, 525 A.2d 643 (1987), where we held that Maryland does not recognize the loss of chance doctrine in claims brought under the Maryland wrongful death statute, as codified under Md.Code (1974, 2006 Repl. Vol.), § 3-902(a) and 3-904(a) of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article. In Weimer, we concluded that the Maryland wrongful death statute requires a plaintiff seeking to recover damages under the statute to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's negligence proximately caused the decedent's death. 309 Md. at 554, 525 A.2d at 652. Accordingly, we held that wrongful death claims where the defendant's alleged negligence deprived the plaintiff of less than a (50 percent) probable chance of survival are not compensable under Maryland law.
We are not persuaded that this is the proper case to reconsider our decision in Weimer. Specifically, the Marcantonios did not argue in the trial court or the Court of Special Appeals that Maryland law should be changed to allow recovery for loss of chance in wrongful death claims. In addition, the facts as alleged do not support a loss of chance claim. Therefore, the issue is not properly before the Court.
HARRELL and WILNER, JJ., Concur.
Concurring Opinion by WILNER, J., which HARRELL, J., Joins.
I concur in the judgment, principally because I accept the Court's assessment that there was not the kind of contradiction between the deposition testimony and later affidavit of Dr. Hutchins to warrant the striking of the affidavit under Md. Rule 2-501(e). There clearly was a contradiction of sorts—in deposition, he said he would not be offering an opinion as to causation and in his affidavit he did offer such an opinion—but I agree that it was not the kind of contradiction of fact that Rule 2-501(e) was designed to address. I therefore agree that it was error for the trial court to strike his affidavit and, having struck it, then to grant summary judgment on the ground that there was no legally sufficient evidence of causation.
I write separately only to note that, although the striking of Hutchins's affidavit cannot be justified by Rule 2-501(e), which was the only basis upon which it was stricken, there was clearly another ground upon which, had it been argued, the court could, and probably should, have done what it did.
The initial complaint in this case was filed in November, 2004. Ms. Schaefer was still alive at the time, and so, other than a loss of consortium claim by her husband, Marcantonio, the complaint was solely to recover for the personal injuries and expenses incurred by Ms. Schaefer arising from the spread of the cancer—the pain, the additional medical procedures and expenses. Ms. Schaefer died in May, 2005, and, in November of that year, an amended complaint was filed to add a wrongful death claim. Pursuant to a scheduling order entered in July, 2005, a great deal of discovery had already taken place. Dr. Shmookler's deposition was taken in December, 2005, after the amended complaint had been filed and cause of death first became an issue. Dr. Hutchins's deposition occurred in January, 2006. Based on those depositions, the defendants had every right to believe that (1) Dr. Hutchins would not be rendering an opinion as to the cause of Ms. Schaefer's death, because that is what he said, and (2) Dr. Shmookler did not have an opinion as to what Ms. Schaefer's "staging" was in July, 2001 or her prognosis of survivability in May, 2001, because that is what he said.
In February, 2006, an amended scheduling order was entered. It required all depositions to be completed by March 23, 2006. On March 23, 2006, a pretrial order was entered, stating that, except for the plaintiff's deposition of a defense expert, no further discovery was allowed, that all dispositive motions had to be filed by June 1, 2006, and that a hearing on any such motion would occur on July 27, 2006.
In conformance with that order, the motion for summary judgment was filed on June 1, 2006, the basis of it being that the plaintiff had failed to show that Ms. Schaefer's death was proximately caused by the negligence of the defendants. The two affidavits at issue here were attached to the defendant's answer to the motion, which was filed on July 13, 2006. So far as we have been apprised, no prior notice of the new opinions of Drs. Hutchins and Shmookler was given to the defendants.
In terms of how this case was presented and argued, those affidavits decisively changed the legal landscape before the Circuit Court. That court held that, without the affidavits, the plaintiff had failed to establish the proximate cause of Ms. Schaefer's death and therefore had failed
That kind of practice is exactly what scheduling and discovery orders are designed to prevent. The belated offering of new opinions from previously deposed experts is no different than a party—plaintiff or defendant—coming up with new experts after discovery has been closed. That kind of evidence can properly be excluded at trial, and there is no reason why it may not be excluded in the context of a summary judgment motion. This is not a matter of unwarranted adherence to some technical rules. It is a matter of basic fairness and of assuring that litigation is pursued in an efficient and professional manner.
Unfortunately, this ground was not raised, and the Circuit Court did not consider it. I hope, however, that this Court's opinion will not be regarded as precluding the striking of evidence presented in the manner done in this case. I am authorized to state that Judge
HARRELL joins in this concurring opinion.