Phillips and Shaeffer Win on Appeal

In a January 2020 decision, HAT attorneys Michael Phillips and Chris Shaeffer won on appeal in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The appeal relates to an original case by the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina, which resulted in summary judgment. In the case, the plaintiff, John Walter Riggins, claimed negligent care by Defendant, The Brian Center, specifically the failure to provide his mother a thickened liquid diet, resulted in his mother’s death from aspiration pneumonia. Summary judgment was granted by the District Court when the plaintiff’s medical expert, Dr. Carol Rupe, failed to testify to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the decedent’s death was related to the failure to provide thickened liquids. 

Thanks to excellent briefing and application of law by Phillips and Shaeffer, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court on all issues, holding that the District Court did not err in granting of summary judgment, nor did it abuse its discretion in pointing out the conflicting portions of Dr. Rupe’s after-the-fact affidavit. The 4th Circuit reaffirmed that Dr. Rupe’s testimony was insufficient to reach a jury (therefore leading to summary judgment), and that Dr. Rupe’s affidavit was only presented when faced with summary judgment and introduced a “vague, competing standard.”