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Dale v. Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery Race Horse Service, PLLC

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 17, 2019

WILLIAM O. DALE; A. JAMES STREELMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
EQUINE SPORTS MEDICINE & SURGERY RACE HORSE SERVICE, PLLC; DR. BOYD CLEMENT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON LIMITATIONS AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SANCTIONS UNDER RULE 11 AND §1927

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon:

• Motion for Summary Judgment on Limitations, filed on June 25, 2019 by Defendants Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery Race Horse Service, PLLC (“ESMS”) and Dr. Boyd Clement (“Dr. Clement”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Doc. 43; and
• Plaintiffs' Motion for Imposition of Rule 11 Sanctions and/or Section 1927 Sanctions and to Strike Replies (Doc. 62).

         Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' lawsuit on the grounds that it is not timely under applicable statutes of limitation. Plaintiffs seek sanctions based on Defendants' untimely filing of reply pleadings. Having reviewed the relevant pleadings of the parties and the applicable law, the Court finds that Defendants' motion is well-taken and, therefore, is granted; and that Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions is not well-taken and, therefore, is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of veterinary treatment of a racehorse, RawHide Canyon. Plaintiffs William O. Dale and A. James Streelman (collectively “Plaintiffs”) allege that Defendants' negligence and gross negligence in providing veterinary care for Plaintiffs' race horse Rawhide Canyon caused the horse to have severe trauma which ultimately resulted in death. Plaintiffs filed the original complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas with subject matter jurisdiction based upon diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. William O. Dale and A. James Streelman, owners of Rawhide Canyon, are domiciled in Missouri and California, respectively. ESMS is a licensed veterinarian clinic specializing in the medical care and treatment of racehorses and is domiciled in Texas, with an office located in Weatherford, Texas. Dr. Clement is a veterinarian employed by ESMS to practice veterinarian medicine in Texas and New Mexico and is domiciled in Albuquerque and, according to the complaint, he was “the ongoing treating physician for Rawhide Canyon . . . .” Compl., ¶27. The parties have stipulated that “[a]ll medical care and medical oversight of Rawhide Canyon provided from her arrival in New Mexico was primarily provided by Dr. Boyd Clement in New Mexico.” Doc. 21 (Jt. Status Rep't, ¶53). The complaint alleges three counts:

I - Veterinarian Malpractice
II - Gross Negligence and
III -Violation of the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practice Act, NMSA 1978 §57-12-1 et seq.

         I. History of Litigation

         This case has a long and torturous procedural history, which the Court summarizes here for context.

         On October 30, 2015, Mr. Dale filed a Complaint for Damages From Veterinary Malpractice/Negligence in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, Cause No. 4:15-cv-00825-A (“Texas case”). Mr. Streelman joined as a plaintiff on January 26, 2016.[1] In February, 2016, Plaintiffs moved to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, claiming that the District of New Mexico was more convenient for certain Defendants, but the motion was denied by the presiding judge in the Texas case, United States District Judge John McBryde. On May 20, 2016, having been unsuccessful in transferring venue to the District of New Mexico, Plaintiffs then attempted to obtain leave of court under Rule 41(a)(2) to dismiss the Texas case altogether in order to refile it in the District of New Mexico.

         Judge McBryde denied the motion to dismiss on June 23, 2016. Plaintiffs then sought reconsideration, frankly explaining to the court that they hoped to find a jury more willing to award them greater damages:

Plaintiffs prefer a venue with population of jurors who may have more familiarity with the full economic value of race horses and are generally known to be more inclined to award damages appropriate for the loss of opportunity that a race horse can yield.

Doc. 37-1 at 19. In their motion for reconsideration, Plaintiffs indicated their willingness to pay Defendants' reasonable attorneys' fees, but that negotiations had been unsuccessful. Judge McBryde nevertheless denied Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider on April 25, 2017. Dale v. Equine Sports Med. & Surgery Race Horse Serv., PLLC, 4:15-CV-825-A, 2017 WL 1498030, at *3-*4 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 25, 2017).

         Plaintiffs had also filed an earlier and almost identical lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, making no disclosure regarding this “duplicate action” to Judge McBryde, who opined in an unpublished opinion that the filing of that action “was a part of a plan by the plaintiffs to avoid a trial in this court and to shift venue to the federal court in New Mexico.” Dale v. Equine Sports Med. & Surgery Race Horse Serv., PLLC, No. 4:15-CV-825-A, 2017 WL 1498030, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 25, 2017). Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed this first New Mexico case by Notice under Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(i) without prejudice, on January 10, 2017.

         The Texas case went to trial on December 12, 2016 and ended in a mistrial on Defendants' motion after a witness for Plaintiffs testified about settlement negotiations between the parties, although Plaintiffs' counsel had been ordered not to offer such evidence. Dale v. Equine Sports Med. & Surgery Race Horse Serv., P.L.L.C., 750 Fed.Appx. 265, 267 (5th Cir., Sept. 10, 2018).[2]After an acrimonious post-trial period with both sides seeking sanctions, Judge McBryde reset the matter for trial, but Plaintiffs gave notice that they would not appear for the reset trial. When Plaintiffs refused to appear for trial in that case and would not prove to Judge McBryde's satisfaction the basis for Plaintiffs' refusal to appear for re-trial, Judge McBryde dismissed the case with prejudice for failure to prosecute under Rule 41 and entered judgment in Defendants' favor.

         Plaintiffs appealed Judge McBryde's rulings to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, raising numerous issues. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in in denying Plaintiffs' motion to transfer venue, but found that the district court had abused its discretion in refusing to reconsider its denial of Plaintiffs' motions for voluntary dismissal and reconsideration, finding that the district court should have granted the motion to reconsider when Plaintiffs made clear that they would pay Defendants' reasonable attorneys' fees. 750 Fed.Appx. at 268-69. The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss Plaintiffs' case without prejudice. Id. The final result was that Plaintiffs' Motion to Dismiss was finally granted, and Plaintiffs re-filed the case here in the District of New Mexico.

         II. Relevant Facts

         The facts in Plaintiffs' complaint offer no information pertinent to a limitations argument.

         The complaint includes dates of races run by RawHide Canyon, see Doc. 1, ¶¶11-21, but omits dates corresponding to any veterinary treatment until the horse's death in October of 2014, ¶¶24- 47. The complaint also contains almost no information pertaining to where the treatment was given and so there is no way to know which allegations pertain to the two Defendants in this case. See ¶¶34-47. The Joint Status Report (Doc. 21, “JSR”) offers nothing more. Plaintiffs list 437 “contentions” filling 44 pages of the Joint Status Report, and these contentions are also devoid of specific treatment locations and dates for those facts related to veterinary treatment. The Fifth Circuit provided a cogent, succinct description of the case as follows:

Plaintiffs purchased Rawhide Canyon for $19, 000. During the next racing season, Rawhide Canyon sustained an injury that created bone chips in one of her joints. Following a surgery to remove the bone chips, Rawhide Canyon was transported to New Mexico for rehabilitation. There, Dr. Boyd Clement, an employee of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery Race Horse Service, PLLC (“ESMS”), was Rawhide Canyon's ongoing treating veterinarian.
A year later, Rawhide Canyon developed an infection in the joint that had been the subject of the surgery. Dr. Clement, along with other ESMS employees, continued to treat Rawhide Canyon for that infection. Later, Rawhide Canyon was transferred to an ESMS facility in Weatherford, Texas. By then, Rawhide Canyon's condition had significantly deteriorated, and she was eventually euthanized.

Dale v. Equine Sports Med. & Surgery Race Horse Serv., P.L.L.C, 750 Fed.Appx. 265, 266-67 (5th Cir. 2018).

         The only operative facts provided by the parties which the Court finds relevant to the limitations issue are the stipulations listed in the Joint Status Report (Doc. 21):

• On June 1, 2014, Dr. Clement injected Rawhide Canyon's right radiocarpal ...

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