Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Clouthier v. The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

September 20, 2019

CLOUTHIER
v.
THE MEDICAL CENTER OF CENTRAL GEORGIA, INC.

          MILLER, P. J., RICKMAN and REESE, JJ.

          MILLER, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         After Francis Clouthier was involved in a tractor-trailor accident, The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc. ("MCCG") placed a lien on his causes of action. In response, Clouthier filed a putative class action against MCCG challenging the lien and raising numerous claims for damages. Clouthier appeals from the trial court's order granting MCCG's motion to dismiss his complaint, arguing that he pled viable claims for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of Georgia's Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") Act. After a careful examination of Clouthier's complaint, we determine that the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint. Therefore, we reverse.

         We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss de novo. Roberts v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, Nat. Assn., 342 Ga.App. 73 (802 S.E.2d 880) (2017).

A trial court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted unless: (1) the allegations of the complaint disclose with certainty that the claimant would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support thereof; and (2) the movant establishes that the claimant could not possibly introduce evidence within the framework of the complaint sufficient to warrant a grant of the relief sought. In deciding a motion to dismiss, all pleadings are to be construed most favorably to the party who filed them, and all doubts regarding such pleadings must be resolved in the filing party's favor. In other words, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff would be entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of his claim.

(Citation omitted.) Ikomoni v. Bank of America, N.A., 330 Ga.App. 776, 776-777 (769 S.E.2d 527) (2015). We emphasize that we are at the motion-to-dismiss stage, prior to the completion of discovery, and we are not considering whether Clouthier's claims will ultimately prove meritorious or the likelihood that Clouthier will indeed be able to introduce evidence to support his claims. "If, within the framework of the complaint, evidence may be introduced which will sustain a grant of relief to the plaintiff, the complaint is sufficient. (Citation omitted; emphasis supplied.) Id. at 777. Thus, "it is the rare case in which a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, as opposed to a motion for summary judgment, will provide an appropriate procedural device for securing summary adjudication of the issues raised in a complaint . . . ." (Citation omitted.) Radio Perry, Inc. v. Cox Communications, Inc., 323 Ga.App. 604, 611 (1) (b) (746 S.E.2d 670) (2013). Mindful of these principles, we turn to Clouthier's complaint.

         According to his complaint, Clouthier was injured in a tractor-trailer collision in August 2016, and an ambulance transported him to MCCG's emergency room for treatment. After his discharge from the hospital, MCCG became aware that Clouthier's injuries were caused by third parties, and in November 2016, MCCG filed a hospital lien against Clouthier's causes of action, in the amount of $56, 856.89. Specifically, the lien affidavit stated that MCCG "claims a lien upon any and all causes of action accruing to [Clouthier] on account of injuries giving rise to such causes of action and that necessitated hospital care." The affidavit also stated that the lien was claimed "as provided for in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, Section 44-14-470 et seq."

         Clouthier reached a "confidential" settlement in his collision case and then filed a complaint and petition for class action against MCCG in the Bibb County State Court. Clouthier alleged that MCCG's lien and charges were for the "full chargemaster rate" or "sticker price" of his medical procedures, "which [did] not represent a reasonable charge for the treatment received." Clouthier claimed that MCCG knew that the lien amount was not reasonable, and he raised claims of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of the RICO Act.[1] Clouthier further requested punitive damages, an award of attorney fees, and class certification as to all similarly situated plaintiffs.

         MCCG filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. MCCG contended that the Bibb County State Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Clouthier's complaint because Clouthier's lawsuit was essentially a request for equitable relief. MCCG also argued that the lien did not convey any false information.

         Following a hearing, the trial court granted MCCG's motion to dismiss. The trial court first determined that it had jurisdiction because Clouthier sought an award of damages. Regarding Clouthier's claims for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of the RICO Act, the trial court found that they all required a "false swearing" or "negligent misrepresentation" by MCCG as to the reasonableness of its charges. The trial court reasoned that the language of the lien affidavit did not show that MCCG ever swore that the lien amount was reasonable and that MCCG therefore never made a false statement.[2] After the trial court issued a certificate of immediate review, this Court granted Clouthier's application for interlocutory appeal, and this appeal followed.

         1. First, Clouthier contends that the trial court erred in dismissing his claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation on the basis that MCCG never made a false statement or negligent misrepresentation. We agree.

         "Georgia law gives a hospital a lien for the reasonable charges for its care and treatment of an injured person against all causes of action accruing to that person on account of [his] injuries, and establishes a process for the hospital to perfect its lien for the amount claimed to be due." Bowden v. Med. Center, Inc., 297 Ga. 285 (773 S.E.2d 692) (2015). See OCGA § 44-14-470 (b) (explaining that the hospital "shall have a lien for the reasonable charges"). In order to perfect the lien, the hospital must provide written notice to the patient, and must also file "a verified statement" setting forth "the amount claimed to be due" for the hospital. OCGA § 44-14-471 (a) (1) -(2).

         (a) Turning to Clouthier's fraud claim, "fraud requires five essential elements: a false representation, scienter, inducement, reliance, and injury resulting from reliance on the false representation." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Cox v. Bank of America, N. A., 321 Ga.App. 806, 807 (2) (742 S.E.2d 147) (2013). "Fraud, though, does not have to be committed solely by wil[l]ful misrepresentation." E-Z Serve Convenience Stores, Inc. v. Crowell, 244 Ga.App. 43, 46 (1) (b) (535 S.E.2d 16) (2000). By its very nature, fraud "is subtle and can be accomplished in an infinite number of ways including signs and tricks and even, in some instances, by silence." (Citation omitted.) Id. See Woodall v. Orkin Exterminating Co., 175 Ga.App. 83, 84 (332 S.E.2d 173) (1985) (explaining that it is "impossible to state any general rule by which particular frauds are to be identified" because fraud is "exceedingly subtle" in nature and "almost, if not quite, impossible" to classify). Indeed, fraud may be consummated by "any . . . unfair way used to cheat another." (Emphasis supplied.) OCGA § 23-2-56. Further, even "slight circumstances may be sufficient to carry conviction of [fraud's] existence." (Citation omitted.) Fed. Ins. Co. v. Westside Supply Co., 264 Ga.App. 240, 242 (1) (590 S.E.2d 224) (2003). Thus, MCCG need not have overtly and falsely sworn that its claimed lien amount was reasonable in order for Clouthier to have pleaded a fraud claim, and the trial court erred in ruling otherwise.

         As explained above, MCCG is only allowed a hospital lien for "reasonable charges, " but MCCG stated in the lien affidavit that its lien was claimed "as provided for" in the hospital lien statutes. Clouthier alleged that MCCG filed a lien using the hospital lien statutes knowing that the claimed amount of the lien was excessive and unreasonable and that MCCG did so with the intent to collect more than a reasonable charge for the services rendered to Clouthier. Conceivably, evidence may be introduced that MCCG did the above while knowing that it would not actually be able to recover on the lien in the amount claimed and also knowing ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.