Dockery v. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Inc. 2021 Pa. Super. 23 (Feb. 22. 2021)

The court holds that a medical-malpractice plaintiff lacks standing to advance the constitutional rights of non-medical-malpractice defendants.

The case involved a medical-malpractice action in Philadelphia County brought by the plaintiff against Thomas Jefferson University Hospital along with various other individual medical providers. The alleged malpractice took place in Delaware County. The defendants filed preliminary objections based on venue, arguing that under Pennsylvania law, medical malpractice actions can only be brought in the county in which the cause of action arose. The preliminary objections were sustained, and the case was transferred to the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County erred by refusing to declare 42 Pa.C.S.A 5101 and Pa.R.C.P. 1006(1) unconstitutional. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the statutes violated the equal protection clause because they are not applicable to any other classes of plaintiffs in Pennsylvania. The plaintiff also suggested that the statues create a subclass within the general defendant population by providing special provisions for medical defendants. However, the Superior Court found that the plaintiff’s arguments were fatally flawed. The court explained that the plaintiff was not a civil defendant; rather, she was a civil plaintiff; therefore, she could not assert that the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure inflict an equal-protection violation upon non-medical-malpractice defendants by requiring them to satisfy the common law of forum non convenienes or other rules to transfer their cases to different venues. Furthermore, the plaintiff failed to meet the necessary burden under the rational basis test because she could not show that the rules had no legitimate rationale. As such, the plaintiff’s constitutional challenge was flawed. Therefore, because the plaintiff did not properly mount a constitutional attack, the trial court’s order transferring venue was affirmed. The court held that a medical-malpractice plaintiff lacks standing to advance the constitutional rights of a non-medical-malpractice defendant.

This case demonstrates that, at least for now, the equal protection challenge to the medical malpractice venue statute failed because the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Legislature and the courts lacked any legitimate interest in restricting venue in medical malpractice cases to the county where the cause of action arose. However, it is clear that the plaintiff’s bar will continue to explore various avenues to attack the current rules applicable to venue in medical malpractice cases.


Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.