Indiana Appellate Court Affirms Denial Of Fertility Doctor’s Motion To Dismiss In Lawsuit Alleging He Used His Own Sperm To Impregnate Patients

In a case decided by the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) on July 29, 2020, the plaintiff, Matthew White (“Matthew”), filed a multi-count complaint after he had learned that the defendant physician had used his own sperm, rather than a medical school resident’s donor sperm, to artificially inseminate his mother, Elizabeth White (“Elizabeth”). As a result of this artificial insemination procedure, Elizabeth became pregnant and gave birth to Matthew.

The Indiana Appellate Court concluded: “Matthew has sufficiently stated breach of contract and tort claims for which relief can be granted, we affirm the trial court’s denial of Appellants’ motion to dismiss.”

The Underlying Facts

In 1981, Elizabeth sought the services of the defendants to become pregnant. The defendant physician told Elizabeth that he would artificially inseminate her with donor sperm from an anonymous medical school resident and that he would use the donor sperm in no more than three successful artificial insemination procedures in a well-defined geographic area. At no time did the defendant physician tell Elizabeth that he would inseminate her with his own sperm. Elizabeth subsequently entered into a contract with the defendants for an artificial insemination procedure. The contract specified that her procedure would use donor sperm from an anonymous medical school resident. Following the artificial insemination procedure, Elizabeth became pregnant and gave birth to Matthew in 1982.

In September 2016, Elizabeth and Matthew learned that the defendant physician had inseminated Elizabeth and other patients with his own sperm rather than with donor sperm from anonymous medical school residents. In November 2016, Elizabeth and Matthew filed a proposed Indiana medical malpractice complaint against the defendants with the Indiana Department of Insurance.

In December 2016, Elizabeth and Matthew filed a joint multi-count complaint for damages against the defendants in the Marion Superior Court. Matthew alleged claims for breach of contract, medical malpractice, and negligent hiring and retention. Specifically, Matthew alleged that the defendants had breached their contract with Elizabeth when the defendant physician artificially inseminated her with his sperm rather than the sperm of an anonymous medical school resident. Matthew alleged that he was a third-party beneficiary to this contract. Matthew also alleged that the defendants had breached their duty by deviating from the standard of care regarding fertility practices. Matthew further alleged that as a result of the defendants’ negligence, Matthew had suffered substantial harm and incurred significant damages.

In February 2018, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss Matthew’s claims, alleging that Matthew had failed to state claims for which relief could be granted because he had not sufficiently stated a breach of contract claim because he had failed to establish that he was a third-party beneficiary to the contract between Elizabeth and the defendants; that the allegations in Matthew’s complaint had failed to sufficiently state a claim for negligence because Matthew had failed to establish that the defendants owed him a duty of care; and, that his complaint had failed to state a claim for compensable injuries. The Superior Court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the defendants appealed.

Indiana Appellate Court Opinion

The Indiana Appellate Court stated, “At the outset, we note that because we are reviewing the denial of a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss, we need not determine whether Matthew was a third-person beneficiary to the contract. Rather, at this point, we look at the allegations in Matthew’s complaint, which we accept as true, to determine whether they establish any set of circumstances under which Matthew would be entitled to relief as a third-party beneficiary and whether they have “stated some factual scenario in which a legally actionable injury has occurred.””

The Indiana Appellate Court stated: “Here, Matthew alleges in his amended complaint that: (1) the contract between Elizabeth and Appellants “was intended to provide [Matthew] the direct benefit of life and/or existence[;]” (2) the contract “imposed a duty on at least one of the parties thereto in favor of [Matthew;]” and (3) “performance of the terms of the contract necessarily rendered a number of tangible direct benefits to [Matthew], including his conception; intrauterine development; birth; and life as a human being.” (App. Vol. 2 at 68). Taking these allegations as true, as we must do when conducting a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) review, Matthew has established a set of circumstances under which he would be entitled to relief as a third-party beneficiary. Matthew has therefore stated a claim for which relief can be granted, and the trial court did not err in denying Appellants’ motion to dismiss Matthew’s breach of contract action.”

With regard to the defendants’ argument that Matthew had failed to establish a duty of care owed to him, the Indiana Appellate Court stated: “Here, in his amended complaint, Matthew alleged that Elizabeth had “presented to and consulted the [Appellants] for artificial insemination” in September 1981, and that “[a]s a result of the insemination procedure performed by [Appellants] [Elizabeth] became pregnant with [Matthew], who was born on November 26, 1982.” (App. Vol. 2 at 64-65). Matthew also alleged that “during that time, [Appellants] had a duty to provide reasonable and appropriate medical care to [Matthew]” and had “failed to use the ordinary skill, care and diligence in their care and treatment of [Matthew].” (App. Vol. 2 at 64, 65). Matthew’s amended complaint also alleged that “[a]ccording to [Appellants’] policies and representations communicated to their patients, including [Elizabeth,] specimens from a single donor were to be used in no more than three successful insemination procedures in a well-defined geographic area. Therefore, specimens from a single donor were not to be used in more than three successful insemination procedures[.]” (App. Vol. 2 at 64). The amended complaint further alleged that this policy “was important to limit the risk of accidental incest resulting from many closely biologically related individuals living near each other and unaware of their biological relationships.” (App. Vol. 2 at 65).” The Indiana Appellate Court held: “Taking these facts as true and viewing the pleadings with every reasonable inference in Matthew’s favor, we conclude that Matthew has pleaded the operative facts necessary to establish that Appellants owed him a duty of care … In other words, because it does not appear to a certainty on the face of the complaint that Matthew is not entitled to relief, a dismissal of Matthew’s complaint would have been improper.”

The Indiana Appellate Court further held: “Here, Matthew was neither born with birth defects nor does he allege that, due to negligent medical advice or testing, Elizabeth was precluded from an informed decision about whether to conceive a potentially handicapped child or terminate her pregnancy. He also does not allege that his life is an injury. Rather, Matthew alleges that Appellants breached their duty of care and that breach caused him to suffer both physical and emotional damages. Adhering to our Trial Rule 12(B)(6) standard of review, we need not determine whether Matthew actually suffered physical and emotional damages. Rather, at this point, we look at the allegations in Matthew’s complaint, accepting them as true, to determine whether they establish any set of circumstances under which Matthew would be entitled to relief … Here, Matthew has alleged that Elizabeth had “presented to and consulted the [Appellants] for artificial insemination” in September 1981, and that “as a result of the insemination procedure performed by [Appellants], [Elizabeth] became pregnant with [Matthew], who was born on November 26, 1982.” (App. Vol. 2 at 64-65). Matthew also alleged that “during that time, [Appellants] had a duty to provide reasonable and appropriate medical care to [Matthew]” and had “failed to use the ordinary skill, care and diligence in their care and treatment of [Matthew].” (App. Vol. 2 at 64, 65). Matthew also alleged that he had “suffered substantial harm and incurred significant damages, including both emotional and physical harms” as a result of Appellants’ negligence. (App. Vol. 2 at 66). Taking these allegations as true, Matthew has established a set of circumstances under which he would be entitled to damages proximately caused by Appellants’ breach of duty … Here, because Matthew has stated a damages claim for which relief can be granted and placed Appellants on notice as to why he sues, Appellants may “flesh out” specific evidentiary facts regarding Matthew’s damages through the discovery process … Whether Matthew can prevail on a claim for emotional distress damages will depend on those facts.”

Source Anonymous Physician I v. White, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CT-1262.

If you or a family member suffered harm as a result of fertility treatments in Indiana or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Indiana medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state, who may investigate your fertility malpractice claim for you and represent you or your family member in a fertility medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 7th, 2020 at 5:30 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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