Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas J. Schneider, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kapsner, Justice.
N.D. Supreme CourtHayden v. Medcenter One, Inc.,
This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]
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Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice.
[¶1] Arthur and Joy Lynn Hayden, in their individual capacities and as co-conservators and co-guardians of Todd Hayden, and the law firm of Smith Bakke Porsborg Schweigert & Armstrong ("law firm") appeal from a summary judgment dismissing their claims against Medcenter One, Inc., and other medical providers for expenses and attorney fees incurred in securing payments from Todd Hayden's medical insurance company for his medical expenses. We affirm, concluding the district court did not err in ruling as a matter of law that the medical providers are not liable to the Haydens and the law firm under their asserted theories of unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, equitable estoppel and the common fund doctrine.
[¶2] On June 12, 2009, Todd Hayden sustained severe brain injuries in an all-terrain vehicle accident near Sidney, Montana. At the time of the injury, Todd Hayden was an adult employed by Nabors Industries, Inc., and he was covered under a group health plan administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas ("BCBSTX"). He was transported by air ambulance from Sidney Health Center to Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana, where he was treated for his injuries for approximately one month. Todd Hayden was then transferred to Medcenter in Bismarck to be closer to his parents who lived in South Heart. He has received medical care from Medcenter and its affiliates since then. Billings Clinic billed Todd Hayden more than $227,000 and Medcenter billed him more than $777,000 for his medical care.
[¶3] Although BCBSTX initially paid some of the claims submitted by the medical providers, it discontinued making payments and alleged Todd Hayden's injuries were not covered by the health insurance policy. On March 26, 2010, Todd Hayden's parents, individually and as his co-conservators and co-guardians, entered into a contingency fee agreement with the law firm to represent them in attempting to compel BCBSTX to provide medical insurance coverage for the injuries stemming from the June 2009 accident. In June 2010, Todd Hayden's parents sued BCBSTX and others in the United States District Court in North Dakota alleging the defendants had wrongfully failed to pay health insurance benefits. In June 2011, BCBSTX began making payments for Todd Hayden's medical care at discounted rates directly to his medical service providers. In the meantime, Todd Hayden's parents had been personally paying his COBRA premium payments to prevent the insurance policy from lapsing. The federal court action is ongoing.
[¶4] In January 2012, Todd Hayden's parents and the law firm commenced this action in state court against the medical providers requesting reimbursement for their expenses and liabilities incurred in pursuing the federal court action. They alleged the medical providers were liable to pay attorney fees under the contingency fee agreement because, absent the federal court action, the medical providers would not have received payment for Todd Hayden's medical bills. They contended recovery was available under theories of unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, equitable estoppel, and the common fund doctrine. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the medical providers dismissing the lawsuit. The court concluded as a matter of law that the theories of recovery asserted by the Haydens and the law firm were not viable under the circumstances.
[¶5] The Haydens and the law firm argue the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissing their claims. In their appellate brief, they point out that dismissal of the law firm and Todd Hayden's equitable claims are not being challenged and the only issues on appeal are "whether the trial judge erred in dismissing Todd's Parents' equitable claims, as well as the claims of Todd's Parents and [the law firm] under a 'common fund' theory."
[¶6] Our standard of review for summary judgments is well-established:
Summary judgment is a procedural device used to promptly resolve a controversy on the merits without a trial if either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and the material facts are undisputed or if resolving the disputed facts would not alter the result. "'Summary judgment is inappropriate if neither party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law or if reasonable differences of opinion exist as to the inferences to be drawn from the undisputed facts.'" Whether a district court has properly granted a motion for summary judgment is a question of law, which this Court reviews de novo on the record.
When we review a district court's decision on a motion for summary judgment, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and give the opposing party all favorable inferences. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court may examine the pleadings, depositions, admissions, affidavits, interrogatories, and inferences to be drawn from the evidence. The moving party must show there are no genuine issues of material fact and the case is appropriate for judgment as a matter of law. A party resisting the motion for summary judgment "cannot merely rely on the pleadings or other unsupported conclusory allegations, but must present competent admissible evidence by affidavit or other comparable means which raises an issue of material fact." Riedlinger v. Steam Brothers, Inc., 2013 ND 14, ¶ 10 (quoting Burris Carpet Plus, Inc. v. Burris, 2010 ND 118, ¶¶ 10-11, 785 N.W.2d 164 (citations omitted)).
[¶7] The Haydens and the law firm argue the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissing their claims because the court's ruling was "premature" and they were not afforded a reasonable opportunity to conduct discovery. Although the court did not specifically state the request for additional time was denied, we assume the court denied the request because it granted summary judgment in ...