Mccoy v. United States: the Eighth Circuit Imposes Excessive Requirements in Administrative Claims and Fails to Apply the Continuous Treatment Doctrine to Properly Postpone a Claim's Accrual

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
CitationVol. 36
Publication year2022

36 Creighton L. Rev. 213. MCCOY V. UNITED STATES: THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT IMPOSES EXCESSIVE REQUIREMENTS IN ADMINISTRATIVE CLAIMS AND FAILS TO APPLY THE CONTINUOUS TREATMENT DOCTRINE TO PROPERLY POSTPONE A CLAIM'S ACCRUAL

Creighton Law Review


Vol. 36


INTRODUCTION

The federal government will waive its immunity from suit and allow parties injured by negligent actions of government employees to sue the United States in particular circumstances.(fn1) Congress expressed the requirements for this waiver in the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").(fn2) In order to bring an FTCA suit, a claimant must meet certain prerequisites.(fn3) One prerequisite includes filing an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency within a two-year statute of limitations, which begins to run upon the claim's accrual.(fn4) While a claim typically accrues at the time the injury occurs, medical malpractice claims accrue when the claimant knows of an injury and its cause.(fn5) In certain cases, a claimant's receipt of continuous medical treatment can save a claim that the statute of limitations would otherwise bar as untimely.(fn6) This "continuous treatment" doctrine can toll the running of the statute of limitations on the claim, postpone the accrual of the claim, or both.(fn7) Federal courts are split on determining the adequacy of a particular administrative claim and the circumstances under which continuing treatment will make an otherwise barred claim timely.(fn8)

In McCoy v. United States,(fn9) Steven McCoy ("McCoy") brought a claim for personal injury against the United States as a result of medical treatment he received while incarcerated in federal prison.(fn10) The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit determined Mc-Coy had not raised certain claims in his administrative allegations and thus could not raise them in his FTCA action in federal court.(fn11) Specifically, the Eighth Circuit determined that McCoy had failed to claim continuing negligent treatment in his administrative claim, which therefore barred him from raising the issue of continuing negligent treatment in his FTCA action.(fn12) Under the Eighth Circuit's accepted form of the continuing treatment doctrine, the McCoy court recognized that if a plaintiff claimed continuing negligent treatment, the accrual of his claim would have been postponed until the treatment ended.(fn13) However, upon finding that McCoy did not claim continuing negligent treatment, the court determined McCoy's claim accrued in the midst of his treatment rather than at completion.(fn14) As McCoy did not file his administrative claim within two years of accrual, the court ruled the statute of limitations barred his claim.(fn15)

This Note will discuss the Eighth Circuit's erroneous determination in McCoy, which declared that the administrative claim was insufficient and that the continuing treatment doctrine did not apply to McCoy's claim.(fn16) First, this Note will review the facts and holding of McCoy.(fn17) Second, this Note will review federal statutes, regulations, and cases addressing the requirements of an administrative claim, the continuing treatment doctrine, and claim accrual.(fn18) Finally, this Note will examine the Eighth Circuit's decision in McCoy and will present four arguments.(fn19)

First, this Note will demonstrate that the McCoy court improperly assessed the adequacy of McCoy's administrative claim because McCoy claimed continuing negligent treatment in his administrative claim.(fn20) Second, this Note will reveal that the court incorrectly placed strict requirements on the filing of an administrative claim because a federal regulation requires only sufficient information for the government to investigate the claim and review it for settlement.(fn21) Third, this Note will show the court failed to recognize the continuing treatment doctrine applied to McCoy's FTCA claim, thereby postponing the claim's accrual because McCoy had claimed continuing negligent treatment in his administrative claim.(fn22) Finally, this Note will demonstrate that the McCoy court incorrectly relied on the Eighth Circuit's ruling in Reilly v. United States(fn23) in determining McCoy's claim accrued before his treatment ended because McCoy had plead continuing negligent treatment, thereby postponing the accrual of his claim until the end of McCoy's treatment.(fn24) This Note will show that McCoy claimed continuing negligent treatment and provided the information required by federal regulation in his administrative claim.(fn25) As a result, this Note will conclude that McCoy's claim accrued when his treatment ended and the statute of limitations did not bar his claim.(fn26)

FACTS AND HOLDING

In McCoy v. United States,(fn27) the plaintiff, Steven McCoy ("McCoy"), was confined to federal prison from 1993 through April 16, 1999 for drug conspiracy.(fn28) In December of 1994, a brown recluse spider bit McCoy on his right leg.(fn29) Consequently, he sought treatment at the prison's infirmary, where several attempts to treat the resulting infection failed.(fn30) Prison doctors subsequently diagnosed McCoy with peripheral vascular disease and attempted an arterial bypass procedure, which also failed to resolve McCoy's infection.(fn31) As a result of the continuing infection, the physicians amputated McCoy's right leg in 1995.(fn32)

In June 1996, McCoy discovered lesions developing on his left foot and sought treatment at the prison infirmary.(fn33) Like the treatment for his right leg, the treatment for his left foot failed.(fn34) Subsequently, several doctors at several different prison medical facilities treated McCoy's illness.(fn35) McCoy's doctors did not begin to treat him for vascular disease in his left leg until January 1997.(fn36) After doctors began vascular disease treatment, McCoy underwent an arterial bypass and additional procedures in an effort to cure the injury.(fn37) These attempts also failed.(fn38) McCoy's left leg became gangrenous and on January 23, 1997, McCoy's doctors amputated his left leg below the knee.(fn39)

After the amputation of McCoy's left leg, the stump wound did not heal.(fn40) McCoy underwent additional surgeries to close the wound, including a stump revision, a bone resection, and a skin graft on the stump.(fn41) In March of 1997, McCoy's doctors began to suspect McCoy had Buerger's Disease, a vascular disease, but did not tell him of their suspicion until April 1997.(fn42) In addition, McCoy's doctors did not advise him to quit smoking, which was the only known treatment for the disease.(fn43) Doctors continued to treat McCoy for complications from the left leg amputation until his release from prison in April 1999.(fn44)

McCoy filed his administrative claim with the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") on February 1, 1999, alleging malpractice in treating his pe-ripheral vascular disease, including the amputation of his left leg.(fn45) The BOP rejected McCoy's claim as untimely, claiming McCoy filed his administrative claim more than two years after the amputation of his leg.(fn46) The BOP stated the FTCA required McCoy to file his claim within two years of his claim's accrual.(fn47) The BOP stated that because McCoy failed to file his administrative claim within the required two years, the statute of limitations barred McCoy's claim.(fn48)

McCoy then filed suit against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), the federal law which governs tort claims brought against the United States, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri on August 5, 1999.(fn49) In this action, McCoy alleged prison doctors had negligently failed to diagnose and treat his vascular disease, which resulted in his left leg's amputation, medical bills, permanent disability, pain and suffering, loss of future income, and loss of enjoyment of life.(fn50) The United States filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the statute of limitations barred McCoy's claim because the amputation of his leg occurred more than two years before he filed his administrative claim.(fn51) McCoy argued the continuing treatment doctrine tolled the statute of limitations.(fn52) Judge Russell Clark agreed with McCoy's contention and denied the government's motion for summary judgment.(fn53) Subsequently, the government filed a motion to reconsider; Judge Clark changed his earlier decision and granted the United States' motion for summary judgment, stating the ongoing treatment had nothing to do with McCoy's claim and that his claims were over two years old.(fn54)

McCoy appealed the district court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, arguing that the statute of limitations did not bar his claim.(fn55) Judge Kermit Bye, writing for the majority, affirmed the district court's decision.(fn56) The Eighth Circuit noted that McCoy's claim fell under the FTCA.(fn57) As such, the Eighth Circuit stated McCoy should have first presented his claim to the appropriate federal agency; only after denial of the claim by the agency could McCoy then proceed with judicial action.(fn58) The Eighth Circuit also declared that the statute of limitations would bar McCoy's claim unless he presented the claim in writing to that agency within two years of the claim's accrual.(fn59)

McCoy contended the statute of limitations did not bar his claim.(fn60) He stated that his administrative claim asserted not...

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