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Clemensen v. Providence Alaska Medical Center

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 27, 2009

James CLEMENSEN, Appellant,
v.
PROVIDENCE ALASKA MEDICAL CENTER d/b/a Providence Alaska Health Systems And/Or Providence Health Systems-Washington, Appellee.

Page 1149

Richard L. Harren, Law Offices of Richard L. Harren, P.C., Wasilla, for Appellant.

Daniel W. Hickey and Anne M. Preston, Gruenstein & Hickey, Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before FABE, Chief Justice, MATTHEWS, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

FABE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

In March 2003 James Clemensen assisted the hospital staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center in convincing his wife, Helen, that she should stay at Providence for an examination of her mental status. James claims that he was assured by Providence that by law the hospital could hold Helen for up to seventy-two hours and that it would not release Helen to anyone but him. The attending physician who evaluated Helen determined that she suffered from Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The day after her admission to the hospital, Helen checked out of Providence and left with her adult daughter, Faye Romer. A few months later, Helen filed for divorce. In March 2006 James filed a complaint against Providence, alleging that he suffered emotional distress caused by Providence's release of Helen to her daughter rather than him. The superior court dismissed James's complaint for failure to state a claim on the basis that economic damages resulting from a divorce action are not recoverable, that the two-year statute of limitations bars James's tort claims, and that James lacked the authority to contract with Providence to prevent it from releasing Helen to her daughter. Because the superior court correctly analyzed the issues, we affirm its dismissal of James's complaint.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

On March 30, 2003,[1] James Clemensen drove his wife of more than twenty-five years, Helen, to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The day Before , Helen had fallen in the couple's home in Big Lake and suffered a hip injury. During the evaluation of Helen's hip, James told the hospital staff that he was concerned that Helen was showing signs of confusion, paranoia, and depression, and he " informed the Providence intake personnel of the suggestions made by at least one healthcare provider that she was exhibiting signs of dementia and/or Alzheimer['s disease]." After James inquired about having Helen's mental status assessed, the hospital staff persuaded him to leave Helen in their care for a mental status examination, and they assured him that by law they could hold Helen for up to seventy-two hours and would not release Helen to anyone but him. Based on these assurances, James assisted the hospital staff in convincing Helen that she should stay at Providence for further examination. James told Providence that he would return to visit Helen the next day.

The attending physician at Providence evaluated Helen, determining that she suffered

Page 1150

from Alzheimer's disease and dementia, " with agitation and paranoid features," and that she " would not be competent to agree to or refuse medical advice." During Helen's stay at Providence, she was given an antipsychotic medication.

The day after Helen checked into Providence, James called the hospital to ask about her status. A hospital staff member told James that Helen had checked out of the hospital with her adult daughter, Faye Romer. According to the staff member, Helen wanted to leave Providence, and the hospital discharged her to her daughter, who agreed to take care of her. The staff member declined to discuss with James Helen's mental status examination and any treatment Helen received, including the use of the antipsychotic medication.

Before Helen was admitted to Providence, James sought help caring for Helen from family members, including his stepdaughter, Romer, who declined to help and did not believe her mother was in need of care. After Helen was discharged from Providence, Romer told James that " there was nothing wrong with her mother" and that he " was the person in the household with ‘ the problem.’ " Romer did not allow James to visit Helen, who was staying at Romer's home.

In the summer of 2003, James was served with divorce papers. Through the divorce proceedings, James obtained the records of Helen's mental status examination at Providence. Additionally, an Anchorage psychologist who assessed Helen told James that Helen's Alzheimer's disease or dementia caused her to file the divorce action against him.

Helen's guardians and James agreed to dismiss the divorce action in 2007.

B. Proceedings

On March 31, 2006, James filed a pro se complaint against Providence. Liberally construing the complaint,[2] it alleges four causes of action: negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract.[3] It claims that since Helen's release from Providence James has endured the loss of her comfort, society, and consortium, as well as the ...


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