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United States v. Gera

decided: April 9, 1969.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT,
v.
ANDREW GERA



Hastie, Chief Judge and Kalodner and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kalodner

Opinion OF THE COURT

KALODNER, Circuit Judge.

The Medical Care Recovery Act*fn1 confers upon the United States the right to recover from a tortfeasor the reasonable value of required hospital, medical and surgical care which it furnishes to a person injured as a result of the tortfeasor's negligence.

In the instant case, the Government, asserting the right conferred upon it by the Act, filed a Complaint on November 29, 1967 alleging that the defendant Andrew Gera's negligent operation, in Pennsylvania, on December 15, 1963, of an automobile in which his brother, Corporal Joseph Gera, United States Marine Corps, was a passenger, resulted in the latter's injuries and that they required his hospital and that they required his hospital and medical care by the United States in the value of $2,087.65.

The District Court dismissed the Government's action on the ground that it was barred by the Pennsylvania Act of February 22, 1821,*fn2 which provides that suits brought by Pennsylvania public officers to collect fees for their services as established by the Commonwealth's "Fee Bill" Act of March 28, 1814, "shall be brought within six months after the cause of action shall have accrued." The District Court analogized that "The payments due to the Government for hospital services may aptly be likened to fees charged by public officers for appropriate services performed in the line of duty", and accordingly, the limitation period fixed by the Pennsylvania Act of 1821 was applicable to the Government's action. 279 F. Supp. 731, 733 (W.D.Pa.1968).

In applying the stated Pennsylvania statute, the District Court rejected the Government's contention that its action was timely brought within the three-year period fixed by federal statute for actions by the United States founded on tort -- 28 U.S.C.A. ยง 2415(b) and (g), since, in its view, the instant action "* * * is founded upon a statute [The Medical Care Recovery Act]", and not upon a tort. 279 F. Supp. 733.

It may be noted parenthetically that the defendant had premised his motion to dismiss the Government's action on the ground that it was barred by the Pennsylvania Act of June 24, 1895,*fn3 which provides that suits to recover damages for personal injuries, not resulting in death, must be brought within two years, and that the District Court had refused to apply the Act of 1895 on its view that it was inapplicable because the Government was "here enforcing its independent statutory right." The bar of the 1821 Pennsylvania statute was invoked by the District Court sua sponte.

On this appeal the Government urges that the Medical Care Recovery Act gives it an independent right to recover medical expenses and that the federally-created right is not subject to any state statute of limitations. It further contends that the 1966 federal limitations statute is applicable and that its requirements were met in the instant case since, while it provides in Section 2415(b) that actions for money damages brought by the United States founded upon a tort shall be brought "within three years after the right of action first accrues: * * *,"*fn4 Section 2415(g) further provides that "any right of action subject to the provisions of this section which accrued prior to the date of enactment of this Act shall, for purposes of this section, be deemed to have accrued on the date of enactment of this Act." Since the "date of enactment" was July 18, 1966, says the Government, the filing of the instant action on November 29, 1967 was "timely."

The sum of the defendant's contentions is that "basically the Government's claim is a subrogated claim" and as such is subject to the limitations of the 1895 Pennsylvania two-year statute of limitations; further, that "the Medical Care Recovery Act itself contains no Statute of Limitations", and accordingly Pennsylvania's limitations acts, including the 1821 Act, are applicable.

We are of the opinion that the District Court erred in dismissing the Government's instant action on the ground that by analogy, it was barred by the 1821 Pennsylvania statute of limitations*fn5 for these reasons:

The Medical Care Recovery Act confers an independent right of recovery*fn6 on the United States from a tortfeasor of the reasonable care and treatment it furnishes to an injured person,*fn7 and the exercise of that right is not subject to any state statute of limitations under the historic doctrine of the immunity of the sovereign.

The Government's right to reimbursement under the Medical Care Recovery Act is subject only to the time limitations established by Section 2415(b) and (g), and the instant action was instituted well within the three-year period prescribed by that statute.

Our conclusion that the Government's exercise of its independent right under the Medical Care Recovery Act is free of the restraints imposed by a state statute of limitations is in accord with United States v. Fort Benning Rifle and Pistol Club, 387 F.2d 884 (5 Cir. 1967). There, in reversing the District Court's dismissal of the Government's action under the Medical Care Recovery Act on ...


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