HUNTINGTON - Despite denying a previous motion to move the case to state court, a federal judge has dismissed a Mason County physician's staffing privileges lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction.
Judge Chuck Chambers on June 12 dismissed a civil rights lawsuit Dr. Danny R. Westmoreland filed against Pleasant Valley Hospital, and several of its staff physicians, alleging they conspired to harm his medical practice by revoking his privileges at PVH without justification. In the suit he filed on Dec. 22, Westmoreland made claims against PVH and Drs. Fredric LaCarbonara, Shrikant K. Vaidya, John Wade and John Does 1-10, for, among other things, anti-trust, denial of due process and breach of contract.
Chambers' order came in response to a motion to dismiss filed by Vaidya on March 25. In his motion, Vaidya agued that all the claims Westmoreland made are not supported by federal law.
Chambers agreed, and in his 10-page opinion issued on June 11 cited specifically how Westmoreland's due process and anti-trust claims fail.
In regard to due process, the federal courts do have jurisdiction, but only the defendants were agents of the government. Since PVH is "a privately owned and operated hospital" and "the individual doctors named as defendants were private practice physicians acting in the capacity of PVH," Chambers said "there is no basis for finding that PVH or the individual physician defendants were government actors."
Speaking to Westmoreland's claims for anti-trust, Chambers says they, especially the one that PVH's status as the lone hospital in Mason County is an attempt at monopolization, are unsupported by Westmoreland's complaint.
"The heart of Dr. Westmoreland's complaint is PVH's decision to exclude him from its operation - an act which would foster competition rather than preclude it, by forcing Dr. Westmoreland to seek other means of treating his patients," Chambers said.
"Although plaintiff does allege action by individual defendants to harm his practice, he provides no allegation of how their respective practices his own, and thus no allegation of a probability they would achieve monopoly power."
'Baffled' by decision
Ironically, Westmoreland's attorney Robert W. Bright, on April 17, with Vaidya's motion to dismiss still pending, filed a motion asking that the case be transferred to Mason Circuit Court. In his motion Bright argued that while some of the claims Westmoreland asserted did have some federal jurisdiction, "the majority of [his] claims are claims that would/could be properly brought in state court" due to "concurrent jurisdiction."
However, on May 5, Chambers denied Bright's motion saying that the "Court has no such authority to grant such a motion, as this case was filed in federal court."
When contacted, Westmoreland said he was "baffled" at Chambers' decision to dismiss the case since a trial date had been set, and their was talk of a settlement. Records show trial was set for Oct. 5, 2010.
Also, Westmoreland expressed amazement at Chambers' reasoning for dismissing the anti-trust claim. Moving doctors into the Mason-area while revoking his privileges only lessens, not promotes competition, he said.
"I also disagree wit the judge in some of his comments in his statement that PVH's actions, along with the doctor's was not restrictive, but competitive," Westmoreland said.
"That is really baffling since the primary concern of health care is the patient. This judge would allow the area's largest doctor's lawsuit to be wrongfully dismissed without cause or due process resulting in my patients not being allowed to go to the doctor."
"I am unsure if his considering the physician-patient relationship like a Wal-Mart shopper being forced to go to K-Mart," Westmoreland added.
Regardless, since Chambers dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds only, Westmoreland said he plans to promptly refile it in Mason Circuit Court, and eventually prevail on the merits.
"Bottom line," he said, "this is another speed bump, but it will be back in the appropriate court, and I am sure a jury will not be happy with the actions and schemes that have been committed upon me."
"I intend on doing my best to get this refiled immediately, and I promise the community I will not let the Mason County chosen few to now be able to pick their doctor."
As of presstime, Westmoreland's case had yet to be filed in Mason Circuit Court.
U.S. District Court Case no. 08-cv-1444