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Apuri v. Parkview Health System, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 27, 2019

BHAKTAVATSALA R. APURI. M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
PARKVIEW HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., PARKVIEW HOSPITAL, INC., and ROY ROBERTSON, M.D., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, CHIEF JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, after his privileges at Parkview Hospital were not renewed, sued Parkview, alleging race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and state law claims relating to the non-renewal of his privileges. He also sued Dr. Roy Robertson for intentional interference with a business relationship for the role Dr. Robertson had in the peer review process, which the Plaintiff contends led to a tainted and biased review. Currently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 70]. The Plaintiff responded to the Defendants' Motion [ECF No. 83], and the Defendants replied [ECF No. 89]. The Defendants have also filed a Rule 56 Motion to Strike a portion of the Plaintiff's response to the Summary Judgment Motion [ECF No. 87], to which the Plaintiff responded [ECF No. 91], and the Defendants replied [ECF No. 93]. Finally, in connection with the Motion to Strike, the Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Leave to File and Disclose an Additional Expert Witness, and Amend his Expert Disclosure [ECF No. 92], to which the Defendants have responded [ECF No. 94], and the Plaintiff has replied [ECF No. 95].

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff is a cardiologist of Indian descent. In 2009, Defendant Robertson referred to a patient he shared with the Plaintiff as “that black guy.” Later, sometime in 2010 or 2011, the Plaintiff and Defendant Robertson had a disagreement, during which Defendant Robertson verbally attacked the Plaintiff, saying at one point, “this is the beginning of your end in this town.”

         In 2012, Defendant Parkview Hospital began receiving reports of concerns about the Plaintiff, including his failure to return pages and phone calls, poor communication with nursing staff, and failure to conduct rounds in a timely fashion. The Plaintiff met with the Chief Medical Officer and Director of Nursing, and the Plaintiff formed a plan to address the issues. However, in February 2013, there were additional reports of late rounding and tardiness in patient documentation. These reports, and additional issues with patient care such as possible abandonment of a patient, led to the decision that the Plaintiff would be placed on 100% chart review.

         On May 16, 2013, at the Medical Staff Officers' Meeting, the Chief Medical Officer presented the issues regarding the Plaintiff's patient care, availability, and responsiveness, and Dr. Robertson provided documentation and performance concerns. Following this meeting, an inquiry body was appointed to determine next steps. The inquiry body investigated and recommended that (1) the Plaintiff submit to evaluation to help him improve his practice management, and (2) continue with 100% chart review. The Medicine Division Leadership Committee adopted the recommendations of the inquiry body, and issued a letter on October 9, 2013, describing the conditions and the consequences of noncompliance to the Plaintiff. However, continued reports of quality issues continued after the letter. For example, on July 26, 2014, the Plaintiff could not be reached by pager to care for one of his patients. Additionally, the Plaintiff continued to conduct rounds in an untimely fashion.

         On October 15, 2014, the Medical Staff Executive Committee denied the Plaintiff's application to renew medical privileges with Defendant Parkview Hospital, Inc. Upon notice, the Plaintiff requested an appeal of the decision, and Defendant Parkview Hospital, Inc. provided an Ad Hoc Committee hearing.

         The hearing was held on February 24, 2015. The Plaintiff attended, represented by counsel, and presented evidence that his patient outcomes were better than other cardiologists' outcomes, as demonstrated by mortality rates. Defendant Parkview Hospital, Inc., presented evidence supporting their recommendation that the Plaintiff's privileges be terminated. Both sides presented and cross-examined witnesses; however, Defendant Robertson was not one of the witnesses presented.

         The Ad Hoc Committee recommended upholding the decision not to renew the Plaintiff's medical privileges. In its written recommendation, the Ad Hoc Committee details the Plaintiff's issues with rounding and communication in a timely fashion, and the Committee cites these issues as part of the conclusion that the Plaintiff's professional and clinical judgment had put patients at risk, and had been below Defendant Parkview Hospital, Inc.'s standards. The Plaintiff appealed to the Board of Directors, but on July 23, 2015, after another opportunity to present information both in writing and orally, the final decision that the Plaintiff's privileges would not be renewed was issued.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper where the evidence of record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings” to cite evidence of a genuine factual dispute precluding summary judgment. Id. at 324. “[A] court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). If the non-movant does not come forward with evidence that would reasonably permit the finder of fact to find in its favor on a material issue, then the Court must enter summary judgment against it. Id.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Race Discrimination Under § 1981[1]

         “Section 1981 bars employers from discriminating and retaliating against employees based on the employee's race or national origin.” Tank v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 758 F.3d 800, 805 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Ptasznik v. St. Joseph Hosp., 464 F.3d 691, 695 n.4 (7th Cir. 2006)). Section 1981 can be violated only by purposeful discrimination. Gen. Bldg. Contractors Ass'n v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 391 (1982). Section 1981 requires a “but for” causation analysis. Where a plaintiff alleges that race was only one factor in an adverse employment action, he can find no relief under § 1981. See Smith v. Wilson, 705 F.3d 674 (7th Cir. 2013) (“[W]e cannot import the authorization of partial ‘motivating factor' relief found in § 2000e-2(m) into entirely different statutes” including § 1981 because “[a]bsent explicit statutory authorization . . . the district courts are powerless to give such relief.”) (citing Serwatka v. Rockwell Automation, Inc., 591 F.3d 957 (7th Cir. 2010)). Otherwise, the ‚Äúsubstantive ...


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