101 F.3d 1324 (10th Cir. 1996), 95-2293, Brown v. Presbyterian Healthcare Services

Docket Nº:95-2293, 96-2013.
Citation:101 F.3d 1324
Party Name:71,639, 96 CJ C.A.R. 1982 Arlene M. BROWN, M.D.; Family Practice Associates, P.C., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. PRESBYTERIAN HEALTHCARE SERVICES; Valerie Miller; Vickie Williams, D.O., Defendants-Appellants, and Sierra Blanca Medical Associates, P.A.; Gary Jackson, D.O., Defendants. Arlene M. BROWN, M.D., Family Practice Associates, P.C., Plaintiffs-Ap
Case Date:November 29, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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Page 1324

101 F.3d 1324 (10th Cir. 1996)

71,639, 96 CJ C.A.R. 1982

Arlene M. BROWN, M.D.; Family Practice Associates, P.C.,

Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

PRESBYTERIAN HEALTHCARE SERVICES; Valerie Miller; Vickie

Williams, D.O., Defendants-Appellants,

and

Sierra Blanca Medical Associates, P.A.; Gary Jackson, D.O.,

Defendants.

Arlene M. BROWN, M.D., Family Practice Associates, P.C.,

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

PRESBYTERIAN HEALTHCARE SERVICES, Valerie Miller, Sierra

Blanca Medical Associates, P.A., Vickie Williams,

D.O., Gary Jackson, D.O., Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 95-2293, 96-2013.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 29, 1996

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Thomas C. Bird (David W. Peterson of Keleher & McLeod, P.A.; and Phil Krehbiel of Krehbiel, Bannerman, Horn & Hisey, P.A., Albuquerque, NM, with him on the briefs) of Keleher & McLeod, P.A., Albuquerque, NM, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Bruce Hall (Edward Ricco and Theresa W. Parrish with him on the briefs) of Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, P.A., Albuquerque, NM, for Defendants-Appellants.

Before BRORBY, RONEY, [*] and LOGAN, Circuit Judges.

BRORBY, Circuit Judge.

Dr. Arlene Brown, a family physician, and her professional association, Family Practice Associates, P.C. (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Dr. Brown"), brought suit against Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Valerie Miller, Vickie Williams, D.O., Sierra Blanca Medical Associates, P.A., and Gary Jackson, D.O., seeking injunctive relief and damages for violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 and 2 (1994), unreasonable restraint of trade and unfair trade practices in violation of Section 57 of the New Mexico Annotated Statutes, bad faith breach of contract, intentional interference with contract, defamation, and prima facie tort. Dr. Brown's causes of action arose from the revocation of her obstetrical hospital staff privileges by Lincoln County Medical Center, 1 and from the hospital's subsequent report of this revocation to the National Practitioner Data Bank under the category of "Incompetence/ Malpractice/Negligence." According to Dr. Brown, the defendants' "anticompetitive motives" were at the heart of these actions.

After a three week jury trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of Dr. Brown on the defamation claim, tortious interference with contract claim, and certain of her antitrust claims. Thereafter, the district court set aside the jury's awards of damages on the tortious interference with contract claim, and the jury's award of punitive damages against Dr. Williams on the antitrust claims. Dr. Brown and Defendants Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Ms. Miller and Dr. Williams appeal from the district court's order and amended judgment.

I. Factual Background

Dr. Arlene Brown, a Board-certified family physician, began practicing family medicine in Ruidoso, New Mexico, in 1983. Dr. Brown joined the medical staff of Lincoln County Medical Center, and in 1992 she held clinical privileges at the hospital in obstetrics and other areas. Dr. Vickie Williams, a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in Ruidoso, is an economic competitor of Dr. Brown.

In early 1992, Dr. Williams participated in an informal peer review of three patients treated by Dr. Brown. Dr. Williams expressed concerns about the quality of care reflected in the patients' charts and prepared typewritten comments on the charts. Valerie Miller, Lincoln County Medical Center's Administrator, then referred the charts to specialists outside the hospital for review. The outside reviewing physicians' comments were submitted to Lincoln County Medical Center's Executive Committee. At a meeting of the Executive Committee on July 13, 1992, Dr. Brown agreed to a requirement to consult with an obstetrics specialist in treating high-risk obstetrical patients.

In February 1993, Valerie Miller instituted formal peer review proceedings against Dr. Brown by sending a complaint to the Medical Staff Executive Committee, charging Dr. Brown with failure to abide by the

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consultation agreement. The Executive Committee instituted formal peer review proceedings against Dr. Brown by appointing a panel of three physicians to conduct a hearing on the complaint. At the hearing in April 1993, the panel reviewed the charts of two patients treated by Dr. Brown and heard testimony from Dr. Williams and Dr. Brown. The next day, the hearing panel issued its report, concluding Dr. Brown breached her agreement to obtain appropriate consultation and recommending removal of Dr. Brown's obstetrical privileges. Thereafter, the Medical Executive Committee approved the panel's recommendation and Lincoln County Medical Center's Board of Trustees adopted the recommendation. 2

Following the Board of Trustees' disciplinary action, Lincoln County Medical Center submitted a report to the National Practitioner Data Bank concerning the revocation of Dr. Brown's obstetrical privileges. 3 Glenda Perry, the hospital's medical staff coordinator, prepared the report in collaboration with Ms. Miller. One blank on the report called for insertion of an "Adverse Action Classification Code." Ms. Perry and Ms. Miller settled on the code entitled "Incompetence/ Malpractice/ Negligence."

When Dr. Brown received a copy of the hospital's data bank report, she submitted a report of her own to the National Practitioner Data Bank stating Lincoln County Medical Center never found her negligent, incompetent or guilty of malpractice. The National Practitioner Data Bank then notified Lincoln County Medical Center of Dr. Brown's objection to the report, and provided the hospital with an opportunity to revise its report. However, the hospital elected not to amend the data bank report.

Although unrelated to the revocation of Dr. Brown's obstetrical privileges, in 1992 a family practice physician named Dr. Mark Reib contacted a Presbyterian Healthcare Services recruiter to discuss family medicine practice opportunities in Ruidoso, New Mexico. When Dr. Reib expressed an interest in joining Dr. Brown's practice, the recruiter informed Dr. Reib the hospital would only offer him a financial recruitment package if he were to go to work for Lincoln County Medical Center or in direct competition with Dr. Brown. Dr. Reib chose not to join Dr. Brown's medical practice.

II. Trial and Subsequent Procedural History

In March 1995, the trial of this action commenced before a jury. Almost three weeks later, the jury returned a special verdict in Dr. Brown's favor on her defamation claim, intentional interference with contract claim, and on certain of her antitrust claims. 4 The district court entered judgment in accordance with the jury's findings, trebling, as required by law, 5 the antitrust damages against Ms. Miller and Dr. Williams. Thereafter, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and 59(c), the defendants filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or to alter or amend the judgment or for a new trial. In a comprehensive

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and detailed "Memorandum Opinion and Order," the district court set aside the jury's award of compensatory and punitive damages against Presbyterian Healthcare Services on the intentional interference with contract claim, and the jury's award of punitive damages against Dr. Williams on the antitrust claim. 6 The district court rejected all of the defendants' remaining arguments and entered an amended judgment in conformity with its opinion.

Dr. Brown appeals the district court's amended judgment, raising two issues: (1) whether the district court erred in vacating the compensatory and punitive damages awards for tortious interference with contract and (2) whether the district court erred in vacating the punitive damages award against Dr. Williams. The appeal of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Ms. Miller and Dr. Williams raises four issues: (1) whether the district court erred in determining the defendants were not immune as a matter of law from damages resulting from the revocation of Dr. Brown's obstetrical privileges; (2) whether the district court erred in determining the defendants were not immune as a matter of law from damages resulting from the data bank report; (3) whether the district court erred in denying the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Dr. Brown's antitrust claims; and (4) whether the district court erred in denying the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Dr. Brown's defamation claim. After thoroughly reviewing the parties' briefs, the district court's Memorandum Opinion and Order, and all relevant statutes and case law, we conclude the district court erred in setting aside the jury's awards of damages on Dr. Brown's intentional interference with contract claim. However, with respect to the remaining issues raised by the parties on appeal, we find the district court's rulings were proper and in accordance with law.

III. Dr. Brown's Appeal

Dr. Brown first contends the district court erred in vacating as a matter of law the jury's award of compensatory and punitive damages against Presbyterian Healthcare Services on the tortious interference with contract claim. The Court reviews the district court's order granting judgment as a matter of law de novo, applying the same standard as the district court. Thompson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 34 F.3d 932, 941 (10th Cir.1994). The legal standard for granting judgment as a matter of law is identical to the standard for granting summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Pendleton v. Conoco, Inc., 23 F.3d 281, 286 (10th Cir.1994). When applying this standard, a court is to examine the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion...

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