423 F.3d 184 (3rd Cir. 2005), 03-3370, Gordon v. Lewistown Hosp.

Docket Nº:03-3370.
Citation:423 F.3d 184
Party Name:Alan D. GORDON, M.D.; Alan D. Gordon, M.D., P.C., a corporation; Mifflin County Community Surgical Center, a corporation, Appellants v. LEWISTOWN HOSPITAL.
Case Date:September 12, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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423 F.3d 184 (3rd Cir. 2005)

Alan D. GORDON, M.D.; Alan D. Gordon, M.D., P.C., a corporation; Mifflin County Community Surgical Center, a corporation, Appellants

v.

LEWISTOWN HOSPITAL.

No. 03-3370.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

Sept. 12, 2005

Argued September 14, 2004.

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 99-cv-01100) District Judge: Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo.

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Steven B. Varick (Argued), Henry S. Allen, Jr., Holland & Knight, George M. Sanders Audrey L. Gaynor & Associates, Attorneys for Appellants.

Jonathan B. Sprague (Argued) Post & Schnell, Susan M. Lapenta Horty, Springer & Mattern, Attorneys for Appellee.

Robert B. Hoffman Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, Attorney for Amicus-Appellant Pennsylvania Medical Society.

David E. Loder (Argued), Duane Morris, Attorney for Amicus-Appellee The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

Before: ALITO, AMBRO and FISHER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

FISHER, Circuit Judge.

This antitrust case arises from professional review actions undertaken by Lewistown Hospital (the "Hospital") to stem unprofessional conduct engaged in by Alan D. Gordon, M.D. ("Gordon") that impacted adversely upon patient welfare. Gordon and two corporations of which he is the sole shareholder, Alan D. Gordon, M.D., P.C., and Mifflin County Community Surgical Center, Inc. ("MCCSC") (which operates an outpatient surgical center in Lewistown, Pennsylvania), asserted against the Hospital multiple violations of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1-2, seeking both money damages and injunctive relief. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Hospital regarding the majority of Gordon's antitrust claims that require as one of their elements a concerted action or conspiracy, and found no genuine issue of material fact that would support an inference of concerted action or conspiracy. The District Court also determined that, pursuant to the Health Care Quality Improvement Act ("HCQIA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 11101-11152, the Hospital was entitled to immunity from money damages regarding the professional review actions at issue.1] Thereafter, the District Court conducted a non-jury trial and entered judgment in favor of the Hospital on the few remaining antitrust claims that sought injunctive relief. Gordon raises multiple issues in this appeal implicating both the summary judgment and post-trial rulings of the District Court. We will affirm the comprehensive rulings of the District Court2 that resulted

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in judgment for the Hospital as to all claims.

I. Facts

A. The Hospital

The Hospital, a general medical and surgical facility, is the only hospital serving Mifflin and Juniata counties in Pennsylvania. It provides primary and secondary acute inpatient care in addition to providing outpatient surgery through its outpatient surgery center. The Hospital does not employ any physicians, but instead grants staff privileges to physicians who practice there. The physicians granted staff privileges comprise the Medical-Dental Staff of the Hospital. A physician must be a member of the Medical-Dental Staff to practice at the Hospital. The Hospital's Credentialing Policy, adopted in 1991 and revised in 1997, sets minimum professional requirements for physicians practicing at its site.

The Medical-Dental Staff engages in a peer review process through its Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee makes recommendations to the Hospital Board of Trustees, guided by the Hospital's Credentialing Policy, regarding whether particular physicians meet the minimum professional requirements to practice at the Hospital both as to their admission to and renewal of Medical-Dental Staff membership. The Credentialing Policy states in part that "[a]ppointment to the medical staff is a privilege which should be extended only to professionally competent individuals continuing to meet the qualifications, standards and requirements set forth in this policy." It also specifies that to qualify for staff appointment, a physician must be able to work harmoniously with others sufficiently to convince the hospital that all patients treated by him will receive quality care and that the hospital and its medical staff will be able to operate in an orderly manner. The Policy further states that recommendations for reappointment shall in part be based upon the appointee's "behavior in the hospital, cooperation with medical staff and hospital personnel as it relates to patient care or the orderly operation of the hospital, and general attitude towards patients, the hospital and its personnel."

B. Gordon, Nancollas, and Their Respective Cataract Procedures

Gordon is an ophthalmologist first appointed to the Hospital's Medical-Dental Staff in 1980. Gordon and Dr. Paul Nancollas ("Nancollas"), an employee of Geisinger Medical Group-Lewistown ("Geisinger"), 3 who also was a member of the Medical-Dental Staff, were the only two ophthalmologists practicing at the Hospital. During the relevant period, the two employed different techniques in cataract surgery. Gordon's comments to patients regarding those differences and Nancollas's skills are at the heart of Gordon's antitrust claims.

Gordon performed cataract surgery using the phacoemulsification ("Phaco") procedure. The Phaco procedure involved making only a small incision in the cornea (which prevented bleeding) and used only topical anesthesia. Because the Phaco procedure led to a rapid improvement in vision, patients undergoing this procedure generally recovered in two (2) weeks. Gordon alleged that his Phaco procedure had fewer risks, took less time and cost 50% less than the extra capsular extraction

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("ECCE") surgical technique employed by Nancollas. The ECCE procedure involved a larger incision and use of sutures. In addition, the ECCE procedure required that an anesthetic be injected into the back of the eye where the physician cannot see the end of the needle, risking damage to the eye and nervous system. Given the pain caused by the ECCE procedure, Nancollas also used a "sleep dose" of general anesthesia. Recovery from this surgery could extend up to three (3) months.4

Between 1993 and 1995, Gordon and Nancollas both placed various newspaper ads regarding their respective surgical practices in the Lewistown Sentinel in addition to other publications circulated in Mifflin and Juniata counties. In 1993, an ad (placed by Geisinger on Nancollas's behalf) indicated that Nancollas performed "modern cataract extraction" although at the time he still used the ECCE procedure. In response to what he perceived as false advertising, Gordon placed an ad in the Lewistown Sentinel comparing himself to Nancollas and urged readers to call the Hospital for information comparing the complication rates of their respective surgical outcomes. Although the Hospital informed Gordon of its belief that the release of such information was unlawful, and requested that he not suggest the release of such information in future advertisements, no disciplinary action arose from the ad. However, Gordon's subsequent ad of September 15,1995, compared the two procedures, was critical of the "Geisinger ophthamologist" and indicated that all of the anesthesiologists at the Hospital preferred Gordon's anesthetic technique to that performed by Geisinger. Both Geisinger and Nancollas complained to the Hospital regarding this ad. The complaint was forwarded by the Hospital to the Credentials Committee because Gordon's ad indicated preferences of Hospital anesthesiologists. The Hospital took no disciplinary action against Gordon for this second ad, taking the position that it involved parties external to the Hospital, but indicated to Gordon its concern regarding the adversarial and unprofessional tone of Gordon's ad.

In 1995, however, Gordon contacted Nancollas's patients and made disparaging comments about Nancollas. In June 1997, Gordon again disparaged Nancollas's skills to a patient and sent a letter questioning Nancollas's skills to more than thirty people, including the entire Hospital Board. The crux of Gordon's claims here concern the Hospital's response to the 1995 and 1997 incidents culminating in the forty-five day suspension and subsequent revocation for a period of five years of Gordon's Medical-Dental Staff privileges, both of which are discussed in the following section.5

C. Gordon's Conduct and Its Impact Upon His Medical-Dental Staff Privileges

1. The Suspension of Gordon's Medical-Dental Staff Privileges

In 1995, the Hospital received complaints from elderly patients who related

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that Gordon had telephoned them and made disparaging comments about Nancollas, with whom they were then treating. Hospital counsel twice wrote to Gordon's counsel warning that any additional complaints of this nature would trigger an investigation of Gordon's conduct. Despite this, Gordon called additional patients complaining about their decision to use Nancollas. By November of 1995, Gordon's harassing telephone calls to patients were addressed by the Hospital Credentials Committee, which determined that Gordon should be suspended for forty-five days and that his reappointment application should be postponed until after he had served the suspension. Gordon requested a hearing and was represented by counsel. Prior to the hearing, the Hospital received additional complaints regarding Gordon's conduct. As a result...

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