Blaskiewicz v. Spine Inst. of Idaho, P.A., 48785

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtSTEGNER, JUSTICE.
PartiesDONALD BLASKIEWICZ, M.D., an individual, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. SPINE INSTITUTE OF IDAHO, P.A., an Idaho professional services corporation, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number48785
Decision Date31 October 2022

DONALD BLASKIEWICZ, M.D., an individual, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.

SPINE INSTITUTE OF IDAHO, P.A., an Idaho professional services corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 48785

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise

October 31, 2022


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Deborah A. Bail, District Judge.

The judgment of the district court is vacated, and the case is remanded.

Eberle, Berlin, Kading, Turnbow & McKlveen, Chartered, Boise, for appellant, Spine Institute of Idaho, P.A. Eric S. Taylor argued.

Givens Pursley, LLP, Boise, for respondent, Donald Blaskiewicz. Bradley J. Dixon argued.

STEGNER, JUSTICE.

Donald Blaskiewicz, M.D., is a highly-trained neurosurgeon. In 2018, he became employed by the Spine Institute of Idaho (the "Spine Institute" or the "Institute"). The Spine Institute entered into a Professional Services Agreement (the PSA) with Blaskiewicz, which contained a non-compete clause. The PSA contractually proscribed Blaskiewicz from practicing medicine within fifty miles of the Spine Institute's office (with an explicit exception for Caldwell) for a period of eighteen months, should his employment with the Spine Institute be terminated for any reason. Pursuant to the PSA, Blaskiewicz had two ways to avoid the non-compete clause: he could either get permission from the Spine Institute to practice medicine within the proscribed area, or he could pay the Spine Institute $350,000 in "liquidated damages." The PSA also required any disputes to be resolved by arbitration.

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Less than a year and a half after hiring Blaskiewicz, the Spine Institute terminated his employment. Blaskiewicz filed suit in district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the non-compete clause was unenforceable. The district court concluded that the non-compete clause was against public policy and void as a matter of law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Blaskiewicz. For the reasons discussed below, we vacate the district court's grant of summary judgment.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The Spine Institute provides medical care for patients in the Treasure Valley suffering primarily from spine issues. Donald Blaskiewicz, M.D., is a neurosurgeon with a sub-specialty in complex spinal deformity surgeries, such as pediatric scoliosis and complex adult scoliosis surgeries. He has completed two fellowships in complex spine deformity surgery and minimally invasive spinal surgery. He is also a Fellow of both the American Board of Neurological Surgeons and the Scoliosis Research Society (the SRS). The parties do not dispute that Blaskiewicz is the only recognized and actively practicing SRS Fellow in Idaho; however, the parties dispute the significance of this fact.

Blaskiewicz was living and working in San Diego, California, when the Spine Institute successfully recruited him to Idaho. The Spine Institute's office is in Meridian, Idaho. Blaskiewicz moved to Idaho, and, on December 7, 2018, he and the Spine Institute entered into the PSA. The PSA contained a non-compete clause, which proscribed Blaskiewicz from "engag[ing] in the practice of medicine" within a fifty-mile radius of the Spine Institute's primary office location (with an explicit exception for the city of Caldwell) for a period of eighteen months following the end of his employment with the Institute, unless the Institute gave him written permission to do so. The PSA also contained an arbitration clause, which required that "any dispute arising out of or related to [the PSA] be settled by arbitration in Ada County, Idaho."

The Spine Institute terminated Blaskiewicz's employment on April 16, 2020. On May 1, 2020, Blaskiewicz filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment in district court to determine the enforceability of the PSA and what, if anything, he could do given the termination of his employment. Blaskiewicz asserted, among other arguments, that the non-compete provision in the PSA was against public policy. He requested that the district court enter judgment against the Spine Institute, declaring that the Spine Institute was unable to enjoin Blaskiewicz from accepting employment at St. Luke's, a regional hospital system with its headquarters and largest hospital

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located in the Boise metropolitan area. Relying on the arbitration clause in the PSA, the Spine Institute moved to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings. However, the Spine Institute did not seek an order compelling arbitration, apparently because Blaskiewicz had not breached the PSA. In turn, Blaskiewicz moved for a speedy hearing on his request for a declaratory judgment.

On July 8, 2020, after a hearing on the matter, the district court concluded it had jurisdiction over the dispute and declined to either dismiss or stay the case. The district court also granted Blaskiewicz's motion for a speedy hearing. In response, the Spine Institute asked for discovery, noting that "there needs to be at least a little bit of discovery as to what it is that Dr. Blaskiewicz is really saying that his specialty is and whether that specialty is necessary in the area, and those kinds of things." The district court declined to allow discovery, stating: "Well, I think you make a good point that he has got to make a showing, but I think it would be more appropriate for the showing to be by affidavits that each side can submit." The district court then set an expedited briefing schedule on the sole issue of whether the non-compete provision was against public policy.

On July 22, 2020, Blaskiewicz moved for summary judgment, arguing that the PSA was against public policy and thus void as a matter of law. In support of his motion, he filed a single, eight-page declaration signed by himself.

On August 5, 2020, the Spine Institute filed its memorandum opposing Blaskiewicz's motion for summary judgment. (Neither this memorandum nor its accompanying motion is in the record.) Additionally, the Spine Institute filed four declarations, signed by: (1) Eric Taylor, counsel for the Institute; (2) Betsy Hunsicker, the Chief Executive Officer of West Valley Medical Center; (3) Jennifer Harris, the Administrator of the Spine Institute; and (4) Samuel Jorgenson, M.D., the President and sole shareholder of the Spine Institute. The Spine Institute also moved to strike portions of Blaskiewicz's declaration. Blaskiewicz then filed a reply brief.

After oral argument on the matter, the district court issued its memorandum decision and order granting Blaskiewicz's motion for summary judgment. The district court concluded that the non-compete provision was void because it was against public policy; it denied the Spine Institute's motion to strike; and it further awarded attorney fees against the Institute. The Spine Institute timely appealed.

II. Standard of Review

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"This Court exercises free review over matters of law." Borah v. McCandless, 147 Idaho 73, 77, 205 P.3d 1209, 1213 (2009). "Justiciability issues, such as mootness, are freely reviewed." State v. Barclay, 149 Idaho 6, 8, 232 P.3d 327, 329 (2010).

Additionally, "[a]rbitrability is a question of law to be decided by the court." Mason v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 145 Idaho 197, 200, 177 P.3d 944, 947 (2007). "Thus, this Court exercises free review and may draw its own conclusions based upon the evidence presented." Id.

"[C]ontrol of discovery is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court." Christiansen v. Potlatch #1 Financial Credit Union, 169 Idaho 533, 540, 498 P.3d 713, 720 (2021).

In evaluating whether a district court abused its discretion, this Court uses the four-part Lunneborg standard, asking whether the district court "(1) correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of its discretion; (3) acted consistently with the legal standards applicable to the specific choices available to it; and (4) reached its decision by the exercise of reason." Lunneborg v. My Fun Life, 163 Idaho 856, 863, 421 P.3d 187, 194 (2018).

Id.

"This Court exercises de novo review of a grant of summary judgment and the 'standard of review is the same as the standard used by the trial court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment.'" AED, Inc. v. KDC Investments, LLC, 155 Idaho 159, 163, 307 P.3d 176, 180 (2013) (quoting Stonebrook Const., LLC v. Chase Home Fin., LLC, 152 Idaho 927, 929, 277 P.3d 374, 376 (2012)).

"On review, summary judgment is appropriate if 'there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Progressive Nw. Ins. Co. v. Lautenschlager, 168 Idaho 841, 844, 488 P.3d 509, 512 (2021) (quoting I.R.C.P. 56(a)). The moving party carries the burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Farm Bureau Ins. Co. of Idaho v. Kinsey, 149 Idaho 415, 419, 234 P.3d 739, 742 (2010) (citation omitted). This Court "construe[s] the record in favor of the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Id. If reasonable minds could differ as to the conclusions to be drawn from the record, summary judgment must be denied. Id.

Taylor v. Taylor, 169 Idaho 806, 812, 504 P.3d 342, 348 (2022).

III. Analysis

A. This appeal is not moot.

Before reaching the parties' arguments, we must consider whether this appeal is moot. "'An issue becomes moot if it does not present a real and substantial controversy that is capable of being concluded' by judicial relief." Barclay, 149 Idaho at 8, 232 P.3d at 329 (quoting Koch v. Canyon Cnty., 145 Idaho 158, 163, 177 P.3d 372, 377 (2008)).

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An issue does not present a real and substantial controversy if "any judicial relief from this Court would simply create precedent for future cases and would have no effect on either party." Id.

On appeal, Blaskiewicz does not argue this...

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