Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., No. C 11–4047–MWB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
Writing for the CourtMARK W. BENNETT
Citation964 F.Supp.2d 951
PartiesEdward P. HAGEN, D.O., Plaintiff, v. SIOUXLAND OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY, P.C., an Iowa Corporation, Paul J. Eastman, M.D., Tauhni T. Hunt, M.D., and Angela J. Aldrich, M.D., Defendants.
Decision Date29 August 2013
Docket NumberNo. C 11–4047–MWB.

964 F.Supp.2d 951

Edward P. HAGEN, D.O., Plaintiff,
v.
SIOUXLAND OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY, P.C., an Iowa Corporation, Paul J. Eastman, M.D., Tauhni T. Hunt, M.D., and Angela J. Aldrich, M.D., Defendants.

No. C 11–4047–MWB.

United States District Court,
N.D. Iowa,
Western Division.

Aug. 29, 2013.


[964 F.Supp.2d 954]


Stanley E. Munger, Jay Elliott Denne, Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, Sioux City, IA, for Plaintiff.

Barry G. Vermeer, Gislason & Hunter, LLP, Des Moines, IA, Dustan J. Cross, Mark S. Ullery, Gislason & Hunter LLP, New Ulm, MN, Joseph L. Fitzgibbons, Fitzgibbons Law Office, Estherville, IA, for Defendants.


ORDER CERTIFYING QUESTIONS TO THE IOWA SUPREME COURT

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.
TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

956
A.

Factual Background

957
1.

The parties and their relation to each other

957
2.

The facts surrounding Hagen's firing

957
B.

Procedural Background

959


II.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

960
A.

Authorization and Standards for Certification of Questions

960
B.

Certification Analysis

961
1.

Whether legal issue is unsettled

961
a.

Question 1: Whether Iowa law recognizes Protected
Conduct 3, 4, or 5 as protected activities that can support claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy

961
i.

Iowa's standards for recognizing protected activities

961
ii.

Protected Conduct 3: A doctor reporting nurses'
malpractice to the hospital where the
malpractice occurred

962
iii.

Protected Conduct 4: A doctor disclosing to a
patient's family that the patient was a victim of medical malpractice

965
iv.

Protected Conduct 5: A doctor consulting with an attorney about whether that doctor had a legal duty to report another doctor's medical
malpractice to the Iowa Board of Medicine

965
b.

Question 2: Whether contractual employees can bring claims for wrongful discharge in violation of Iowa public policy

965
c.

Question 3: Whether the lack of an “overriding business justification” is an independent element of a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy

969
2.

Availability of legal resources

972
3.

Court's familiarity with state law

976
4.

Time demands on comparative court dockets

977
5.

Frequency legal issue is likely to reoccur

977
6.

Age of litigation and prejudice from certification

977
7.

Whether there is a split in authority

978
a.

Question 1: Whether other courts recognize Protected
Conduct 3, 4, or 5 as protected activities that can support claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy

978
i.

Protected Conduct 3: A doctor reporting nurse s' malpractice to the hospital where the malpractice occurred

978
ii.

Protected Conduct 4: A doctor disclosing to a
patient's family that the patient was a victim of medical malpractice

984
iii.

Protected Conduct 5: A doctor consulting with an attorney about whether that doctor had a legal duty to report another doctor's medical
malpractice to a state board of medicine

987
b.

Question 2: Whether contractual employees can bring claims for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy

989
c.

Question 3: Whether the lack of an “overriding business justification” is an independent element of a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy

992


III.

CONCLUSION

992

[964 F.Supp.2d 955]

This is an order certifying questions to the Iowa Supreme Court following a jury trial in which a jury found Defendants liable for wrongfully discharging the Plaintiff in violation of Iowa public policy. On June 6, 2013, I sua sponte ordered the parties in this case to provide supplemental briefs on the following issue, among others: “Whether the Court should certify to the Iowa Supreme Court the question of whether Iowa law recognizes the public policy exceptions on which the jury found

[964 F.Supp.2d 956]

Defendants liable” (docket no. 124). The Plaintiff and Defendants filed their supplemental briefs on July 5, 2013 (docket nos. 134 and 137). The parties presented oral arguments on this issue on August 23, 2013. Like the eight-day jury trial, the oral arguments were vigorously and zealously presented by highly skilled and exceptionally well-prepared counsel. Though their clients obviously disliked each other, counsel demonstrated the utmost professionalism and civility toward each other and to me. It would be wonderful if I could clone these lawyers for other hotly contested federal civil litigation.

I raised this matter sua sponte because this case turns on a number of unresolved questions of Iowa law. The answers to these questions are critical to resolving the Defendants' post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law (docket no. 119), which is currently pending before me. Because this case raises issues of first impression under Iowa law that should, under the circumstances, be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court, I conclude that I should certify the following questions to the Iowa Supreme Court:

Question 1

Does Iowa law recognize any of the following conduct as protected conduct on which a doctor-employee can base a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of Iowa public policy?:

(a) A doctor reporting, stating an intention to report, or stating that he might report, to a hospital, conduct of nurses that the doctor believed may have involved wrongful acts or omissions;

(b) A doctor disclosing to a patient or a patient's family that the patient may have been the victim of negligent care or malpractice; or

(c) A doctor consulting with an attorney, stating an intention to consult with an attorney, or stating that he might consult with an attorney, about whether another doctor or nurses had committed wrongful acts or omissions that the doctor should report to the Iowa Board of Medicine or a hospital.

Question 2

Does Iowa law allow a contractual employee to bring a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of Iowa public policy, or is the tort available only to at-will employees?

Question 3

Under Iowa law, is an employer's lack of an “overriding business justification” for firing an employee an independent element of a wrongful discharge claim, or is that element implicit in the element requiring that an employee's protected activity be the determining factor in the employer's decision to fire the employee?

Whether I grant the Defendants' post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law or motion for a new trial will depend, in part, on the answers to these questions.


I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

“A certification order shall set forth ... a statement of facts relevant to the questions certified, showing fully the nature of the controversy in which the questions arose.” Iowa Code § 684A.3. Unless I note otherwise, the following facts are presented “in the light most favorable to the jury verdict, assuming all conflicts in the evidence were resolved in [the Plaintiff's] favor, and giving Plaintiff[ ] the benefit of all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence....”

[964 F.Supp.2d 957]

Craig Outdoor Adver., Inc. v. Viacom Outdoor, Inc., 528 F.3d 1001, 1013 (8th Cir.2008).

A. Factual Background

In this case, Dr. Edward Hagen (Hagen) sued his former employer, Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C. (Siouxland), and his former partners, Dr. Paul Eastman (Eastman), Dr. Tauhni Hunt (Hunt), and Dr. Angela Aldrich (Aldrich) (collectively “the Siouxland Defendants”) for wrongful discharge in violation of Iowa public policy. In particular, Hagen claims that the Siouxland Defendants ousted him from their medical practice because Hagen reported, or threatened to report, to St. Luke's hospital and a patient, that Eastman and two nurses committed medical malpractice causing an unborn baby's death. Hagen also claims that the Siouxland Defendants ousted him for consulting with attorneys about whether Eastman and the nurses had committed malpractice, and whether Hagen should report Eastman to the Iowa Board of Medicine or St. Luke's.

1. The parties and their relation to each other

Siouxland, an Iowa professional corporation, is located in Sioux City, Iowa, and provides obstetric and gynecologic services to patients. Siouxland expanded into the area of cosmetic surgery and related services, including the development of The Rejuvenation Centre, which provided client services such as Botox treatment, Juviderm treatment, hair removal, liposuction, massage therapy, and weight loss consultation. Siouxland was formed and organized by three physicians, including Hagen's father, in 1975. At the time of Hagen's firing, in November 2009, the doctors with an interest in Siouxland were Hagen, Eastman, Hunt, and Aldrich.

Hagen is a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, presently licensed to practice medicine in Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. On January 1, 1993, Hagen entered into an employment agreement with Siouxland. Hagen has been an equity owner, president, and director at Siouxland. At the time he was fired, Hagen was the president of Siouxland.

When the doctors joined Siouxland, they agreed not to “engage in the practice of medicine except as an employee of the CORPORATION unless otherwise authorized by the Board of Directors.” The employment agreement states all income generated “for services as a doctor and all activities relating thereto, such as lecturing, writing articles and consulting work, shall belong to the CORPORATION....” A doctor could be terminated by delivering a written notice of cancellation at least 90 days prior to the effective date of cancellation or “discharged by the CORPORATION in the event of embezzlement or other theft; willful contravention of professional ethics; substantial and willful violation of any other terms or conditions of this employment agreement, all subject to determination by the Board of Directors of the CORPORATION.”

2. The facts surrounding Hagen's firing

Hagen's claims in this case arise out of an incident that began at St. Luke's hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday, November 5, 2009. On that day, Selvin and Maria Maeda, who were husband and wife, were at St. Luke's because Maria Maeda was dealing with complications related to her...

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11 practice notes
  • Baldwin v. Estherville, No. C 15-3168-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 14, 2018
    ...set forth the pertinent factors in deciding whether or not to certify questions in Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C. , 964 F.Supp.2d 951, 961 (N.D. Iowa 2013), and Leiberkneckt v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. , 980 F.Supp. 300, 310 (N.D. Iowa 1997). See Roth , 147 F.Supp.3d at......
  • Rivera v. Woodward Res. Ctr., No. 14–0194.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2015
    ...be the determining factor in an employer's decision to fire the employee.Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C. (Hagen I), 964 F.Supp.2d 951, 972 (N.D.Iowa 2013). Rivera responded “Yes” to the district court's inquiry and the district court overruled Rivera's objection to Instruct......
  • Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., No. C 11-4047-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • May 30, 2014
    ...questions, which are central to the parties' arguments here (docket no. 140). See Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., 964 F. Supp. 2d 951 (N.D. Iowa 2013) (presenting the certified questions for the Iowa Supreme Court to review). I certified the questions because many of the i......
  • De Dios v. Indem. Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. C 18-4015-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • June 13, 2018
    ...set forth the pertinent factors in deciding whether or not to certify questions in Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., 964 F. Supp. 2d 951, 961 (N.D. Iowa 2013), and Leiberkneckt v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 980 F. Supp. 300, 310 (N.D. Iowa 1997). See Roth, 147 F. Supp. 3d ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Baldwin v. Estherville, No. C 15-3168-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 14, 2018
    ...set forth the pertinent factors in deciding whether or not to certify questions in Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C. , 964 F.Supp.2d 951, 961 (N.D. Iowa 2013), and Leiberkneckt v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. , 980 F.Supp. 300, 310 (N.D. Iowa 1997). See Roth , 147 F.Supp.3d at......
  • Rivera v. Woodward Res. Ctr., No. 14–0194.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 30, 2015
    ...be the determining factor in an employer's decision to fire the employee.Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C. (Hagen I), 964 F.Supp.2d 951, 972 (N.D.Iowa 2013). Rivera responded “Yes” to the district court's inquiry and the district court overruled Rivera's objection to Instruct......
  • Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., No. C 11-4047-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • May 30, 2014
    ...questions, which are central to the parties' arguments here (docket no. 140). See Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., 964 F. Supp. 2d 951 (N.D. Iowa 2013) (presenting the certified questions for the Iowa Supreme Court to review). I certified the questions because many of the i......
  • De Dios v. Indem. Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. C 18-4015-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • June 13, 2018
    ...set forth the pertinent factors in deciding whether or not to certify questions in Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C., 964 F. Supp. 2d 951, 961 (N.D. Iowa 2013), and Leiberkneckt v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 980 F. Supp. 300, 310 (N.D. Iowa 1997). See Roth, 147 F. Supp. 3d ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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