Partin v. Baptist Healthcare Sys.

Decision Date17 October 2022
Docket Number4:20-cv-00185-SEB-DML
PartiesWILLIAM R. PARTIN, M.D., Plaintiff, v. BAPTIST HEALTHCARE SYSTEM, INC. d/b/a BAPTIST HEALTH FLOYD, DANIEL J. EICHENBERGER, M.D., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

After a history of staff complaints culminating in a disagreement between an emergency room doctor and his staff about appropriate treatment procedures for a suicidal patient who was refusing the specific forms of treatment, i.e., an IV line and a rectal temperature test, the hospital administrators concluded the physician should no longer be permitted to see patients in their emergency room. They requested that the physician's direct employer, to wit, a group of emergency physicians who had contracted with the hospital to provide emergency room physician support, remove the physician from further engagement in their facility. The doctor ultimately resigned, and then sued the hospital and the hospital's president for whistleblower retaliation under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act ("EMTALA"), as well as for a host of state law contract and tort claims. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims, which we now address.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Parties in a civil dispute may move for summary judgment, which is a way of resolving a case short of a trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). However, "[s]ummary judgment is appropriate only if 'the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). "By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "Material facts" are those that "might affect the outcome of the suit," and a "genuine dispute" exists when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248.

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court views the record and draws all reasonable inferences from it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Khungar v Access Cmty. Health Network, 985 F.3d 565, 572-73 (7th Cir. 2021). However, the non-moving party "may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial." Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (2007). We are required to consider only the submissions relied upon by the parties, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and we are not required to "scour every inch of the record" for evidence that is potentially relevant, Grant v. Tr. of Ind. Univ., 870 F.3d 562, 573-74 (7th Cir. 2017).

II. MOTIONS TO STRIKE AND LIMIT EXPERT TESTIMONY

After the summary judgment motion before us was fully briefed, both parties moved to exclude and/or limit expert testimony. Specifically, Defendants moved to exclude the following opinions of three of Plaintiff Dr. William Partin's expert witnesses: (1) Dr. Robert McNamara's opinion testimony regarding the interpretation of the contract between FEMA and the Hospital, (2) Bill Kottman's opinion testimony regarding the "common practice" of hospitals in deciding to utilize the contract right of removal of physicians, and (3) William T. Baldwin's opinion testimony related to the trends as to the salaries and hours worked for emergency medicine physicians. See Docket No. 53, at 1. Because we do not rely on the opinions of these experts in reaching our decision on summary judgment, we do not address the parties' substantive arguments regarding the admissibility of this evidence. However, we note that "expert testimony as to legal conclusions that will determine the outcome of the case is inadmissible," Good Shepard Manor Found., Inc. v. City of Momence, 323 F.3d 557, 564 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing United States v. Sinclair, 74 F.3d 753, 757 n. 1 (7th Cir. 1996)), and "[a]rgument about the meaning of . . . contracts . . . belongs in briefs, not in 'experts' reports." RLJCS Enters., Inc. v. Pro. Benefit Tr. Multiple Emp. Welfare Benefit Plan & Tr., 487 F.3d 494, 498 (7th Cir. 2007). "Legal arguments are costly enough without being the subjects of 'experts' depositions and extensive debates in discovery, in addition to presentations made directly to the judge." Id.

Dr. Partin seeks to exclude the following testimony from Defendants' witnesses: (1) any legal conclusions from Melanie Heniff or others regarding whether an EMTALA violation occurred, (2) opinions of Melanie Heniff or others regarding whether Dr. Partin complied with professional standards of care, (3) opinions of John Charles Hyde regarding the legal interpretation of the FEMA contract, and (4) opinions regarding the interpretation and meaning of the Indiana Emergency Detention Order statutes. See Docket No. 55. We again do not address the parties' substantive arguments regarding the admissibility of this evidence for the same reasons outlined above.

However, Dr. Partin also seeks to exclude the opinions of nursing staff regarding treatment necessary for medical screening and stabilization of the patient under the Hospital's EMTALA policy. See Docket No. 55. Dr. Partin argues that "[n]one of this testimony is admissible as expert opinion, because the witnesses are not qualified to offer such opinions." Docket No. 56, at 3. Because physicians, not nurses, make the ultimate decisions under the Hospital's EMTALA policy, Dr. Partin contends nursing staff are "not qualified to offer any opinions regarding whether [the patient] needed certain treatment in order to satisfy Baptist's EMTALA policy." He points out that expert opinion under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 may be offered only by a "witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education," and the nurses disclosed as expert witnesses here "are not." Id. at 4. Contrary to Dr. Partin's contentions, we look to the Federal Rules of Evidence and federal case law in determining whether the nurses' opinions are admissible, not the Hospital's EMTALA policy.

Defendants disclosed Nurses Laura Proctor, Megan Salisbury, and Derek Brown as expert witnesses pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2)(C), which typically encompasses the expert testimony of non-retained treating physicians, whose testimony is limited "to opinions that are within the scope of his own observation," Martin v. Stoops Buick, Inc., 2016 WL 4088132, at *4 (S.D. Ind. July 28, 2016), and "to the determinations made in the course of providing treatment." Hambach v. Builders Transp. Co., 2016 WL 5847045, at *2 (S.D. Ill. Oct. 6, 2016). We do not agree with Dr. Partin that these nurses are not qualified to testify as experts under Rule 26(a)(2)(c). The committee notes to Rule 26(a)(2)(c) "explain that common examples of experts required to submit summary disclosures include physicians or other health care professionals." Washington v. Tovo, 2018 WL 2126941, at *4 (N.D. Ind. May 9, 2018) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26, cmt. 2010 Amendments, subdivision (a)(2)(c)). And, in Musser v. Gentiva Health Services, the Seventh Circuit "agree[d] with the district court that even treating physicians and treating nurses must be designated as experts if they are to provide expert testimony." 356 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2004) (emphasis added). Moreover, none of these nurses were called to testify as to anything regarding EMTALA; rather, their testimony relates only to their treatment of the specific patient whose care was at issue, her lack of consent, and their disagreement with Dr. Partin's handling of the situation. Thus, in ruling on the instant summary judgment motion, we shall conclude the nurses' deposition testimony so long as their testimony is otherwise admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In June of 2019, Defendant Baptist Healthcare System, Inc. d/b/a Baptist Health Floyd (hereinafter, "the Hospital") entered into a contract with Floyd Emergency Medicine Associates ("FEMA") that made FEMA the exclusive provider of emergency medicine providers for the Hospital's Emergency Department. Defendant Dr. Daniel J. Eichenberger, M.D., was the Hospital's President during the time period applicable to this case. FEMA had served as the exclusive provider for at least thirty-five years pursuant to a series of sequential contracts. The Hospital and FEMA were the only parties to the 2019 contract. See Docket 40-1, at 1.[1] The 2019 contract gave FEMA multiple rights and imposed various obligations regarding staffing decisions for the Hospital's Emergency Department. The contract also set out multiple ways either party could terminate the contract, including a simple ninety-day written notice. Id. at 2. FEMA agreed to "immediately remove from providing services under [the contract] any physician" who, among other enumerated reasons, "fails to comply with any of the terms and conditions of [the contract], the written policies and procedures of [the] Hospital, or the bylaws of [the] Hospital medical staff as may be in effect from time to time, after being given notice of his failure to comply." Id. at 2-3.

From 2001 until his resignation at the end of 2019, Dr. Partin was one of the emergency room physicians FEMA had engaged to staff the Hospital's Emergency Department. He was an employee of FEMA as well as a director and shareholder in FEMA, and subject to a separate employment contract with FEMA that...

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