Simpkins v. Shalala, No. Civ.A.95-1095 (RCL).

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtLamberth
Citation999 F.Supp. 106
PartiesCuthbert O. SIMPKINS, M.D., Plaintiff, v. Donna E. SHALALA, Secretary of Health & Human Services, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date31 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A.95-1095 (RCL).
999 F.Supp. 106
Cuthbert O. SIMPKINS, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
Donna E. SHALALA, Secretary of Health & Human Services, et al., Defendants.
No. Civ.A.95-1095 (RCL).
United States District Court, District of Columbia.
March 31, 1998.

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Coburn & Schertler, Washington, DC, for plaintiff.

Daniel F. Van Horn, Assistant United States Attorney, Washington, DC, Sandra Pressman, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Washington, DC, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LAMBERTH, District Judge.


This matter comes before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, and the plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). This case is proper for summary judgment as it does not present any disputed issues of material fact. For the reasons set forth below the court grants the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part and denies it in part. The defendants' motion to

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dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment is likewise granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Plaintiff Cuthbert O. Simpkins, M.D., is a former medical officer at the District of Columbia General Hospital ("D.C.General"). This suit arises out of a series of events occurring during plaintiff's employment at D.C. General and the hospital's subsequent report of these events to federal authorities.

1. The Prior Related Lawsuit and Procedural Posture of this Case

Before addressing the specific issues before the court and the factual circumstances out of which they arise, it may be useful to review the procedural posture of this case and the prior suits involving these and other associated parties.

On or about August 24, 1992, plaintiff filed a civil action in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia against the District of Columbia, four D.C. General officials, the National Practitioner Data Bank ("Data Bank"), and Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., who had been the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") at the time of the report. Plaintiff alleged breach of contract, deprivation of procedural and substantive due process, libel and slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, constructive discharge, civil conspiracy, and violations of federal law in connection with D.C. General's report to the Data Bank. The federal defendants subsequently removed the case to this court and the United States substituted itself for the Secretary of HHS on the common law tort claims. The Secretary remained a defendant to the extent the complaint asserted constitutional tort claims against the Secretary.1 This court granted the joint motion of the United States and the Secretary of HHS to dismiss under FED.R.CIV.P. 12(B)(6), dismissing all the claims against these defendants with prejudice. Simpkins v. District of Columbia Government ("Simpkins I"), Civil Action No. 92-2119(RCL), Memorandum Opinion and Order (D.D.C. July 7, 1994), aff'd in part rev'd in part, 108 F.3d 366 (D.C.Cir. 1997). This court dismissed the claims against the Data Bank without prejudice for failure to prosecute. Id. In light of the dismissal of the federal parties, this court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the rest of the case and so those claims were dismissed without prejudice. Id.

While an appeal of Simpkins I was pending, plaintiff filed the present action against the Secretary of HHS and HHS, later amending his complaint to add the Data Bank as a defendant. In this case, plaintiff alleges several violations of law, asserting that these violations should result in removal of D.C. General's Adverse Action Report from the Data Bank, either by order of this Court or, in the alternative, upon remand to the administrative agency administering the Data Bank, HHS. On October 5, 1995, defendants filed a renewed motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, contending that plaintiff's claims were barred by res judicata and that the plaintiff's claims lacked substantive merit. The decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ("D.C.Circuit") in Simpkins v. District of Columbia Government ("Simpkins II"), 108 F.3d 366 (D.C.Cir. 1997), holding that certain claims against the federal defendants should have been dismissed without prejudice instead of with prejudice, eliminated the grounds for defendants' res judicata argument, see id. at 370-371, and defendants therefore withdrew this argument. Nevertheless, defendants continue to maintain that plaintiff's arguments lack substantive merit.

2. The Facts

During 1990-1991 questions arose concerning plaintiff's conduct in approximately three to four cases at D.C. General. At that time, Dr. Bernard Anderson, the Chairman of the Department of Surgery at D.C. General directed Dr. Jean-Jacques, the Section chief and Dr. Simpkins' immediate supervisor, to

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review Dr. Simpkins' level of care to determine whether an adjustment in Dr. Simpkins' clinical privileges was warranted. By memorandum dated May 30, 1991, Dr. Jean-Jacques recommended (1) monitoring plaintiff's cases for six months, (2) encouraging plaintiff to consult with Dr. Anderson and Dr. Jean-Jacques as plaintiff deemed necessary, and (3) further recommendations at the end of six months. These recommendations were to be effective on June 17, 1991, subject to the agreement of Dr. Anderson, Dr. Simpkins, and all other interested parties. Plaintiff's resignation, effective June 17, 1991, rendered any further action with respect to these recommendations moot.

On October 4, 1991, D.C. General submitted an Adverse Action Report concerning plaintiff Simpkins to the Data Bank, which is administered by HHS pursuant to the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986 ("HCQI Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 11101 et seq. The Data Bank was established by Congress to address the problems that can result when doctors who are identified by their peers as being incompetent or unprofessional are able to move and continue their medial careers without anyone being aware of their previous incompetence or unprofessional actions. 42 U.S.C. § 11101(1) & (2).

The Adverse Action Report submitted to the Data Bank by D.C. General indicated that Dr. Simpkins resigned his staff privileges at D.C. General during a review of his quality of care. Plaintiff disputed the accuracy of the report and requested review by the Secretary of HHS. Following that review, the Secretary determined that the report was accurate. Plaintiff was permitted at that time to submit a statement indicating his dispute with the Adverse Action Report, and plaintiff did so.

3. The Issues

Plaintiff's amended complaint contains five counts. Plaintiff charges that defendants have violated the Administrative Procedure Act (Count One), the HCQI Act (Count Two), and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count Three). Plaintiff also contends that defendants have libeled him (Count Four) and tortiously interfered with plaintiff's contractual, economic, and business relations (Count Five). All of plaintiff's charges arise from HHS' decision to include the D.C. General Adverse Action Report concerning plaintiff Simpkins in the Data Bank.

II. Discussion

A. The Administrative Procedure Act

The Court shall first consider plaintiff's allegations under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 501 et seq. Plaintiff argues that the defendants' actions with regard to the Adverse Action Report were "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A). Plaintiff claims that HHS's review of the Adverse Action Report was improper, and that a more thorough examination by HHS would have revealed that neither of the predicate conditions for a Data Bank report, as established by Section 11133 of the HCQI Act, were present. Defendants respond that judicial review of HHS's actions under the APA is highly deferential and that HHS's obligations under the HCQI Act are narrow and limited.

Defendants correctly point out that judicial review of administrative action under the APA is limited to the administrative record before the agency at the time the agency issues its decision. See Camp v. Pitts, 411 U.S. 138, 142-43, 93 S.Ct. 1241, 36 L.Ed.2d 106 (1973). Defendants assert that under the APA the "standard of review is a highly deferential one, which presumes the agency's action to be valid." Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Costle, 657 F.2d 275, 283 (D.C.Cir.1981) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, the D.C. Circuit in Costle also asserted:

[W]e must be assured that the agency action was "based on a consideration of the relevant factors," and that "the agency has exercised a reasoned discretion, with reasons that do not deviate from or ignore the ascertainable legislative intent." Our inquiry into the facts must also be searching and careful.

657 F.2d at 283 (citations omitted). Hence, it is this Court's task to determine whether HHS exercised reasoned decision making,

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whether it considered the relevant factors, and whether the facts have some basis in the record. National Treasury Employees Union v. Horner, 854 F.2d 490, 498 (D.C.Cir. 1988).

Applying these principles of law to the present dispute, this court must consider plaintiff's claim that HHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in concluding that the information contained in D.C. General's Adverse Action Report should be entered into the Data Bank. Defendants firmly adhere to their administrative action, arguing:

Plaintiff had resigned from his position at the hospital, such action by a physician normally implies a surrender of clinical privileges, and plaintiff presented no...

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15 practice notes
  • Doe v. Leavitt, No. 08-1431.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 14, 2009
    ...an investigation within the purview of the statute and, if so, whether that investigation is ongoing. See, e.g., Simpkins v. Shalala, 999 F.Supp. 106, 115-16 (D.D.C. 1998). The Secretary, in the Guidebook, has recognized that a hospital's bylaws may be useful in such ways. See, e.g., Guideb......
  • Vanover v. Hantman, Civil Action No. 97-2572(TAF).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 19, 1999
    ...thus gives federal employees absolute immunity from tort liability for acts done in the scope of their employment. Simpkins v. Shalala, 999 F.Supp. 106, 119 (D.D.C. Section 2679 also provides a specific procedure to implement its immunity mandate. When a federal employee is sued in tort, th......
  • Phillips v. Spencer, No. 11-cv-02021 (EGS)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 15, 2019
    ...within the scope of Section 2680(h)." Fed. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 88 at 47 (collecting cases); see also Simpkins v. Shalala , 999 F. Supp. 106, 119 (D.D.C. 1998) ("The common law torts alleged by plaintiff arise out of the actions of federal employees performing their official duti......
  • John Doe v. Rogers, Civil Action No. 12-01229 (TFH)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 17, 2015
    ...be gleaned from (i) an agency manual, the NPDB Guidebook . . . and (ii) the Secretary's decision in this case."); Simpkins v. Shalala, 999 F. Supp. 106, 115 (D.D.C. 1998) ("Neither the statute nor the regulations promulgated in furtherance of the HCQI Act define an investigation."). The 200......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Doe v. Leavitt, No. 08-1431.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 14, 2009
    ...an investigation within the purview of the statute and, if so, whether that investigation is ongoing. See, e.g., Simpkins v. Shalala, 999 F.Supp. 106, 115-16 (D.D.C. 1998). The Secretary, in the Guidebook, has recognized that a hospital's bylaws may be useful in such ways. See, e.g., Guideb......
  • Vanover v. Hantman, Civil Action No. 97-2572(TAF).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 19, 1999
    ...thus gives federal employees absolute immunity from tort liability for acts done in the scope of their employment. Simpkins v. Shalala, 999 F.Supp. 106, 119 (D.D.C. Section 2679 also provides a specific procedure to implement its immunity mandate. When a federal employee is sued in tort, th......
  • Phillips v. Spencer, No. 11-cv-02021 (EGS)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 15, 2019
    ...within the scope of Section 2680(h)." Fed. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 88 at 47 (collecting cases); see also Simpkins v. Shalala , 999 F. Supp. 106, 119 (D.D.C. 1998) ("The common law torts alleged by plaintiff arise out of the actions of federal employees performing their official duti......
  • John Doe v. Rogers, Civil Action No. 12-01229 (TFH)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 17, 2015
    ...be gleaned from (i) an agency manual, the NPDB Guidebook . . . and (ii) the Secretary's decision in this case."); Simpkins v. Shalala, 999 F. Supp. 106, 115 (D.D.C. 1998) ("Neither the statute nor the regulations promulgated in furtherance of the HCQI Act define an investigation."). The 200......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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