VuYYuru v. Jadhav

Decision Date18 April 2011
Docket NumberAction No. 3:10-CV-173
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesLOKESH VUYYURU, et al., Plaintiff, v. GOPINATH JADHAV, et al., Defendant.

This matter comes before the Court on Commonwealth Defendants' and Private Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Docket Nos. 46 and 51), as well as Commonwealth Defendants' and Private Defendants' Motions for Rule 11 Sanctions (Docket Nos. 49 and 60).1 The Court grants the motions to dismiss on the grounds stated below and therefore dismisses the Amended Complaint. The Court further grants the defendants' motions for Rule 11 sanctions against Plaintiffs Lokesh Vuyyuru, Virginia Gastroenterology Associates, P.C. ("VGA"), and Virginia Times, Inc. The Court will grant the defendants' request for attorney's fees. The Court orders Plaintiff Lokesh Vuyyuru to show cause why the Court should not enjoin him from filing, without this Court's permission, any lawsuit alleging an injury resulting from the Virginia Board of Medicine's May 19, 2006, order revoking his license to practice medicine in the Commonwealth of Virginia.I. Introduction

A. Statement of the Case

The factual allegations that follow are based on a generous construction of the Amended Complaint. Plaintiff Lokesh Vuyyuru practiced gastroenterology at Southside Regional Medical Center ("SRMC") through 2003 and John Randolph Medical Center ("JRMC") through 2005. VGA is practice group Vuyyuru owns. During his time practicing at the hospitals, Vuyyuru reported what he considered incidents of malpractice and insurance fraud against SRMC, JRMC, and various physicians. Vuyyuru alleges the Justice Department gave him immunity for providing grand jury testimony relating to these incidents. In 2004, Vuyyuru formed Virginia Times, Inc., a corporation through which Vuyyuru published Virginia Times, a newspaper that publicized the incidents of malpractice and fraud he discovered at SRMC and JRMC.

Beginning in 2000, SRMC and JRMC personnel allegedly began to retaliate against Vuyyuru for what he calls his "whistleblowing activities." (Am. Compl. ¶ 31, Docket No. 31.) The hospitals took internal personnel actions and reported complaints against him to governmental authorities. Vuyyuru claims ten anonymous parties and Defendant Kamalesh Dave threatened Vuyyuru and his family, in hopes of concealing the violations Vuyyuru reported to authorities. Defendant Sharad Saraiya, a doctor at JRMC, "took actions to cause Dr. Vuyyuru to lose his hospital privileges at JRMC," though Vuyyuru does not explain what actions Saraiya undertook to this end. (Am. Compl. ¶37.) Defendant Linda Ault, Vice President of JRMC, "caus[ed] Dr. Vuyyuru to be falsely blamed for the death of one patient and adverse medical outcomes for another patient." (Am. Compl. ¶38.) She also worked with Saraiya to cause Vuyyuru lose his place at JRMC. Again, Vuyyuru does not elaborate on how Ault achievedthese goals. Vuyyuru alleges SRMC and JRMC officials caused businesses to stop advertising with Vuyyuru's newspaper, the Virginia Times, though he does not provide details to support this claim. Doctors also warned Vuyyuru JRMC officials were searching for ways to exact retribution against him.

The Virginia Board of Medicine ("the Board") began taking action against Vuyyuru in 2005. The Board suspended his medical license on August 10, 2005, without notice or hearing. Then the Board began considering whether to revoke Vuyyuru's license.

The plaintiffs contend several defendants used the Board proceedings as a forum to retaliate against Vuyyuru. For example, in early 2005, Defendant David Fikse, CEO of SRMC, filed a complaint with the Board about articles Dr. Vuyyuru published in the Times and "attached to [the complaint] medical records and information related to specific patients." (Am. Compl. ¶ 42.) This complaint served as the basis for the Board's action against him. Vuyyuru asserts officials from SRMC and JRMC, along with JRMC's owner, Defendant Community Health Systems Professional Services ("CHSPS") urged the Board to take action against Vuyyuru.

According to the Plaintiffs, the Board and related personnel aimed to retaliate against Vuyyuru and used the proceedings to do so. In June 2005, Board staff members participated in a meeting in which unidentified hospital staff members discussed filing a defamation claim against Dr. Vuyyuru based on articles from the Virginia Times. At roughly the same time, Board staff members shredded records related to an investigation into the hospitals' peer review procedures prompted by Vuyyuru. Those same staff members searched Vuyyuru's office "over the objection of Dr. Vuyyuru and without any warrant, subpoena, or court order[.]" (Am. Compl. ¶ 64.) Defendant Robert Nebiker, Director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions ("DHP"), did not disclose the existence of Fikse's complaint to the Board. The hearing officerprevented Vuyyuru from presenting evidence tending to show officials retaliated against him for reporting complaints against them. The Board also discovered records suggesting Vuyyuru was not responsible for a particular patient's death but, according to the plaintiffs, failed to disclose the discovery. Finally, Defendant William Harp, the Board's director, participated in the Board's deliberations on Vuyyuru's case, even though Vuyyuru claimed articles in the Virginia Times criticizing Harp had compromised his objectivity. The plaintiffs maintain that each of these acts stemmed from a broad-based plan to ensure the revocation of Vuyyuru's license.

The plaintiffs further contend the Office of the Attorney General, which provided the personnel to prosecute Vuyyuru's case, participated in this plan. Defendant Anant Damle served as an expert witness in Board proceedings against Vuyyuru. According to Vuyyuru, Damle misrepresented that he reviewed all of Vuyyuru's patients' files to prepare for his testimony. Defendant Frank Pedrotty, who presented the case against Vuyyuru and examined Dr. Damle, knew this representation was false and withheld certain patient files from Dr. Damle. Officials from the Attorney General's office eventually provided unspecified information to Dr. Damle in a "verbal report" about the patient files and then ordered the "administrative record" referring to this report destroyed. (Am. Compl. ¶¶57, 66.) In November 2005, at a Board hearing, the Board ordered Dr. Damle to review the complete records regarding Dr. Vuyyuru's patients. Vuyyuru allegedly witnessed Pedrotty instructing Dr. Damle not to alter his testimony against Vuyyuru, even in light of Dr. Damle's review of the files. Vuyyuru alleges Pedrotty's assistant, John Stanwix, assisted Pedrotty in coaching Damle. Damle also allegedly lied about his qualification to testify about conducting endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.

The Board ultimately revoked Vuyyuru's license on May 19, 2006. The plaintiffs see this decision as the culmination of an elaborate scheme to harass Vuyyuru for reporting incidents of malpractice and fraud by other health care providers. Vuyyuru, VGA, and the Virginia Times make three claims for relief stemming from the Board proceedings. First, they allege Damle's testimony constituted an abuse of process. Second, the plaintiffs claim JRMC, SRMC, and various hospital officials conspired to injure them by causing Vuyyuru to lose his license. See Va. Code §§ 18.2-499 &-500 (1994). Finally, the plaintiffs make several claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (1988).

B. Litigation History

Vuyyuru has repeatedly attempted to air his grievances about the Board's proceedings in Virginia courts. Vuyyuru has filed several actions in state and federal court regarding his malpractice and fraud reporting and the Board's decision. After the Board revoked his license, Vuyyuru proceeded through the state administrative appeals process. Vuyyuru filed a rather exhaustive appeal with the Chesterfield County Circuit Court in accordance with the Virginia Administrative Process Act (VAPA). See Va. Code. § 2.2-4027. Vuyyuru set forth many of the arguments he articulates here—that Dr. Harp participated in the Board's deliberations, that the Attorney General's office was conflicted by representing the Board and prosecuting Vuyyuru's case, that the Board failed to act neutrally in considering Vuyyuru's case, and that Defendant Damle falsely testified that he reviewed the entirety of Vuyyuru's patients' records in preparation for his testimony. In January 2007, the Circuit Court concluded the Board's revocation was procedurally and substantively sound.

The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the Board's decision on January 15, 2008, rulingthat substantial evidence supported the Board's decision and the Board afforded Vuyyuru due process. The Court of Appeals expressly concluded Virginia law permitted nonmembers of the Board to sit in Board deliberations, allowed the Attorney General's office to represent the Board and prosecute Dr. Vuyyuru's case, and did not prohibit Board members from participating in both Vuyyuru's suspension and revocation hearings. See Vuyyuru v. Va. Bd. of Medicine, No. 0610-07-2, 2008 WL 122804 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2008). The Virginia Supreme Court denied Vuyyuru's petition for appeal and then denied his petition for rehearing.

Vuyyuru filed a series of suits parallel to his administrative proceedings in state and federal court. In March 2006, before the Board revoked Vuyyuru's license, Vuyyuru and VGA filed a § 1983 action in this Court against Ann Hardy and Pamela Twombly, staff members of the DHP and Board, respectively, who searched his office pursuant to the Board's investigation. The court dismissed the case without prejudice on the basis of Younger abstention, so Vuyyuru could pursue state administrative remedies regarding the Board's revocation order. Vuyyuru v. Hardy, No. 3:06-CV-179...

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