Williams v. Baptist Health

Decision Date23 April 2020
Docket NumberNo. CV-17-924,CV-17-924
Citation598 S.W.3d 487,2020 Ark. 150
Parties Victor Bernard WILLIAMS, M.D., Appellant v. BAPTIST HEALTH d/b/a Baptist Health Medical Center et al., Appellees
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

Andre K. Valley, for appellant.

Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates &Woodyard, P.L.L.C., Little Rock, by: Byron Freeland and Megan D. Hargraves, for appellee Baptist Health.

Anderson, Murphy & Hopkins, L.L.P., Little Rock, by: Jason J. Campbell, for separate appellee John E. Hearnsberger, M.D.

JOHN DAN KEMP, Chief Justice

Appellant Victor Bernard Williams, M.D., appeals the Pulaski County Circuit Court's dismissal of his action against appellees Baptist Health d/b/a Baptist Health Medical Center, Doug Weeks, Tim Burson, M.D., T. Robert Moffett, M.D., Scott Marotti, M.D., Frederick A. Meadors, M.D., Robert Casali, M.D., T. Robert Moffett, M.D., Susan Keathley, M.D., William Everett Tucker, Jr., M.D., and Chris Cate, M.D. (collectively "Baptist Health appellees"), and John M. Hearnsberger, M.D. For reversal, Dr. Williams argues that the circuit court erred by denying him a jury trial on his bylaws-compliance claim, denying his motions to compel discovery of peer-review information, finding that Baptist Health substantially complied with its bylaws, and granting summary judgment on several claims in favor of Baptist Health appellees and Dr. Hearnsberger. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

I. Facts

Dr. Williams, a cardiothoracic, vascular, and general surgeon, joined the medical staff of Baptist Health in November 2003. In early 2010, Dr. Guy Gardner, then-Chief Medical Officer for Baptist Health, reviewed several of Dr. Williams's surgery cases and reported concerns about the standard of care he had provided in some cases to Doug Weeks, then-Senior Vice President and Administrator of Baptist Health, and Dr. Tim Burson, then-Chair of the Surgery Control Committee.

On February 5, 2010, Dr. Williams met with Weeks and Dr. Burson. During that meeting, Weeks and Dr. Burson informed Dr. Williams that there would be a further investigation into his cases. They gave Dr. Williams the option to voluntarily resign from the medical staff at Baptist Health, but Dr. Williams declined to resign his position.

On March 23, 2010, Dr. Burson notified Dr. Williams by letter that the Surgery Control Committee met on March 15 and reviewed eleven cases where Dr. Williams was the operating surgeon. That Committee identified apparent or suspected deviations from standard clinical practice in five of those cases. The letter stated that the five cases would be discussed at an April meeting and Dr. Williams's attendance at the meeting was mandatory.

At an April 12, 2010 meeting of the Surgery Control Committee, Dr. Williams appeared and answered questions about the five cases. After the meeting, the Surgery Control Committee recommended the following course of action:

After reviewing the above cases and providing an opportunity for Dr. Williams to respond to the questions posted by the Committee members, the Committee believes these cases raise significant concerns with regard to quality of care as described above. Dr. Williams was unable to address these concerns. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that a request for corrective action be made. In addition to the specific concerns outlined above, the Committee has a general concern with Dr. Williams’[s] unwillingness to acknowledge the identified issues or take responsibility.

On April 16, 2010, Dr. Burson submitted a written request to Weeks that the Credentials Committee investigate the five cases under review and take any corrective action that it deemed appropriate. That same day, Dr. Keathley, chairperson of the Credentials Committee, notified Dr. Williams by letter that the Committee had received a request for corrective action and was investigating the quality of medical care he provided in the five cases. The letter stated that the Credentials Committee would meet on April 21 to discuss the matter and that his attendance was mandatory. On each case, he was told to be prepared to discuss (1) pre-operative judgment, (2) medical decision-making, (3) technical ability, (4) ability to recognize post-operative complications, (5) lack of timely follow-up, (6) documentation, and (7) unwillingness to acknowledge identified issues and take responsibility. Finally, Dr. Williams was advised that, depending on the outcome of the interview and resulting action by the Credentials Committee, the matter could result in the suspension or termination of his staff appointment and clinical privileges at Baptist Health Medical Center – Little Rock and other Baptist Health facilities.

The Credentials Committee met and interviewed Dr. Williams on April 21, 2010. In its report and recommendation, the Credentials Committee made specific findings of fact and conclusions of law. It found sufficient evidence to warrant terminating Dr. Williams's staff appointment and clinical privileges and recommended termination. It also immediately suspended Dr. Williams's clinical privileges pending further proceedings pursuant to the applicable bylaws and professional-staff rules. The same day, Weeks notified Dr. Williams of the Credentials Committee's action, sent him a copy of the report and recommendation, and informed him that he had thirty days after receipt of the letter to request a hearing. On May 25, 2010, Dr. Williams, through his attorney, notified Weeks that he was appealing the Credentials Committee's decision to the Hearing Committee and that he was seeking a hearing on the actions taken against him. Williams also asserted in the letter that he "believe[d] the decision of the Credential[s] Committee to have been racially biased and discriminatory."

On February 28, 2011, the Hearing Committee held its hearing that lasted almost six hours. The next day, the Hearing Committee issued its report and recommendation to the Baptist Health Board of Trustees affirming the Credentials Committee's recommendation that Dr. Williams's staff appointment and clinical privileges be terminated. Weeks notified Dr. Williams of the recommendation on March 2 and advised him that he had seven days after receiving the notice to request appellate review.

On March 10, Dr. Williams requested appellate review of the Hearing Committee's decision. After reviewing relevant documents, including the February 28 hearing transcript and written statements submitted by the parties, the Appellate Review Committee met and affirmed the Hearing Committee's report and recommendation. The Appellate Review Committee also made specific findings that (1) the staff bylaws had been followed; (2) the decision of the Hearing Committee was based on substantial evidence of record; and (3) the Hearing Committee's decision was reasonable in light of the hospital's duty to the public. On April 14, Weeks notified Dr. Williams by certified mail of the Appellate Review Committee's action. Weeks also advised Dr. Williams that the Board of Trustees Executive Committee, acting on behalf of the entire Board, affirmed the Appellate Review Committee's action and that Dr. Williams's appointment and clinical privileges at Baptist Health Medical Center – Little Rock were terminated, effective immediately.

Additionally, in June 2010—while Dr. Williams's administrative appeal was ongoing—Baptist Health reported the suspension of his clinical privileges to the National Practitioner Data Bank ("NPDB") and the Arkansas State Medical Board ("Medical Board"). The Medical Board voted to investigate the matter, but Dr. Williams asked it to postpone proceedings to allow him to pursue an administrative appeal with Baptist Health and to allow him to participate in an education and assessment program. The Medical Board proceeding resumed in June 2012 and it agreed that Dr. Williams could attend an assessment program in lieu of the Board's rendering a disciplinary decision. The Medical Board later determined that he did not comply with the requirements of the assessment program, and it revoked his license after an April 3, 2014 hearing. Dr. Williams appealed the revocation, and his license was reinstated.

II. Procedural History

On April 21, 2011, Dr. Williams filed a lawsuit against Baptist Health and individual appellees Dr. Burson, Dr. Moffett, Dr. Marotti, Dr. Meadors, Dr. Casali, Dr. Keathley, Dr. Tucker, and Dr. Cate. Dr. Williams voluntarily dismissed his case on March 5, 2013. He refiled his complaint on February 25, 2014, naming Baptist Health and the same staff physicians and adding Doug Weeks, as well as the Medical Board and Dr. Hearnsberger, individually and in his official capacity as a member of the Medical Board. In his February 2014 complaint, Dr. Williams asserted the following claims: (1) a claim for temporary and permanent injunctive relief against the Medical Board; (2) a claim for violations of article 2, section 3 of the Arkansas Constitution, which guarantees the equality of all persons before the law; (3) a claim for due-process violations under article 2, section 8 of the Arkansas Constitution ; (4) a claim of entitlement to redress of wrongs pursuant to article 2, section 13 of the Arkansas Constitution ; (5) a claim of violations to Dr. Williams's liberty and property rights in the form of his medical license, pursuant to article 2, section 21 of the Arkansas Constitution ; (6) a claim of retaliation and racial discrimination under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 ("ACRA"); (7) a claim for tortious interference with Dr. Williams's contracts with his patients, insurance companies, and other hospitals; (8) a claim for tortious interference with Dr. Williams's contracts with referral physicians in the Pulaski County area; (9) a claim that Baptist Health appellees violated the bylaws and professional-staff rules of Baptist Health; (10) a defamation claim (11) an equal-protection claim under the Arkansas Constitution; (12) a claim for damages and...

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