Wright v. Jeckle

Decision Date12 October 2006
Docket NumberNo. 78635-6.,78635-6.
Citation158 Wn.2d 375,144 P.3d 301
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesKaren WRIGHT, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Rosa Lee Johnson, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Karla Seastrom, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Respondents, v. Milan JECKLE, individually, and Jane Doe Jeckle, individually, and on behalf of their marital community, d/b/a All Valley Medical, Petitioners.

Brian T. Rekofke, Timothy Michael Lawlor, Robert James Caldwell, Attorneys at Law, Tracy N. Leroy, Witherspoon, Kelley, Davenport & Toole, Spokane, WA, Britt L. Tinglum, Amy Nicole Linscheid Hanson, Keller Rohrback LLP, Seattle, WA, for for Petitioners.

Robert J. Crotty, Attorney at Law, Matthew John Zuchetto, Lukins & Annis PS, Spokane, WA, for Respondent/Cross-Appellant.

Steven Robert Stocker, Attorney at Law, Spokane, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Spokane County Medical Society.

Andrew Kevin Dolan, Attorney at Law, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Medical Association.

Alan Wicks, Holly Anne Harris, Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Dental Association.

Emily Studebaker, Carney Badley Spellman, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Academy of Eye Physicians & Surgeons and Amicus Curiae on behalf of American Academy of Ophthalmology.

John C. Peick, Peick Conniff PS, Bellevue, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Chiropractic Association and Amicus Curiae on behalf of American Massage Therapy Association.

Barbara Allan Shickich, Michael David Pierson, Riddell Williams PS, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Hospital Association.

Paul Jeffrey Miller, Montgomery Purdue Blankinship & Austin, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Medical Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Amicus Curiae Organizations, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Amicus Curiae Organizations II, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Grantadams County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of King County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Northwest Academy of Otolaryngology, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Pierce County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Osteopathic Medical Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Society of Plastic Surgeons, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Dermatology Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Medical Group Management Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Pharmacy Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Podiatric Medical Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Urological Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Skagit-island Counties Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Snohomish County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Thurston-mason County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Yakima County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Home Care Association of Washington, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Acupuncture and Oriental Medical Association and Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Martin Lowell Ziontz, Attorney at Law, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Medical Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Amicus Curiae Organizations, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Grant-adams County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of King County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of North-west Academy of Otolaryngology, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Pierce County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Osteopathic Medical Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Society of Plastic Surgeons, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Dermatology Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Medical Group Management Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Pharmacy Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Podiatric Medical Association, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Urological Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Skagit-island Counties Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Snohomish County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Thurston-mason County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Yakima County Medical Society, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Home Care Association of Washington, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Acupuncture and Oriental Medical Association, and Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

CHAMBERS, J.

¶ 1 We are asked today to decide whether RCW 19.68.010 is an "anti kickback" statute or an antiprofit statute. We conclude the legislature intended to prohibit kickbacks, not profits. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court.1

FACTS

¶ 2 Since the early 1980s, Dr. Milan Jeckle has operated a Spokane Valley medical clinic. He often dispensed, at a profit, a prescription drug combination commonly known as "fen-phen"2 to patients seeking to lose weight. These patients included plaintiffs Karen Wright, Rosa Lee Johnson, and Karla Seastrom. Fen-phen has since been associated with significant adverse health effects. Oran v. Stafford, 226 F.3d 275, 279 (3d Cir.2000).

¶ 3 In 1997, one year before plaintiffs filed this case against Dr. Jeckle, a nationwide class action fen-phen lawsuit was filed in federal court. In 2000, the case settled. The settlement significantly limited the potential liability of all doctors, including Dr. Jeckle, for fen-phen related damages suffered by patients. However, not all claims were preempted.

¶ 4 Plaintiffs' original 1998 complaint against Dr. Jeckle alleged injuries related to the diet drugs he dispensed. At least in part because of the class action settlement, plaintiffs have refined their claims. They currently assert that Dr. Jeckle violated the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), RCW 19.86.020, by engaging in deceptive acts in trade or commerce, and that he breached his fiduciary duty to them. The deceptive act in question is Dr. Jeckle's alleged violation of RCW 19.68.010.

¶ 5 In 1999, the Spokane County Superior Court granted Dr. Jeckle's CR 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, finding that doctors were not properly subject to the CPA for complaints relating to the practice of medicine. Plaintiffs appealed. In 2001, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that since Dr. Jeckle's advertising, marketing, and sale of diet drugs "implicated the entrepreneurial aspects of medicine," plaintiffs could pursue their claim under the CPA. Wright v. Jeckle, 104 Wash.App. 478, 480, 16 P.3d 1268 (2001).

¶ 6 On remand in 2002, Spokane Superior Court Judge Richard J. Schroeder found that (1) RCW 19.68.010, the statute at issue before us, applies to physicians; (2) physicians were not prohibited from selling prescription drugs to patients; and (3) Dr. Jeckle violated RCW 19.68.010 by selling fen-phen to his patients for a profit.

¶ 7 In November 2004, plaintiffs sought to expand the trial court's 2002 order, asking the court to rule that Dr. Jeckle also breached his fiduciary duty to his patients, as a matter of law, by violating RCW 19.68.010. By that time Judge Schroeder had retired and the case was reassigned to Judge Kathleen M. O'Connor. Apparently hewing to the prior trial judge's order, Judge O'Connor granted plaintiffs' motion, ruling that "Milan Jeckle's violation of RCW 19.68.010 is a per se breach of his fiduciary duties." Clerk's Papers at 538-39.

¶ 8 Prior to Judge O'Connor's November 2004 order, Dr. Jeckle had filed a motion for a CR 54(b) review of the 2002 ruling. Judge O'Connor found good cause to review the 2002 order and found that (1) RCW 19.68.010 does not allow physicians to profit from selling prescription medications to their patients; (2) there is a question of fact as to whether Dr. Jeckle profited from his office sales of fen-phen; and (3) if the jury found that Dr. Jeckle made a profit under RCW 19.68.010, then Dr. Jeckle would have violated his fiduciary duty as a matter of law. Soon after, Judge O'Connor granted plaintiffs' motion to certify this case for appellate review.3

¶ 9 The Court of Appeals accepted review, which was transferred to this court.

ANALYSIS

¶ 10 We review the meaning of a statute de novo. State v. J.M., 144 Wash.2d 472, 480, 28 P.3d 720 (2001). Our goal is to ascertain and implement the legislature's intent. Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell & Gwinn, L.L.C., 146 Wash.2d 1, 9-10, 43 P.3d 4 (2002). When the statute's language is plain on its face, we go no further. We determine the plain meaning of a statute not only from the individual section at issue but also from related statutes disclosing legislative intent about the provision in question. Campbell & Gwinn, 146 Wash.2d at 11, 43 P.3d 4. We avoid readings of statutes that lead to strained or absurd results. Glaubach v. Regence BlueShield, 149 Wash.2d 827, 833, 74 P.3d 115 (2003).

¶ 11 The threshold and deciding issue in this case is the meaning of RCW 19.68.010. Chapter 19.68 RCW was enacted in 1949, a time when the Federal Trade Commission and many other states were showing great interest in passing antikickback legislation. 1988 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 28; see generally Lilly v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 188 F.2d 269, 271 (4th Cir.1951) (describing history). This push for antikickback legislation was in response to a number of high profile scandals including an American Optical kickback scheme. See United States v. Am. Optical Co., 97 F.Supp. 66 (N.D.Ill.1951). In American Optical, the Justice Department brought a class action lawsuit in 1948 against approximately 2,000 physicians for conspiring to influence patients to have their...

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