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Hoffman v. Wilkins

APRIL 18, 1971.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DANIEL A. COVELLI, Judge, presiding.


This appeal is from a preliminary injunction enjoining the Governing Commission of the Cook County Hospitals from dismissing plaintiff, Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman, from his position as Director of Laboratories for Cook County Hospital.

Dr. Hoffman has been employed at the Cook County Hospital since 1926 and has been the Director of Laboratories since December 1, 1945. After examination, Dr. Hoffman was certified to that position in 1958 by the Civil Service Commission of Cook County. From 1959 to 1966, he also carried Civil Service certification as "attending Physician-Pediatrics." Additionally, Dr. Hoffman is Executive Director of the Hektoen Institute, an independent non-profit corporation which shares facilities with the Department of Laboratories and does medical research in conjunction with Cook County Hospital.

In 1969, the legislature established the Comprehensive Cook County Hospitals, Health and Allied Medical Programs Governing Commission of Cook County to replace the Board of Commissioners of Cook County as manager of the county hospital facilities. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 34, pars. 5011, et seq.) This charge was apparently made in response to the finding of the National Joint Committee on the Accreditation of Hospitals to the effect that independent management of the county hospitals was necessary for their future accreditation. The defendants in this case are the members of the Governing Commission.

The administrative structure of Cook County Hospital consists of nine medical divisions, one of which is the Division of Laboratory Services. Six of the divisions are departmentalized, the Division of Laboratory Services, for example, having five departments. Sometime prior to March 17, 1970, the Superintendent of Cook County Hospital requested Dr. Hoffman's resignation, and Dr. Hoffman declined to resign. On March 17, 1970, the Governing Commission considered the matter and referred it to the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff which is composed of certain administrative personnel and the heads of the divisions and departments of the hospital. This executive committee adopted a resolution that the head of the Division of Laboratories and the Director of the Hektoen Institute should not be the same person.

On March 24, 1970, the Governing Commission considered this resolution and voted to terminate Dr. Hoffman's services as the Director of Laboratories. On March 28, Julian Wilkins, chairman of the Commission, sent a letter to Dr. Hoffman notifying him that the Commission had decided to terminate his services as of March 31, 1970. The letter did not state any reasons for the decision. This action did, however, generate a number of newspaper articles which reported that Dr. Hoffman was being dismissed as a result of conflict of interest charges.

Dr. Hoffman transmitted the letter to the Civil Service Commission of Cook County, which, on April 1, 1970, informed the Governing Commission that, due to Dr. Hoffman's civil service status, he could not be dismissed unless written charges were presented to the Civil Service Commission and a hearing were held pursuant to Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 34, par. 1118. The Civil Service Commission also ordered the Governing Commission to show cause why the alleged order of dismissal should not be rescinded and vacated at a hearing to be held on April 8, 1970. The Governing Commission took the position that it had independent statutory power to dismiss Dr. Hoffman under Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 34, pars. 5011, et seq. (This point will be considered later in this opinion.) After the hearing on the rule to show cause, the Civil Service Commission entered the following order directed to the Governing Commission on April 9:

"That inasmuch as Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman, as appears from the records of the Commission, had been duly examined and appointed in the Classified Service as Director of Laboratories, at Cook County Hospital, he can only be discharged from such employment pursuant to Illinois Revised Statute, Chapter 34, Section 1118, by the filing of written charges and a hearing before the Civil Service Commission, at which time the respondent shall be afforded the right and opportunity to defend any such charges, and its final determination by the Commission as to his retention or dismissal in said Classified Service, and therefore your letter of March 28, 1970, dismissing Dr. Hoffman from his position as Director of Laboratories, not being in conformity with the aforesaid Statute, is hereby vacated and set aside."

Thereafter, on April 14, Mr. Wilkins, in behalf of the Governing Commission, informed the Civil Service Commission that he had been denied access to the Civil Service files on which the order was based and was therefore taking "steps to implement the prior decision of the Governing Commission." He thereupon sent a letter to Dr. Hoffman which stated in part:

"Please arrange to have your personal effects removed from your former office as the Director, Division of Laboratories * * *. I am instructing the staff to clear this office on Thursday morning, April 16, 1970, and your cooperation would be appreciated."

The Civil Service Commission responded, on April 15, with an offer to allow Mr. Wilkins to examine Dr. Hoffman's Civil Service file at the Civil Service Commission offices. Mr. Wilkins replied with a request that the files be sent to his office, but on April 17 the Civil Service Commission explained that, in keeping with its normal policy, personnel records were available for inspection only at its offices, and reiterated its invitation to Mr. Wilkins to come to the Civil Service Commission's offices and inspect the file at his convenience.

The plaintiff then filed this suit and moved for a preliminary injunction, asking that the defendants be restrained from interfering with his right to remain as Director of the Division of Laboratory Services at Cook County Hospital unless removed for cause by the Civil Service Commission upon written charges and after a hearing as prescribed by statute. The defendants answered and filed a counterclaim and third party complaint against the Cook County Civil Service Commission. After hearing testimony and arguments of counsel, the chancellor granted plaintiff's motion and entered the preliminary injunction from which defendants have taken this appeal.

At the hearing, plaintiff presented, as witnesses on his behalf, two doctors who qualified as experts in medical laboratory science. Dr. Morris Fishbein, chaiman of the Hektoen Institute, testified that he had been professionally acquainted with Dr. Hoffman for approximately forty years and considered him to be "an excellent representative of the medical profession and in all of the positions he occupies." He said he had received inquiries from five or six people to ask what Dr. Hoffman had done that caused his instant dismissal, and was compelled to answer that he did not know. While he thought it difficult to assess the damage done to Dr. Hoffman's reputation, he felt that any "sudden, abrupt dismissal of anybody from any kind of a position, without an explanation as to the reasons therefor, is bound to reflect in the public mind some doubts as to his ability." In answering a question concerning the effect which the attempted discharge of Dr. Hoffman would have on laboratory services, he stated: "assuming that the direction of the laboratories should change, and assuming that as a result of that, confusion would arise and the question of authority to order and to return information on tests were to be questioned, this would inevitably revert to delay, certainly, if not perhaps questions of competency in the administration of laboratory services." He also testified that it was advantageous to have the laboratories' research and service functions combined as they were at Cook County Hospital with the association of the Hektoen Institute and the hospital's Division of Laboratory Services.

Dr. Paul Szanto testified that he was the head of the Department of Pathology at Cook County Hospital working under Dr. Hoffman, whom he has known since 1956 as a competent and "excellent Director of Laboratories." He considered the association of the Division of Laboratory Services with the Hektoen Institute research functions necessary for a modern hospital laboratory. He testified that the letter purporting to dismiss Dr. Hoffman was "very detrimental to the morale of the Laboratory Division." In his opinion, the discipline of the laboratory division was undermined because the staff was left with uncertainties in respect to ...

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