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Settler v. Hopedale Medical Foundation





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Tazewell County; the Hon. IVAN L. YONTZ, Judge, presiding.


___ N.E.2d ___ This is an appeal from the circuit court of Tazewell County. The plaintiff, Joseph Settler, a podiatrist, sued the defendants Hopedale Hospital (conceded by all parties to be a private hospital), its administrator Rossi, four podiatrists, Graham, Hoffman, Ruch and Schwarzentraub, and two physicians, Guzman and William. The circuit court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to counts three through 12. Only counts one and two were permitted to stand. These two counts alleged the defendant Hopedale Hospital and its administrator Rossi breached a contractual relationship. The trial court certified that there was no just reason for delaying an appeal, and hence this court is called upon to determine the propriety of the summary judgment orders which dismissed counts three through 12.

The record in this appeal is quite voluminous; however, in a "nutshell" this litigation arose when the plaintiff was denied what he classifies as full privileges on the podiatry staff of the defendant hospital. In short, in September 1974, the podiatry staff at the hospital of which plaintiff was a member was dissolved. On September 19, 1974, plaintiff applied for a new position as a podiatric consultant to the hospital's medical staff. On October 7, 1974, plaintiff's request was denied but he was granted the privilege of being a podiatric surgical assistant. After several later attempts to obtain greater privileges, plaintiff brought suit against the hospital and the other individual defendants seeking monetary and injunctive relief.

In order to precisely confront the questions raised in this appeal we will examine chronologically each count, the remedy sought, and to which defendant it is directed.

Count III, which seeks injunctive relief, and count IV, which seeks monetary damages, are both directed against the defendant hospital Hopedale and its administrator Rossi. Both counts contain identical allegations of fact and are predicated upon a theory that a violation of constitutional rights occurred when plaintiff was dismissed from the staff of the hospital without notice or hearing and subsequent applications for appointment to the staff were denied without reason.

Due process violations of our State Constitution have been interpreted to protect only against interference by governmental action. People v. Belcastro (1934), 356 Ill. 144, 190 N.E.2d 301; Lavin v. Board of Education (1974), 22 Ill. App.3d 555, 317 N.E.2d 717.

• 1 It is undisputed that the defendant hospital is a private institution and consequently due process safeguards applicable to public hospitals are not available to the plaintiff. That the defendant Hopedale is a private hospital rather than a public institution creates distinctions as to the applicable law. Since Hopedale is a private institution the plaintiff possessed no constitutionally guaranteed right to staff privileges. Fahey v. Holy Family Hospital (1975), 32 Ill. App.3d 537, 336 N.E.2d 309.

• 2 Counts V and VI seek to allege a tort action based upon negligent and wilful and wanton conduct on the part of the defendant Hopedale Hospital and defendant administrator Rossi predicated upon their acts in terminating the plaintiff's staff privileges. These counts could and should have been held insufficient and subject to summary judgment as was awarded to the defendants by the trial court on the well-established legal grounds that a private hospital's refusal to appoint a physician or surgeon to medical staff is not subject to judicial review. Mauer v. Highland Park Hospital Foundation (1967), 90 Ill. App.2d 409, 232 N.E.2d 776.

The plaintiff argues that the doctrine of judicial nonintervention is no longer viable in Illinois and in support of this assertion apparently relies on the case of Jain v. Northwest Community Hospital (1978), 67 Ill. App.3d 420, 385 N.E.2d 108. We interpret Jain otherwise, for after a detailed examination of decisions in our State and other jurisdictions the review court stated:

"We therefore do not feel justified in acceding to plaintiff's request that we depart from the well settled rule laid down in the Mauer decision." 67 Ill. App.3d 420, 427.

The reviewing court in Jain did hold that the only qualification to the judicial nonintervention doctrine is that when a physician's existing staff privileges are revoked a private hospital must follow its own bylaws or be subjected to a limited judicial review. This qualification, however, affords no comfort or relief to the plaintiff, since there was no allegation in the second amended complaint that the defendant hospital and defendant Rossi violated any provision of the bylaws of the hospital in removing or restricting the privileges or status of the plaintiff. It is further apparent that there were no bylaws in existence at the time the plaintiff's privileges were removed or curtailed.

In a further effort to defeat the viability of the doctrine of judicial nonintervention the plaintiff concludes that "model" bylaws suggested by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals became the bylaws of the defendant Hopedale hospital. How this event occurred is unexplained, but such lack of explanation is of little import since this approach was not pleaded in counts III, IV, V and VI. It was alluded to in count I, which withstood the motion for summary judgment, and hence the plaintiff still has an opportunity to establish that the proposed "model bylaws" became part of his contract with the defendant Hopedale hospital.

It can only be concluded that the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the hospital and Rossi as to counts III, IV, V and VI of the second amended complaint.

Counts VII through IX in the plaintiff's second amended complaint are directed against fellow podiatrists, namely the defendants Graham, Hoffman, Ruch and Schwarzentraub. These defendants were members of a surgery committee ...

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