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Lapidot v. Memorial Medical Center





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. Jerry S. Rhodes, Judge, presiding.


The medical staff privileges of the plaintiff, a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist), were terminated by the defendant Memorial Medical Center (Memorial) after that hospital determined the plaintiff had falsely responded to a question in his application for privileges. The plaintiff filed suit seeking reinstatement of those privileges. The circuit court of Sangamon County granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appeals, and we affirm.

Plaintiff moved to Springfield in the summer of 1977 to begin an association with the Springfield Clinic, a group of approximately 40 physicians practicing in the Springfield, Illinois, area. Prior to his arrival, he completed a written application for privileges at Memorial. One of the questions in the application read as follows: "Have your privileges at any hospital ever been suspended, diminished, revoked or not renewed?" Plaintiff checked the box marked "no" in response. Staff privileges as an associate member of the medical staff were granted to the plaintiff in August 1977.

However, on February 4, 1978, plaintiff's staff privileges were summarily suspended as a result of certain concerns expressed by Dr. Phillip Myers, his preceptor, and by Dr. John Denby, chairman of the department of surgery. Pursuant to the hospital bylaws, plaintiff requested, and was granted, a hearing before an ad hoc committee of the hospital. Notice of the hearing, citing certain patient cases called into question, was sent to the plaintiff on February 8.

Plaintiff arrived at the scheduled February 11, 1978, hearing with his adviser, Dr. Alan Rubenstein, a partner in the Springfield Clinic. Initially, questioning at the hearing focused on the treatment and care of the individual patient cases upon which the subject charges were levied. During the proceedings, discussion shifted to a reference letter from a former colleague contained in the plaintiff's file. The letter alluded to difficulties plaintiff previously experienced at Southside Hospital near Long Island, New York. After first checking with Dr. Rubenstein whether he should "say it all like it is," plaintiff related that a small child upon which he had performed a tonsillectomy had died three weeks after the operation. Apparently, the child had developed a "sudden bleed" at home. Plaintiff stated his staff privileges at Southside were immediately suspended as of March 30, 1976. On May 12, 1976, the charges against the plaintiff were dropped and he was reinstated to the staff. Plaintiff thereupon resigned from Southside.

When asked by the committee why he did not indicate on his application that his privileges had been suspended before, plaintiff responded that he was not then an active member of that staff. Plaintiff stated he was merely an associate, he was suspended because the "child died," and he was later reinstated because "they had no grounds." He then resigned. Dr. Rubenstein and the plaintiff also made reference to a group of five other practitioners in the area who they believed were jealous of the plaintiff's success, and who did not want plaintiff to be named chief of otolaryngology ahead of one of their own.

The committee then recessed, agreeing to meet once more on February 13. At that time, plaintiff would be allowed to respond to this additional information.

During the February 13 hearing, plaintiff discussed his decision in answering "no" to the question relating to prior suspensions of privileges. He stated he did a "tremendous amount of soul-searching," and contacted several colleagues in New York as to how to answer. Plaintiff told the board he only had temporary privileges at Southside; he had been advised he need not report the suspension because he was not on the active staff there. Plaintiff also believed that the details of his Southside problem were known to members of the Springfield Clinic, many of whom also served on boards and committees at Memorial, and he thought the matter would be brought out anyway. He pointed out once more the fact that he was reinstated, and stressed that he answered "in good faith" and "with sincerity." Plaintiff indicated that some members of the Springfield Clinic also advised him to respond in the negative. In essence, it was plaintiff's "gut feeling" that he had done nothing wrong at Southside, and thus his response on the application was proper.

On February 15, 1978, the ad hoc committee voted unanimously to affirm the action of the executive committee suspending the plaintiff. The committee found that the plaintiff's management of the patient cases called into question was "inappropriate." In its written findings, the committee further found the plaintiff's activities and professional conduct in regard to his application response "to be lower than the standards or aims of the Medical Staff." The suspension was upheld on appeal to the hospital governing body.

On February 25, 1981, plaintiff filed an amended complaint in three counts. Count I was dismissed for reasons not pertinent to this appeal. Count II alleged that defendant Memorial had wrongfully embarked on a course of conduct directed toward the termination of the plaintiff's medical privileges there, and that the procedure employed violated the hospital bylaws, including those provisions concerning proper notice. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief under this count, requesting that the court declare Memorial's action in dismissing the plaintiff a nullity. Finally, count III sought money damages from Dr. Myers for his alleged wilful and wanton conduct in causing the wrongful termination of the plaintiff.

By written order of the court dated November 24, 1982, the court stayed count III against defendant Dr. Myers pending a determination of whether the plaintiff was improperly removed from the Memorial medical staff. The court then considered the issue under count II to be whether the hospital bylaws had been complied with or not, and, therefore, whether the plaintiff should be entitled to staff privileges.

During discovery in this lawsuit, it was disclosed that the plaintiff had been the subject of other suspensions at different New York hospitals. First, the plaintiff's admitting privileges at Good Samaritan Hospital in New York were suspended as of April 9, 1976; he described this suspension as resulting from "pressure from Southside," a sister facility. He was reinstated at Good Samaritan on May 12, 1976, but resigned from there on June 24, 1976. Second, the admitting privileges of the plaintiff at the State University Hospital of New York, Downstate Medical Center, were suspended on October 3, 1975, for "technical noncompliance with admitting regulations." Those privileges were reinstated on October 10, 1975, upon acceptance of the plaintiff's resignation as chief of otolaryngology there. Plaintiff believed this suspension resulted from his admission of patients who were not felt to meet the hospital's "emergency only" criteria. Plaintiff also resigned as part-time assistant professor at the university after he was advised he would not be recommended for tenure. Third, the New Brunswick Hospital terminated the plaintiff's privileges during the spring of 1976 when he failed to meet a residency requirement of living within 50 miles of the facility.

In addition, other circumstances surrounding his suspension at Southside were discovered. A letter was introduced disclosing that the plaintiff had been charged, during the term of his suspension following the death of the child, with mismanagement of some 10 other patient cases. Plaintiff had not related this fact to the committee during the hearing. The record also alludes to the fact that plaintiff was reinstated as the result of a negotiated settlement in which he agreed to resign.

Plaintiff in his deposition reiterated that he did not disclose the Southside suspension on his application based upon the advice of colleagues, and because "my heart told me this was the proper way to answer the question." He believed the action taken there was technically not a suspension, because it was later rescinded or "expunged." He felt that the other incidents of suspension were merely procedural in nature and thus of no consequence or relevance. Finally, he stated he believed that by relating his difficulties in New York to Dr. Rubenstein and others, the Springfield medical community and the hospital would become aware of his difficulties. As further support for his negative response, the plaintiff submitted numerous affidavits which variously stated that it was unnecessary for a physician in the plaintiff's situation to answer "yes" to the question on the application. Also, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit and letter from his attorney during ...

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