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10/11/89 Franz Rodriguez-Erdmann, v. Ravenswood Hospital

October 11, 1989





545 N.E.2d 979, 190 Ill. App. 3d 24, 137 Ill. Dec. 218 1989.IL.1616

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Edwin M. Berman, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE RIZZI delivered the opinion of the court. WHITE and CERDA, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff-appellant, Franz Rodriguez-Erdmann, M.D. (Rodriguez-Erdmann), appeals from the circuit court order dismissing his defamation action against defendants-appellees, Ravenswood Hospital Medical Center, Ravenswood Health Care Corporation, and Henry J. Kutsch (Ravenswood). On appeal, Rodriguez-Erdmann asserts that his complaint sufficiently alleges a defamation action because the defendants' statements constituted libel per se, were not privileged, and even if the statements were privileged, malice was sufficiently alleged to defeat any claim of privilege. We affirm.

The facts as alleged in the complaint are as follows. In 1982, Rodriguez-Erdmann was appointed to Ravenswood's provisional medical staff, a probationary appointment terminating in two years if he was not promoted to a higher category of staff membership. Rodriguez-Erdmann served as the coordinator of the internal medicine clinic, outpatient department from 1983-1984. As coordinator of the internal medicine clinic, his responsibilities included the supervision of the resident-physicians in training.

Prior to joining the staff at Ravenswood, Rodriguez-Erdmann was a professor of medicine at the University of Illinois from 1971 to 1979 and was an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University from 1969 to 1971. Rodriguez-Erdmann received teaching awards in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977.

Beginning in 1983, Rodriguez-Erdmann offered constructive comments to various administrators at Ravenswood about deficiencies in the internal medicine and family practice residency programs. He and other physicians asked the chief administrative officer, Henry J. Kutsch, to review patients' charts. Rodriguez-Erdmann's allegations led to numerous counterallegations by the residents and others that plaintiff had demonstrated a marked inability or unwillingness to adequately communicate with the residents in a professional manner. Ravenswood's board of trustees appointed an ad hoc committee to review the accusations, including the complaints of inadequacy in the internal medicine and family practice residency programs.

After a four-month investigation, the committee issued a 17-page report, with approximately 100 pages of exhibits. The exhibits included a 52-page case audit prepared under the supervision of Dr. Terry Ostrowski.

According to plaintiff, the ad hoc report documented major compromises in patient care by the residents at Ravenswood, some of which caused serious consequences to the patients. Plaintiff attached nine pages of this audit to his complaint and also referred therein to the withdrawal by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education of its provisional accreditation of the family practice residency program and the placement of the internal medicine residency program on probation.

However, the ad hoc committee made the following recommendations concerning plaintiff:

"The Committee Recommends that [plaintiff's] interaction with the residents be limited to classroom as opposed to clinical supervision. The Committee further recommends that his participation on the Ward Service be limited and that the Department Classification and Advisory Committee consider the need for disciplinary action relating to his extraordinary method of communicating criticisms about the medical care provided by residents."

The classification and advisory committee reviewed the report, discussed Rodriguez-Erdmann's status, and recommended that he not receive a permanent staff appointment. Plaintiff retained his probationary privileges until a final determination was made. After numerous hearings, several of which were attended by Rodriguez-Erdmann and/or his counsel, the classification committee, the medical board and the department of medicine recommended that plaintiff be denied a permanent staff appointment. The Ravenswood board adopted that recommendation, and on May 1, 1985, Rodriguez-Erdmann's privileges as a staff member at Ravenswood were terminated. On September 6, 1985, plaintiff filed a lawsuit for retaliatory discharge against Ravenswood. On October 2, 1985, plaintiff and his counsel in conjunction with the Illinois Public Action Council held a press conference announcing the filing of the lawsuit and charging that he "was fired after speaking out about problems of malpractice." Specifically, Illinois Public Action Council spokesman, Robert Kramer, stated:

"The lawsuit . . . alleges that he was relieved of his medical privileges because he attempted, both, to uncover and to correct instances of malpractice at the hospital and substandard care of various types which caused death and serious injury to certain patients.

. . . he experience of [plaintiff] at Ravenswood Hospital, is a case in point of the attempt to cover up malpractice in the medical ...

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