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Turner v. Fletcher

February 04, 1999

THEODORE R. TURNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
DAVID J. FLETCHER, M.D., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, AND OLIVER J. CLARK, KRYSTAL FITZPATRICK, JASON EVERSOLE, LARRY GIBSON, AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, RESPONDENTS IN DISCOVERY.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 96L235

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Knecht

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Honorable George S. Miller, Judge Presiding.

Plaintiff, Theodore R. Turner, appeals the trial court's dismissal of his defamation and intentional interference with contract claims. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Turner is a police officer for the University of Illinois police department in Champaign, Illinois, and has been since 1988 or 1989. In April 1995 Turner was placed on administrative leave with pay following reprimands and an evaluation by Dr. Campion finding Turner unfit for duty.

In May 1995 Turner's supervisor, Captain Krystal Fitzpatrick, contracted defendant, Dr. David Fletcher, M.D., MPH FACOEM (Master Public Health, Fellow American College Occupational and Environmental Medicine), to evaluate Turner's fitness for duty. Fletcher is a board- certified occupational and preventive medicine practitioner affiliated with Midwest Occupational Health Associates. In a five-page letter to Fletcher, Fitzpatrick detailed the department's observations of Turner's on-the-job conduct and the effect of that conduct on Turner's fellow officers, supervisors, and members of the public. Fitzpatrick noted a recent increase in the frequency and intensity of Turner's inappropriate conduct.

Fletcher first met with Turner in June 1995 but Turner refused to cooperate on the advice of his attorney. Turner was more cooperative at a second examination in July. Following the appointment, Fletcher referred Turner to Dr. Chapman, a psychiatrist, for further evaluation. In August 1995 Dr. Chapman concluded Turner suffered "no mental disease, disorder, or defect, or any other mental condition that substantially impaired his capacity to serve in a full range of duties as a police officer." Dr. Chapman's report was submitted to Fletcher.

Later in August 1995, Fletcher delivered the results of his evaluation, in the form of a letter, to Fitzpatrick. The letter includ- ed the following paragraph, which Turner deems actionable:

"I have concluded my evaluation on Ted Turner. It is my opinion Ted Turner is not fit for duty as a police officer. He was examined by Dr. Chapman[,] who did not find any overt psychiatric diagnosis. However, based on my total involvement in this case plus the review of the records, and input from all sources I do not believe that he is fit to function as a police officer." (Emphasis in original.) In the same letter, Fletcher also wrote:

"My observations are based on three evaluations on Mr. Turner, as well as the review of the case file. *** This specialist feels that his ability to function as a police officer needs to be based on his total work records, interaction with co-workers, citizen's complaints, and other pertinent sources. I believe that he is impaired in his ability to respond effectively in emergency situations." (Emphasis in original.)

After Fletcher's evaluation was submitted, Turner was given an op- portunity to get a second opinion while he remained on paid leave. When, at the end of November 1995, Turner still had not seen another specialist, he was put on unpaid leave. By February 1996 Turner was evaluated and found fit for duty by Dr. Traugot and was reinstated on February 4, 1996.

In August 1996 Turner filed this action seeking $50,000 plus costs of the suit as compensatory damages for loss of income, emotional and mental distress, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and loss of reputation amongst his colleagues. Count I alleges tortious interference with contract, and Count II alleges defamation for the paragraph indicated above.

Fletcher filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 1996)), which was denied after a hearing in August 1997, but then granted following another hearing in May 1998. The trial court granted Fletcher's motion to dis- miss both counts because the statement at issue is subject to a qualified privilege and any argument that the privilege was abused is without merit. The trial ...


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