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Dr. Alexander Chi v. Loyola University Medical

May 24, 2011

DR. ALEXANDER CHI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER AND DR. SUNEEL NAGDA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Dr. Alexander Chi has sued Loyola University Medical Center ("Loyola") and Dr. Suneel Nagda asserting claims for defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). The Court previously granted defendants' motion to dismiss Dr. Chi's second amended complaint. Chi v. Loyola Univ. Med. Ctr., No. 10 C 6292, 2011 WL 687334 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 16, 2011). The Court assumes familiarity with that decision. Dr. Chi has filed a third amended complaint which defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

Discussion

1. Choice of law

The parties dispute what law applies to Dr. Chi's claims. Defendants argue that Illinois law governs all of Dr. Chi's claims. In particular, defendants assert that the Illinois Citizen Participation Act ("ICPA"), 735 ILCS 110/15, requires dismissal of the claims. Dr. Chi counters that Arizona law governs his defamation claim and that the ICPA does not apply.

A district court sitting in diversity applies the choice-of-law rules of the state in which the court sits. Malone v. Corr. Corp. Of Am., 553 F.3d 540, 543 (7th Cir. 2009). In Illinois, courts use the "most significant contacts" test in resolving conflicts of law. Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Websolv Computing, Inc., 580 F.3d 543, 547 (7th Cir. 2009). In the tort context, "'the law of the place of injury controls unless Illinois has a more significant relationship with the occurrence and with the parties.'" Tanner v. Jupiter Realty Corp., 433 F.3d 913, 916 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Esser v. McIntyre, 169 Ill. 2d 292, 298, 661 N.E.2d 1138, 1141 (1996)).

In assessing which state has the strongest relationship with the occurrence and the parties, the Court looks to four factors: "'(1) where the injury occurred; (2) where the injury-causing conduct occurred; (3) the domicile of the parties; and (4) where the relationship of the parties is centered.'" Id. The Court does not merely count contacts but rather weighs them in light of the general principles outlined in section 6 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, which are the relevant policies of the forum; the relevant policies of the interested states; and those states' relevant interests in determining the particular issue; and the basic policies underlying the particular field of law. See Townsend v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 227 Ill. 2d 147, 169-70, 879 N.E.2d 893, 906-07 (2007).

Illinois also follows the doctrine of depe§age, "which refers to the process ofcutting up a case into individual issues, each subject to a separate choice-of-law analysis." Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 161, 879 N.E.2d at 901. In determining what law applies to Dr. Chi's claims, the Court will give each issue "'separate consideration if it is one which would be resolved differently under the local law rule of two or more of the potentially interested states.'" Id. (quoting Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 145, cmt. d, at 417 (1971)).

a. Defamation claim

The parties dispute whether Arizona or Illinois law applies to the defamation claim. Dr. Chi asserts that "there are important differences between the law of Arizona and the law of Illinois on the issue of defamation." Pl.'s Resp. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 10 ("Pl.'s Resp."). In particular, the parties appear to agree that Illinois, but not Arizona, applies the "innocent construction rule" to defamation claims. See Tuite v. Coritt, 224 Ill. 2d 490, 502, 866 N.E.2d 114, 121 (2006). Defendants seek dismissal of Dr. Chi's defamation claim based on this rule, among other arguments.

Dr. Nagda drafted the allegedly defamatory statement in Illinois and sent it to University Medical Center ("UMC") in Arizona, where UMC officials read it, allegedly causing Dr. Chi injury in that state. As such, the first factor from section 145 of the Restatement favors application of Arizona law. For the same reason, Arizona law is presumptively applicable to the claim. See Kamelgard v. Macura, 585 F.3d 334, 341 (7th Cir. 2009) (noting Illinois's presumption in favor of applying the law of the place of injury). Though defendants are apparently Illinois citizens, Dr. Chi is a citizen of Arizona. The Court thus considers the third factor to be neutral. The second factocuts both ways: Dr. Nagda prepared the allegedly defamatory statement in Illinois but knowingly sent it to Arizona. The fourth factor favors the application of Illinois law given that the parties' relationship was centered in Illinois, where Dr. Chi served as a medical resident at Loyola.

After weighing these factors in light of the principles outlined in the Restatement, the Court concludes that Illinois's relationship with this case is not strong enough to rebut the presumption in favor of applying the law of Arizona, the place of the alleged injury. The Illinois Supreme Court has instructed courts not to take such presumptions lightly. See Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 162, 879 N.E.2d at 902 (noting that courts and practitioners "have undervalued the specific presumptive rules" applicable to choice-oflaw questions). Moreover, as comment e to section 145 of the Restatement notes, the location of the injury "plays an important role in the selection of the state of the applicable law" when "the injury occurred in a single, clearly ascertainable state." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 145 cmt. e (1971). That is the case here. Dr. Chi's alleged injury occurred in Arizona, the state where Dr. Nagda's allegedly defamatory statement was published and where Dr. Chi is currently employed as a physician.

To be sure, the Restatement does identify certain situations in which the place of injury is less important, including "when the place of injury can be said to be fortuitous or when for other reasons it bears little relation to the occurrence and the parties with respect to the particular issue," or when "the defendant had little, or no, reason to foresee that his act would result in injury in the particular state." Id. But these circumstances are not present here, as Dr. Chi alleges that Dr. Nagda purposefully sent his allegedly defamatory statement to UMC in Arizona. As such, there was nothing fortuitous or unforeseeable about the fact that Dr. Chi's alleged injury occurred in Arizona. To the contrary, the effects of Dr. Nagda's statement likely would be felt only in Arizona, since that is where Dr. Chi's medical practice is located.

In sum, Arizona has a strong interest in protecting its citizens from conduct directed at them in Arizona and causing injury there. The Court thus gives great weight to the fact that Dr. Chi's alleged injury occurred in Arizona and sees no compelling reason to give increased weight to the location of initiation of the conduct causing the injury or the place where the parties' relationship was centered. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Arizona law governs Dr. Chi's defamation claim.

b. Tortious interference and IIED claims

The parties have not addressed whether Arizona law also governs Dr. Chi's tortious interference and IIED claims. The states' laws on these subjects do not materially differ. Compare Neonatology Assocs. v. Phoenix Perinatal Assocs., 216 Ariz. 185, 187, 164 P.3d 691, 693 (Ariz. App. 2007) (tortious interference), and Citizen Publ'g Co. v. Miller, 210 Ariz. 513, 516, 115 P.3d 107, 110 (2005) (IIED), with Anderson v. Vanden Dorpel, 172 Ill. 2d 399, 406-07, 667 N.E.2d 1296, 1299 (1996) (tortious interference), and Cangemi v. Advocate South Suburban Hosp., 364 Ill. App. 3d 446, 470, 845 N.E.2d 792, 813 (2006) (IIED). For this reason, and because Dr. Chi has forfeited any contention that Arizona law governs these claims, the Court will apply Illinois law. See Jean v. Dugan, 20 F.3d 255, 260 (7th Cir. 1994) ("Where there is no disagreement among the contact states, the law of the forum state applies").

c. ICPA defense

Finally, defendants argue that Dr. Chi's claims were filed as part of a so-called "strategic lawsuit against public participation" ("SLAPP") and should be dismissed based on Illinois's anti-SLAPP statute, the ICPA. Dr. Chi responds that Arizona ...


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