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Janet Ulm v. Memorial Medical Center

January 6, 2012

JANET ULM,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 07L74 Honorable Peter C. Cavanagh, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

JUSTICE COOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Steigmann and Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 In March 2007, plaintiff Janet Ulm sued her former employer, defendant Memorial Medical Center, alleging (1) retaliatory discharge, (2) violation of the Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174/1 through 35 (West 2006)), (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, and (5) negligent supervision and training. In May 2011, the trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on all counts. Plaintiff appeals, arguing summary judgment was inappropriate. We disagree and affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Plaintiff worked for defendant, a hospital in Springfield, for about 23 years until she was discharged on June 21, 2006. At the time of her firing, plaintiff had been employed for some time as operations manager of defendant's health information management department.

Plaintiff's department was responsible for, among other things, maintaining patients' medical records and releasing them when subpoenaed or requested by an authorized party.

¶ 4 When the health information management department released a record under subpoena, it was customary for an employee within the department to include with the record a certification stating the record was complete and accurate and had been prepared in the regular course of defendant's business. For some time, the department's director was responsible for certifying these medical records for release. When defendant fired the director in 2005, plaintiff assumed this responsibility.

¶ 5 Sometime in 2005, plaintiff was made responsible for ensuring the practices of the health information management department complied with the standards of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals Organization, through which defendant was accredited. This required plaintiff to become familiar with the accreditation standards and legal regulations pertaining to the department's activities.

¶ 6 In September 2005, defendant implemented a new electronic system for preparing and storing medical records. Plaintiff became concerned that the electronic system was noncompliant with legal and accreditation standards in several respects. She believed the noncompliance jeopardized the accuracy and confidentiality of defendant's medical records and exposed defendant to potential criminal penalties and loss of its accreditation. In a meeting with her supervisor, defendant's senior vice president Kerra Guffey, plaintiff refused to continue certifying the subpoenaed medical records, fearing she could no longer certify them in accordance with the law. Although plaintiff's refusal allegedly angered Guffey, Guffey agreed to undertake certifying the records herself.

¶ 7 Following her meeting with Guffey, according to plaintiff, defendant began retaliating against plaintiff. According to plaintiff, retaliatory actions taken against plaintiff included adding to her responsibilities tasks that had been previously assigned to lower-level employees, relocating plaintiff to a less desirable office, subjecting her to ridicule, Guffey's discussing plaintiff's job performance with other employees and giving the impression that plaintiff was at risk of being fired, negatively reviewing plaintiff's job performance--particularly her supervision of subordinate employees--for the first time in her 23 years' employment with defendant, reassigning plaintiff's secretary to other responsibilities, and failing to offer plaintiff "support" in completing her duties.

¶ 8 In the spring of 2006, plaintiff was asked to prepare the health information management department for an upcoming inspection by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals Organization. Plaintiff again expressed concerns to Guffey and other supervisors regarding the suspected noncompliance of defendant's record-keeping system with accreditation standards and state laws. When these supervisors "failed to respond" to plaintiff's concerns, on June 20, 2006, plaintiff complained to defendant's vice president of quality control, Jim Bente, about the perceived compliance issues and her supervisors' apparent disinterest in addressing plaintiff's concerns. She reiterated that she felt defendant was at risk of losing its accreditation. Bente agreed to schedule a meeting at which plaintiff and her supervisors could discuss their various concerns.

¶ 9 On June 21, 2006, Bente circulated an email confirming that a meeting had been scheduled. Within an hour of receiving this confirmation, plaintiff received an email notifying her that the meeting had been canceled. In a meeting with Guffey and another manager that day, plaintiff was fired.

¶ 10 In March 2007, plaintiff filed her five-count complaint against defendant, alleging (1) retaliatory discharge, (2) violation of the Whistleblower Act, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, and (5) negligent supervision and training.

¶ 11 In November 2010, defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on all counts. In April 2011, the trial court heard oral argument in this case. In May 2011, the court entered summary judgment for defendant on all counts, finding defendant was, "for the reasons set forth in Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

¶ 12 This appeal followed.

¶ 13 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 14 A. Summary Judgment and the Standard of Review

¶ 15 Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits of record, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, establish (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact and (2) the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Kajima Construction Services, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., 227 Ill. 2d 102, 106, 879 N.E.2d 305, 308 (2007); see 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2008).

¶ 16 "The burden of proof and the initial burden of production in a motion for summary judgment lie with the movant. [Citation.] Where the facts could lead a fair-minded person to draw more than one conclusion or inference, summary judgment must be denied." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Evans v. Brown, 399 Ill. App. 3d 238, 243, 925 N.E.2d 1265, 1271 (2010). If the defendant raises an affirmative defense and establishes his factual position with supporting documents, the plaintiff must present a factual basis arguably entitling him ...


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