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Keith Dookeran, M.D v. the County of Cook

March 22, 2013

KEITH DOOKERAN, M.D PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE COUNTY OF COOK, DOING BUSINESS AS STROGER HOSPITAL, FORMERLY KNOWN AS COOK COUNTY HOSPITAL, JAMES MADURA, M.D., PETER ORRIS, M.D., BRADLEY LANGER, M.D., JAY MAYEFSKY, M.D., AND DANIEL WINSHIP, M.D.,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES (PHIL DRAY, M.D., AND CHARLENE LUCHSINGER, DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 07 L 7227 Honorable Drella Savage, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hall

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

Justices Gordon and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The plaintiff, Keith Dookeran, M.D., appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County granting summary judgment to the defendants, the County of Cook, doing business as Stroger Hospital (the County), James Madura, M.D., Peter Orris, M.D., Bradley Lang, M.D., Jay Mayefsky, M.D. and Daniel Winship, M.D., on the plaintiff's third amended complaint. On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants because (1) the elements of res judicata were not satisfied by a prior administrative decision and therefore did not bar his civil suit for damages, and (2) even if the elements of res judicata were established, it would be unfair to apply them to bar his civil suit.

¶ 2 We determine that res judicata applied to bar the claims in count I, retaliatory discharge, and count III, breach of contract, raised in the third amended complaint. On a different ground, we determine that summary judgment was proper as to the defamation claim in count II.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 In 1999, the plaintiff was appointed to the Stroger Hospital medical staff. Following an investigation and a hearing, the Stroger Hospital hearing committee found that, in his 2002 application for reappointment, the plaintiff willfully failed to disclose a letter of reprimand he had received while employed at Mercy Hospital, in Pittsburgh and that he had a history of verbally abusing hospital personnel. The hearing committee recommended that the plaintiff's reappointment application be denied. The Stroger Hospital joint conference committee voted to adopt the hearing committee's recommendation and, in turn, recommended to the Cook County Board (the Board) that the plaintiff's 2004 reappointment application be denied.*fn1 The Board adopted the recommendation and denied the plaintiff's 2004 reappointment application, thereby terminating his employment at Stroger Hospital.

¶ 5 I. Administrative Review Proceedings

¶ 6 On August 11, 2006, the plaintiff filed a petition for a common law writ of certiorari in circuit court seeking review of the Board's denial of his reappointment application. Only the County was named as a defendant. On review, the circuit court determined that there was ample factual evidence to support the charges against the plaintiff but found that the evidence did not support the sanction imposed. The court vacated the denial of the plaintiff's reappointment application and remanded the case to the Stroger Hospital hearing committee to recommend a lesser sanction. The court denied the County's motion for reconsideration and entered an order remanding the case to the Board for the imposition of a 30-day suspension of the plaintiff's clinical privileges. The County appealed, and the plaintiff cross-appealed. On review, this court reversed the order of the circuit court and upheld the denial of the plaintiff's reappointment application. Dookeran v. County of Cook, 396 Ill. App. 3d 800 (2009) (Dookeran I). The Illinois Supreme Court denied the plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. See Dookeran v. County of Cook, 236 Ill. 2d 503 (2010) (table).

¶ 7 II. Civil Complaint

¶ 8 On June 20, 2007, while the administrative review proceedings were pending, the plaintiff filed a civil complaint seeking damages for retaliatory discharge, defamation, civil conspiracy, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and breach of contract. The complaint named the County and certain individuals as defendants. The plaintiff's original and second amended complaints were dismissed with leave to amend. The plaintiff then filed his third amended complaint alleging retaliatory discharge, defamation and breach of contract.*fn2

¶ 9 In count I of the third amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the County terminated his employment at Stroger Hospital in retaliation for his reporting of serious problems in the hospital's surgical residency program to his immediate superior and his reporting of inappropriate research and unethical practice of medicine in the surgical department. In count II, he alleged that he was defamed by defendant-doctors Orris, Langer, Mayefsky and Winship in that they were responsible for providing false information to the National Data Bank, i.e., that the plaintiff's termination had been based in part on his unprofessional behavior toward the Stroger staff and the staff from other institutions. In count III, the plaintiff alleged that the County's violations of the Stroger Hospital bylaws breached his contract of employment. Specifically, he alleged that the investigation was improper, that the charges against him were never properly investigated, that he was denied the opportunity to present evidence, that the hearing committee was biased, that his termination was a foregone conclusion and that the hearing committee recommended his termination despite a recommendation of a lesser sanction by the peer review committee. Each count sought an unspecified amount of compensatory damages.

¶ 10 Following the denial of leave to appeal in Dookeran I, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in the civil case, based on res judicata. The circuit court agreed and granted summary judgment to the defendants. This appeal followed.

¶ 11 ANALYSIS

¶ 12 I. Standard of Review

¶ 13 This court's review of a circuit court's grant of summary judgment is de novo. Agolf, LLC v. Village of Arlington Heights, 409 Ill. App. 3d 211, 217-18 (2011). "Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, affidavits, depositions and admissions of record, construed strictly against the moving party, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Agolf, LLC, 409 Ill. App. 3d at 217. The de novo standard of review also applies to the issue of whether a claim is barred by res judicata. Agolf, LLC, 409 Ill. App. 3d at 218.

¶ 14 II. Discussion

ΒΆ 15 Res judicata is an equitable doctrine and is applied to prevent a multiplicity of lawsuits between the same parties where the facts and issues are the same. Piagentini v. Ford Motor Co., 387 Ill. App. 3d 887, 890 (2009). " 'The doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction bars any subsequent actions between the same parties or their privies on the same cause of action.' " Hudson v. City of Chicago, 228 Ill. 2d 462, 467 (2008) (quoting Rein v. David A. Noyes & Co., 172 Ill. 2d 325, 334 (1996)). In order for res judicata to apply, there must be (1) a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, and (2) an identity of cause of action, and (3) identical parties or their privies in both actions. Hudson, 228 Ill. 2d at 467. Once established, ...


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