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Magnini v. Centegra Health Sys.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

June 10, 2015

JULIE MAGNINI and MARTIN MAGNINI, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CENTEGRA HEALTH SYSTEM, a Corporation, Defendants-Appellees John Alverdy, University of Chicago Hospitals, a Corporation, Amir Heydari, Aaron Schwaab, Richard E. Lind, M.D., S.C. d/b/a Surgical Associates of Fox Valley, S.C., a Corporation, and BMI Weight Busters Weight Loss Center Inc., a Corporation, Defendants

Page 1116

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 10 L 9361. Honorable John P. Kirby, Judge Presiding.

For APPELLANT, Clifford Law Offices, P.C., Chicago, IL (Keith A. Hebeisen, Susan A. Capra, and Sara F. King, of counsel).

For APPELLEE, Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP, Chicago, IL (Kay L. Schichtel, Catherine Basque Weiler, and Megan E. Schneider, of counsel).

JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

MASON, J.

Page 1117

[¶1] Plaintiff Julie Magnini brought a medical malpractice suit against Centegra Health Systems, Dr. Amir Heydari, Dr. Aaron Schwaab, Dr. Richard Lind (collectively, the doctors), and various other defendants not relevant to this appeal. She alleged that she was injured as a result of gastric bypass surgery performed at Centegra Hospital in 2007, as well as later surgeries to treat complications arising out of the original surgery. Additionally, Julie's husband, Martin Magnini, sought damages for loss of consortium.

[¶2] The Magninis sought recovery against Centegra on a theory of vicarious liability, alleging that the doctors were " agents and employees" of Centegra. The trial court granted summary judgment for Centegra, finding that the doctors were independent contractors, not agents, since Centegra did not control the manner in which they rendered care to patients. The Magninis appeal, arguing that there is an issue of material fact as to whether Centegra retained sufficient control over the doctors to negate their status as independent contractors. Finding no error, we affirm.

[¶3] BACKGROUND

[¶4] The Magninis' fourth amended complaint, which frames the issues in this appeal, alleges that on October 30, 2007, Julie underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery for obesity at Centegra Hospital. The procedure was performed by Drs. Heydari and Schwaab. Following the operation, Julie experienced persistent abdominal pain, inability to eat, excessive weight loss, and malnourishment. She was repeatedly hospitalized at Centegra Hospital for continuing treatment of her complications. Drs. Heydari, Schwaab, Lind, and Eugene Lee all played roles in her treatment and care.

[¶5] In its count against Centegra, the complaint alleges that Drs. Heydari, Schwaab, Lind, and Lee were all agents and employees of Centegra. The complaint further alleges that Drs. Heydari and Schwaab negligently performed the initial gastric bypass surgery on Julie, and all four doctors improperly treated her resulting complications, causing her to sustain various injuries. The complaint therefore seeks relief against Centegra for the doctors' alleged negligence.

[¶6] Centegra moved for summary judgment. In its motion, Centegra argued that the Magninis raised no allegations of direct or institutional negligence against Centegra; their sole theory of liability was that Centegra was vicariously liable for the actions of the doctors. However, according to Centegra, none of the doctors was its actual or apparent agent. Dr. Heydari was an " independent member of the medical staff at Centegra." Centegra further stated that Drs. Schwaab, Lind, and Lee were all employees of Surgical Associates of Fox Valley (SAFV), a medical services corporation, and they were not employees of Centegra.

[¶7] In support of its summary judgment motion, Centegra attached the deposition testimony of the four doctors. Dr. Heydari testified that he had both administrative and clinical responsibilities at Centegra

Page 1118

Hospital. On the administrative side, he was the director of bariatric health services at Centegra. He explained that bariatrics is a branch of medicine dealing with weight loss. As director, he would meet with nurses, dieticians, secretaries, and patients on a regular basis, and he was available to answer any questions that people might have about the program. Additionally, he stated that he was tasked with " [b]eing an advisor, giving direction which way our bariatric program is going."

[¶8] Dr. Heydari testified that in addition to his administrative role, he also had a clinical role as an independent surgeon practicing medicine. Dr. Heydari's administrative and clinical roles were " two different hats." When Dr. Heydari made decisions about what kind of surgery would be best for Julie, or what actions to take during surgery, those decisions were independent decisions that he made based upon his own expertise as an independent member of the medical staff. When Dr. Heydari performed surgery, he was not acting as an employee of Centegra.

[¶9] Dr. Schwaab testified that he had never been an employee of Centegra. He stated that he was the medical director of the breast program at Centegra, as well as the director of the wound and hyperbaric center, but he did not see Julie in connection with either of those programs.

[¶10] Dr. Lind was the founding member of SAFV and Drs. Heydari, Schwaab, and Lee were all hired by SAFV. He stated that he was not employed by Centegra at the time he provided health care services to Julie, and his provision of such services was based upon his independent judgment as an independent contractor. Similarly, Dr. Lee testified that he was not an employee of Centegra, and he was acting as an employee of SAFV when he provided care to Julie.

[¶11] The Magninis filed a response to Centegra's summary judgment motion in which they argued that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Centegra controlled the manner in which its doctors provided medical care services to patients. They argued that such control was evidenced by the 2004 medical director services agreement, whereby Dr. Heydari became the director of bariatric health services at Centegra; the 2009 bariatric services agreement, whereby SAFV became the exclusive provider of bariatric surgery services at Centegra; and Centegra's medical staff bylaws. All three documents were attached to the response.

[¶12] The medical director services agreement between Centegra and Dr. Heydari was entered into on October 1, 2004. Under that agreement, Dr. Heydari accepted the administrative position of director of bariatric health services at Centegra. The agreement states that, as director, Dr. Heydari would make efforts to improve the quality of care and reduce the cost of care. He was also required to work with the site administrator on an annual program evaluation to assess evidence of the program's improvement and its need for further improvement. The agreement states that these administrative services are " distinct and separate from any general patient care services the Director should assume." The agreement stipulates that Dr. Heydari was not to spend more than 10 hours per month on these administrative services, and he was paid for the time he spent. It also provides:

" 5.3 Independent Contractor -- Nothing contained in the Agreement shall constitute or be construed to create a partnership, joint venture, employment, or agency relationship between the parties and/or their respective successors and assigns, it ...

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