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Jablonsky v. Sierra Kings Health Care Dist.

September 23, 2009

ROBERT JABLONSKY, MD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SIERRA KINGS HEALTH CARE DISTRICT, A CALIFORNIA PUBLIC HOSPITAL DISTRICT DBA SIERRA KINGS DISTRICT HOSPITAL, CARROLL FRIEND, KATHLEEN OMACHI, AND BARRY WARMERDAM, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anthony W. Ishii Chief United States District Judge

ORDER ON DEFENDANT SIERRA KINGS HEALTHCARE DISTRICT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Doc. # 67

This is a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C., section 1983 brought by plaintiff Dr. Robert Jablonsky, MD ("Plaintiff") against defendants Sierra Kings Healthcare District, et al. ("Defendants"). In an order filed March 2, 2007, the court dismissed all claims set forth in the original complaint, which alleged damages arising from wrongful revocation of hospital privileges. Doc. # 18. Dismissal was granted on the ground the prior adjudication of those claims in the California tribunal precludes the re-litigation of those claims in this court. Takahashi v. Bd. of Trustees of Livingston Union Sch. Dist., 783 F.2d 848, 850 (9th Cir. 1986). Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC") was filed on March 5, 2007 and alleges damages arising solely out of the delay of formal administrative proceedings that were requested in 1997 and not completed until May 2, 2006, that resulted in the revocation of Plaintiff's medical staff privileges. The court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss the FAC on the ground Plaintiff's claims could have been, but were not decided in the administrative proceeding. Now before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to all Plaintiff's claims set forth in the FAC. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be denied without prejudice as procedurally improper. The parties will be ordered to file additional pleadings.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was a member if the medical staff of Sierra Kings District Hospital ("Hospital"). On or about September 16, 1997, Hospital, through its Medical Executive Committee ("MEC") notified Plaintiff of a proposed action to summarily revoke Plaintiff's privileges to practice medicine at Hospital. The September 16 notice also summarily suspended Plaintiff's admitting privileges at Hospital. On December 16, 1997, Hospital provided notice of a proposed action to make the revocation of hospital privileges permanent. Defendant and/or Hospital by-laws provide for a formal hearing and appeal process (hereinafter the "administrative process") to address disputes arising from medical staff disciplinary actions. The by-laws provide that a hearing on claims arising from revocation of medical staff privileges or other disciplinary actions is to commence within 60 days of notice of demand for such hearing. Plaintiff provided notice of demand for a hearing on November 14, 1997. The hearing on Plaintiff's claims commenced on June 15, 2004, and the administrative process did not produce final adjudication of Plaintiff's claims until May 23, 2006.

The complaint in this case was filed on September 18, 2006. On March 2, 2007, the court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. Leave to amend was granted. Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed because the court determined that the court was precluded from deciding those issues raised in the complaint -- sufficiency of the evidence to support the decision to deny medical staff privileges and the fairness of the proceedings, including consideration of any unfairness arising from the passage of time -- because those issues were decided by the hearing and appeal mechanism provided by Hospital. In dismissing the complaint with leave to amend, the court left open the possibility that Plaintiff could state a claim for violation of Procedural Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment based solely on the delay in proceedings separate and apart from any prejudicial effect that delay may have had on the substance of Hospital's review under their administrative procedures.

Plaintiff's FAC, which was filed on March 5, 2007, attempts to state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the allegation that delays in the institution and completion of the process of administrative adjudication of his claims amount to a violation of his procedural Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The FAC, as well as the original complaint, listed individuals that were involved in the administrative review proceedings as defendants. On June 28, 2007, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of all individual defendants. As of the court's order of July 2, 2007, adopting the stipulation, Sierra Kings Health Care District dba Sierra Kings District Hospital is the only defendant in this action.

On July 30, 2007, the court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss the FAC. In denying the motion to dismiss, the court determined that Plaintiff's claim of violation of procedural Due Process rights arising solely out of the delay in the administrative adjudication of Plaintiff's claims was not within the scope of issues that could have been administratively adjudicated or addressed in a mandamus proceeding before in the state court. Consequently the court determined Plaintiff is not precluded from raising his claim of constitutional due process violation, assuming that such a claim can be stated. The court expressly left open the question of whether Plaintiff could, in theory, state a valid claim for violation of procedural due process on the ground of delay where the substantive conclusion reached by the process has been conclusively found to not be prejudiced by the delay. The court also left open the question of whether, if such a claim for procedural due process violation is possible, Plaintiff's FAC adequately states such a claim.

On December 10, 2008, the parties stipulated to an extension of time for non-expert discovery and stipulated to continuance of the trial date. Pursuant to an order of the court dated March 9, 2009, non-expert discovery was extended from February 2, 2009, to April 6, 2009. The instant motion for summary judgment was filed on June 1, 2009.

UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

On or about February 11, 2009, -- that is, during period of time when non-expert discovery was extended -- Defendant served Plaintiff with sixty-eight Requests for Admission. In aggregate, the Requests for Admission seek to establish a factual basis for Defendant's fundamental contention that the delays in the process of adjudication of Plaintiff's claims in the administrative forum was the result of Plaintiff's actions and not the result of delay by Defendant. Plaintiff did not respond to the requests for admission. Defendant asserts that, where a party fails to answer a request for admission within 30 days of the date the request for admission was propounded, the fact or facts that are the subject of the requests for admission are deemed admitted. Jackson v. Riley Stoker Corp., 57 F.R.D. 120, 121 (1972). Defendant contends that, as a consequence of his failure to answer the requests for admission, the facts propounded as requests for admission are deemed proven.

Plaintiff alleges he was not served the Requests for Admission or that, if his law firm was served, he did not receive notice of the Requests for Admission in time to make a timely reply. The court has reviewed Defendant's Request for Admissions, which is submitted as Exhibit 2 in support of Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Defendant's Request for Admissions seeks to authenticate certain documents by admission and seeks Plaintiff's conformation as to Plaintiff's actions during certain periods of time during the pendency of the administrative review process. The Request for Admissions concludes by requesting Plaintiff's admission that the delays that were evident in the administrative review procedure were entirely the result of Plaintiff's actions or inaction.

For reasons that will be discussed below, Defendant's Request for Admissions has little or no relevance to the instant motion for summary judgment. The court will disregard Defendant's Requests for Admission for purposes of consideration of the instant motion for summary judgment.

In the discussion that follows, the court will refer to three documents provided by Defendant as exhibits to Document # 73, Defendant's Notice of Lodgement in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment. The documents the court will reference are Exhibits 3 and 4 of Doc. # 74 and Exhibit 7 of Doc. # 75. For purposes of this discussion the court takes judicial notice of the documents strictly for purposes of proving the existence of proceedings that were conducted in September and October of 1997. The court will otherwise not rely on Defendant's proffered undisputed material facts and therefore need not address Plaintiff's objections thereto.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Poller v. Columbia Broadcast System, 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962); Jung v. FMC Corp., 755 F.2d 708, 710 (9th Cir. 1985); Loehr v. Ventura County Community College Dist., 743 F.2d 1310, 1313 (9th Cir. 1984).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

Although the party moving for summary judgment always has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, the nature of the responsibility varies "depending on whether the legal issues are ones on which the movant or the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at trial." Cecala v. Newman, 532 F.Supp.2d 1118, 1132-1133 (D. Ariz. 2007). A party that does not have the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial -- usually but not always the defendant -- "has both the initial burden of production and the ultimate burden of persuasion on the motion for summary judgment." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). "In order to carry its burden of production, the moving party must either produce evidence negating an ...


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