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Dhillon v. John Muir Health

Supreme Court of California

May 25, 2017

JATINDER DHILLON, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
JOHN MUIR HEALTH et al., Defendants and Appellants.

         Superior Court Contra Costa County No. MSN-13-1353 Ct. App. 1/3 A143195 Laurel S. Brady Judge.

          Horvitz & Levy, David S. Ettinger, H. Thomas Watson; DiCaro, Coppo & Popcke, Carlo Coppo, Michael R. Popcke, Shelley A. Carder; Hooper, Lundy & Bookman and Ross E. Campbell for Defendants and Appellants.

          Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Barry S. Landsberg, Doreen W. Shenfeld and Joanna S. McCallum for Dignity Health as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

          Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch and Richard D. Barton for Medical Staff of Sharp Healthcare as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

          Jay-Allen Eisen Law Corporation, Jay-Allen Eisen, Jan T. Chilton, Dennis A. Fischer, Lisa R. Jaskol, Robin B. Johansen and Robin Meadow for California Academy of Appellate Lawyers as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

          The Minnard Law Firm, Carla V. Minnard; The Arkin Law Firm and Sharon J. Arkin for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          Kruger, J.

         As a general rule, a litigant may appeal an adverse ruling only after the trial court renders a final judgment. (Code Civ. Proc., § 904.1.) The question in this case concerns the application of this general rule when a trial court has granted a petition for writ of administrative mandamus and remanded the matter for proceedings before an administrative body. The issuance of the writ did not definitively resolve the dispute between the parties, but it did mark the end of the writ proceeding in the trial court. Is the court's order an appealable final judgment? We conclude that it is, and we reverse the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeal.

         I.

         Plaintiff Jatinder Dhillon is a thoracic surgeon with clinical privileges at two San Francisco Bay Area hospitals owned and operated by defendant John Muir Health (John Muir). In October 2011, one of Dr. Dhillon's colleagues lodged a complaint against him, claiming that he had been verbally abusive and physically aggressive toward her during an administrative meeting. Dr. Dhillon denied the allegations and requested that John Muir appoint an ad hoc committee of physicians from both hospital campuses to look into the matter. John Muir complied. After an investigation, the committee submitted a report to a joint medical executive committee (MEC) for both hospitals. It concluded that neither Dr. Dhillon nor the complaining doctor had behaved in a professional manner, and it recommended that the two doctors either meet with a mediator to resolve their differences or attend an anger management program. At a joint meeting held in June 2012, the MEC unanimously voted to require both doctors to attend a specified anger management class within eight months.

         Dr. Dhillon refused to attend, asserting that the requirement that he participate in the anger management class was “unfounded and unfair.” In July 2013, John Muir sent Dr. Dhillon a letter informing him that the MEC had concluded that if he did not attend the class within one month, his clinical privileges would be suspended for “a period of just under 14 full days.” Dr. Dhillon requested a hearing with John Muir's judicial review committee (JRC). John Muir replied that Dr. Dhillon was not entitled to such a hearing.

         In September 2013, Dr. Dhillon filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus in the Contra Costa Superior Court, naming John Muir and its board of directors as respondents. As later amended, the petition alleged that John Muir had violated its bylaws by imposing the discipline without a hearing before the JRC. He asked the trial court to order a hearing before the JRC or some other appropriate body, to direct John Muir to vacate its imposition of discipline, to find that John Muir's bylaws “violate due process and are unenforceable where the [resulting] discipline affect[s] the accused Practitioner's clinical reporting and disclosure requirements, ” to order John Muir not to make disparaging comments about Dr. Dhillon regarding the matter, and to authorize Dr. Dhillon to file suit against John Muir for damages.

         The superior court granted the writ petition in part. It concluded that John Muir's bylaws entitled Dr. Dhillon to a hearing before the JRC or another appropriate body and that “he was deprived of... due process when John Muir... suspended his clinical privileges... without providing him a hearing.” It issued a peremptory writ directing John Muir to conduct such a hearing. In all other respects the court denied the petition for administrative mandamus.

         John Muir filed a notice of appeal. It also filed a petition for writ of mandate and/or prohibition in the Court of Appeal, challenging the trial court's ruling. After soliciting informal opposition from Dr. Dhillon, the Court of Appeal summarily denied the writ petition. On the same day, it issued an order in John Muir's appeal directing the parties to brief the question whether the trial court's order directing John Muir to conduct a hearing was appealable. After reviewing the parties' briefs, the Court of Appeal issued an order dismissing the appeal. The order explained: “The superior court's order remanding the matter to John Muir Health is not a final, appealable order. (See Board of Dental Examiners v. Superior Court (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 1424; ...


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