Harris v. Bradley Memorial Hospital and Health Center, Inc.
Summary suspensions of medical privileges undertaken in accordance with the emergency provision of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986, 42 U.S.C. §11112(c)(2), are entitled to the presumption of immunity under 42 U.S.C. §11112(a). Following the summary suspension of his medical privileges, Stephen Harris, a surgeon, brought this action against Bradley Memorial Hospital and Health Center, Inc. The Supreme Court previously reversed the trial court's judgment granting the hospital's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the plaintiff on three countsbreach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with business expectanciesand reversed the denial of the plaintiff's motion for punitive damages. On remand, the court entered judgment on the three counts awarding $150,000 plus taxable costs, $612,929.20 in punitive damages and $266,373.94 in offer of judgment interest. The hospital appealed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment agreeing with the hospital's re-raised claim on appeal that it was entitled to immunity from damages arising from its summary suspension of the plaintiff's privileges under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act. The hospital was not precluded from asserting its immunity claims despite failing to properly raise them as alternate grounds for affirmance in the prior appeal. The general principle from the Supreme Court's 1984 decision in Beccia v. Waterbury applied that an appellee will not be deemed to have forfeited a claim that could have been, but was not, brought in the context of the appellant's appeal. Although previously raised, the claims were not reviewed. Considerations of judicial economy did not justify departing from the nonforfeiture rule here. The Supreme Court concluded that the presumption of immunity in 42 U.S.C. §11112(a) covers summary suspensions under §11112(c), despite inadequate prior notice and hearing procedures, requirements in §11112(a)(3). Every federal court dealing with the issue has applied a presumption of immunity to actions undertaken under §11112(c)(2), although not always expressly. The trial court failed to apply the presumption in denying, in part, the defendant's motion for summary judgment and when instructing the jury. The plaintiff advanced no substantive argument opposing the immunity claim. With no effort to satisfy its burden of persuasion, the Supreme Court declined to search the record for evidence suggesting that the plaintiff rebutted the presumption of immunity.