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Hospital runs afoul of 'Anti Slapp' Suit Law.

STRATEGIC LAWSUITS AGAINST PUBLIC PARTICIPATION, (COMMONLY KNOWN AS SLAPP SUITS), ARE ILLEGAL IN MANY STATES. The suits have been deemed to be against public policy since, they are designed to dissuade persons with bona fide grievances against others from bringing suit against them. In this interesting California case a hospital initiated a suit against a group which the hospital apparently was considering bringing legal proceedings against the hospital. The California courts had to decide whether the hospital's suit in this case was a bona fide suit or al 'Slapp Suit.'

DEATH VALLEY HOSPITAL IS AN 84-BED ACUTE CARE HOSPITAL IN VICTORVILLE CALIFORNIA. Alanna Waitschies was employed by Desert Valley Hospital as a Registered Nurse from 2001 through March 8, 2003. Although her ward as an RN was satisfactory, Nurse Waitschies allegedly Conspired with others (named as co-defendants) and two other persons "to create a 'sub-culture' of hatred and intimidation and contempt for anf of the Hospital's employees who were not within the cliques created by the." Further, she allegedly ordered her subordinates not to attend a meeting with Dr. Reddy, the chairman of the hospital, and encouraged staff members to call in sick or to not report for work. She allegedly conspired with others to fabricate allegations of wrongdoing against another employee and she left the employment at the hospital, she solicited employees of the hospital to disclose proprietary information to her. Three of the hospital's employees concurred in the allegations contained in the suit against Nurse Waitschies. The defendants answered the complaint with a general denial of all of the allegations in the complaint. In addition, the defendants filed a motion to strike the complaint as being in violation of California's laws against 'Slapp Suits' so-called. The defendants' motion alleged that the hospital's complaint attempted to chill their free speech rights in connection with the public issue of health care. Specifically, they asserted a right to speak regarding the operations at the hospital, including the right and duty to report problems to the California Department of Health Services and to the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO). During argument on the motion, the defendants' attorney argued that the lawsuit was brought in retaliation against the defendants. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion. The hospital appealed.

THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA AFFIRMED THE JUDGMENT OF THE TRIAL COURT AND CONFIRMED THAT THE HOSPITAL'S SUIT WAS A 'SLAPP SUIT? The court held, inter alia, that the hospital's suit was exactly the type of suit which the state's Anti Slapp Statute was designed to prevent as a matter of public policy. Slapp Suits have achilling effect causing peope to reconsider initiating lawsuits against persons or entities, including hospitals. This was what California's Anti Slapp Suit Law was designed to prevent.

THE REVELATION OF QUESTIONABLE, UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL PRACTICES BY ANY HEALTH CARE PROVIDER WHICH MIGHT RESULT IN HARM OR INJURY TO PATIENTS IS AN "ISSUE OF PUBLIC INTEREST." Accordingly, the court found that the defendants had not met their threshold burden of showing that the complaint arose from protected activity. The court next addressed whether the plaintiff met the burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing. The trial court found that the burden was not met. When measured against the causes of action,, Desert Hospital's evidentiary showing was inadequate. The court cited numerous examples of the failure of hospital authorities to act in accordance with duties and responsibilities to hospital patients as well as society at large. The court noted that specifically, the heart of California's Anti Slapp Suit Law states, inter alia: "A cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim." The court agreed with the hospital that the dispositive issue in the case was whether the defendants in the suit brought by the hospital met the burden of showing protectection by statute. However, the court also agreed with the defendants that the gravamen of the complaint governed. The parties disagreed on the question of whether the non-governmental accrediting agency, JCAHO, is an entity included within the Anti Slapp Statute. Although its accreditation and surveys are regularly used by governmental agencies, the court found it unnecessary to decide the issue in the case. Desert Valley Hospital, Inc. v. Waitschies, No. E031820 (05/31/2006)--CA

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In additional to his writing as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in America Law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.
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Title Annotation:strategic lawsuits against public participation
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:893
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