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Trial court errs in granting motion regarding doctors’ contract dispute

June 18, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals has found that a cardiologist’s breach of contract complaint may have been “unartfully drafted,” but it still adequately stated a claim for tortious interference with a contract.

In Bertram A. Graves, M.D., v. Richard Kovacs, M.D., Edward Ross, M.D. and Indiana University Health f/k/a Clarian Health Partners, Inc., 49A05-1301-PL-1, the appeals court reversed and remanded a trial court’s granting of the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Dr. Richard Kovacs and Dr. Edward Ross.

On March 7, 2012, Dr. Bertram A. Graves filed a second amended complaint against Clarian/IU Health. In this document Kovacs and Ross were named as defendants for the first time. Under the caption “Breach of Contract,” Graves alleged his cardiology privileges were revoked, in part, because Kovacs and Ross provided false information to peer review committees.

After Kovacs and Ross filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings because they were not party to any contract, Graves asserted the facts of the second amended complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action against the doctors for tortious interference with a contract.   

On Nov. 5, 2012, Kovacs and Ross argued that any claim for tortious interference with a contract was barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion of judgment on the pleadings that same day but its order only mentioned Graves’s alleged failure to state a claim and not the statute of limitations argument.

On Dec. 6, 2012, the trial court denied Graves’s motion to amend his complaint to more clearly state a claim against Kovacs and Ross.

The COA found Kovacs and Ross were painting with too broad a brush when they argue the only count of the complaint that mentioned them was captioned “Breach of Contract” and they had no contract with Graves.

Although Graves’s complaint may have been unartfully pleaded, the appellate court held it sufficiently put Kovacs and Ross on notice that they were alleged to have acted wrongfully and intentionally.

The appeals court declined to offer an opinion on the merits of the statute of limitations argument because it determined Graves was not given adequate opportunity before the trial court to address the issue.

“As a general rule, a plaintiff does not have to anticipate a statute of limitations defense in his or her complaint and should be given adequate opportunity to provide facts and argument in response to the raising of a statute of limitations defense,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote.
 

 

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