Bad publicity not enough to justify preliminary injunction

March 10, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals denied a doctor’s motion for preliminary injunction after it found he did not present enough evidence to justify it because he did not let the disciplinary process at his hospital play out.

Michael Ritchie provided services at Howard Regional Hospital in Kokomo. In 2012, the hospital was bought by Community Physician Network, which became the exclusive provider of cardiovascular services at Community.

Ritchie was able to practice as an independent contractor at the hospital until Nov. 3, 2014, when he was given a hand-delivered letter that said the hospital was terminating its agreement with him. Earlier, Ritchie was notified that all doctors not joining the Community network would see their privileges at the hospital revoked, but Ritchie was allowed to stay on via verbal agreement.

In June of 2014, the hospital announced a moratorium on three procedures done almost exclusively by Ritchie. As Cleveland Clinic Foundation reviewed services for a possible inclusion of Community into its network, it found that many of Ritchie’s cases were allegedly outside the appropriate standard of care. After two more meetings, Ritchie’s rights were suspended.

Ritchie filed a complaint on Nov. 7, 2014, naming the hospital, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and others as defendants. Ritchie said the peer review process was a sham proceeding and the hospital and Cleveland Clinic defendants had an economic interest in divesting Ritchie of his patients. He also said patients were put at risk by the suspension and the reporting of the privilege suspension could damage his career.

He requested temporary, preliminary and permanent injunction that would require Community to restore Ritchie’s privileges, prohibit reporting of the suspension and halt the “sham process.” The trial court issued a partial injunction, not allowing the hospital to report his suspension.

In April of 2015, the trial court issued an order denying his request for injunction and dissolving the temporary restraining order denying reporting of his suspension. The court found Ritchie failed to exhaust his administrative remedies available in Community’s peer review process. He did not show the requisite bad faith from the peer review committee and did not establish the essential elements of injunctive relief. He appealed.

Ritchie claimed he was entitled to the benefit of an exception for futility because the Medical Executive Committee of Community Howard Regional Health is engaging in sham proceedings. He presented witness testimony in the trial court that he said showed the hospital put money over patients, and said even a preliminary reporting of his suspension would harm his career.

However, the COA said bad publicity is not enough to provide relief. And even if that was true, because Ritchie hadn’t finished his proceedings with the hospital, there was not enough evidence to rule in Ritchie’s favor.

Ritchie admitted more information was needed to form a final opinion on his compliance with an appropriate standard of patient care, and Ritchie launched into his trial court proceedings before that was finished.

The case is Michael E. Ritchie M.D. v. Community Howard Regional Health Inc., et al., 34A02-1505-PL-385.


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