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COA remands dispute over attorney fees owed to doctor

June 22, 2017

A cardiologist who was denied his request for attorney fees totaling $450,000 will get a second chance to make his argument after the Indiana Court of Appeals found the trial court abused its discretion in awarding nearly $423,000 less.

Dr. Roderick Sawyer was a member of The Care Group Heart Hospital and became an employee of St. Vincent Medical Group in 2010 when St Vincent Health purchased the assets of TCG. In 2011, SVMG terminated Sawyer’s employment, citing failure to comply with policies and unprofessional behavior.

As per his employment contract, the hospital redeemed Sawyer’s interest in the practice with a check totaling $196,787. Sawyer responded by filing an amended complaint for damages and demand for jury trial against SVMG and TCG, alleging breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with business relationships against SVMG and a claim of breach of contract against TCG.

In January 2016, the jury entered a verdict for Sawyer and against SVMG with damages totaling $1.11 million. The jury also found against TCG and awarded damages in the amount of $470,000.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the Marion Superior Court’s denial of TCG’s motion to dismiss Sawyer’s complaint and the court’s final judgment against the hospital. Also, the appellate panel upheld the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the hospital.

However, the Court of Appeals reversed the award of attorney fees and remanded the matter to the trial court.

Sawyer had filed a Verified Petition for Damages and claimed he had “incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees and expenses” because of the defendants’ discovery misconduct. He asserted the hospital had “engaged in systematic and pervasive contempt of court through its discovery misconduct, doing as little as possible, as late as possible.”

In response to Sawyer’s petition, the defendants grouped the costs the cardiologist submitted into 22 different categories and agreed to certain fees, totaling $27,233.19. The trial court issued a one-page order granting Sawyer’s petition but for the amount the defendants’ proposed.

Before the Court of Appeals, the hospital argued Sawyer was asking the judges to reweigh a complex discovery dispute.

Writing for the court, Judge Elaine Brown noted the “record makes clear that counsel for the Hospital engaged in dilatory tactics during discovery that the trial court determined could only be rectified by the imposition of sanctions.”

The Court of Appeals found the trial court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees based exclusively on the hospital’s calculation. It remanded for further proceedings.  

The case is The Care Group Heart Hospital v. Roderick J. Sawyer, M.D., 49A05-1603-PL-580.

 

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