U.S. Court in Florida Rules in Favor of Public Hospital Denying Oncologists Reappointments to Medical Staff Due to Missing Data

On July 28, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that a public hospital did not violate its Bylaws or due process when it elected to deny seven oncologists reappointment to its medical staff.  

The seven oncologists were employed by Health First and provided services at various locations in Brevard County – including North Brevard County Hospital District d/b/a Parrish Medical Center (“PMC”).  Each of the seven physicians in this case were members of PMC’s medical staff and each time their respective terms of appointment came up for renewal, PMC granted the physicians’ renewal applications.

In 2016, PMC applied for a renewal of the accreditation of its cancer program from the Commission on Cancer (“CoC”).  As a part of the reapplication process, CoC requested data that was in the possession of Health First.  The employed oncologists had no control over Health First’s data. Health First refused to turn over the data, despite multiple requests from PMC.  PMC was ultimately successful in renewing its accreditation, but only after a lengthy process in cooperation with CoC to find a work around for the missing data.

Thereafter, the seven Health First oncologists applied for reappointment to PMC’s medical staff in 2017.  PMC denied their applications due to the refusal of Health First to provide the data required for PMC to renew its CoC accreditation.  The oncologists sued, alleging as causes of action (i) PMC’s failure to provide the oncologists with due process, and (ii) breach of PMC’s Bylaws because the oncologists had no control over the requested data.

Initially, the Court ordered PMC to provide the oncologists a Bylaws-compliant hearing, which PMC had not done at the time of the oncologists’ suit.  PMC conducted a hearing and reached the same conclusion, again denying the doctors’ applications for reappointment to PMC’s medical staff. Thereafter, the court ruled that the doctors no longer had a due process claim.  The Court also held that PMC had statutory immunity from the breach of bylaws claim. See Fla. Stat. 395.1090(7).  The Court also found that there was no substantive due process violation, rejecting the argument that the reappointment denials were arbitrary because they were not based on the oncologists’ clinical skills or patient care.

In issuing its ruling, the Court opined that “ [w]hile not a named party in this proceeding, at bottom, this dispute revolves around the thinly veiled effort of Health First to flex its muscles in the long running, heavily litigated, ‘scorched earth’ turf war for [PMC’s] healthcare business.”  See Blaine et. al. v. North Brevard County Hosp. Dist., No. 6:17-cv-487-Orl-37DCI (August 22, 2019).

Written by Tricia Shackelford