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Higgins v. American Society of Clinical Pathologists

Decided: February 5, 1968.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Proctor, Goldmann, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Proctor, J.


[51 NJ Page 194] By this action plaintiff, Janet L. Higgins, seeks to compel the defendant, American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP), to recertify her as a professionally qualified medical technologist and to reinstate her name in its registry of certified medical technologists. In her complaint plaintiff asserts that the rules of ASCP under which it denied recertification to her are contrary to the public policy of the State of New Jersey and therefore can provide no valid basis for the denial. The defendant moved to quash the service of process upon it and to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction, insufficiency of service, and forum non conveniens. The trial court denied the motion. After filing its answer, defendant moved for a dismissal of the complaint as failing to state a cause of action and alternatively for summary judgment. Relying upon the affidavits of the parties, plaintiff's answers to interrogatories, and her deposition, the trial court held in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed from the adverse judgment and the defendant cross-appealed from the order denying its motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court in all respects, holding that the court had jurisdiction over the defendant but that there existed no genuine issue as to any material fact and the defendant was entitled to summary judgment.

94 N.J. Super. 243 (App. Div. 1967). On plaintiff's petition we granted certification. 49 N.J. 367 (1967).

ASCP is a non-profit corporation of the State of Colorado whose membership is composed primarily of physicians specializing in pathology. Its purposes, as set forth in its constitution, are:

"* * * (a) to promote the practice of scientific medicine by a wider application of pathology to the diagnosis and treatment of disease, (b) to stimulate research in all branches of pathology, (c) to establish standards for performance of various laboratory procedures, (d) to elevate the scientific and professional status of those specializing in this branch of medicine, and (e) to encourage closer cooperation of pathologists with other physicians and with medical technologists."

In furtherance of these aims ASCP has created, as one of its standing committees, a Board of Registry which maintains a Registry of Medical Technologists. The Board receives applications from persons for listing in the Registry as certified medical technologists, passes on their qualifications, conducts examinations, and issues certificates and annual renewals of registration to those persons meeting the requirements. Technologists certified by ASCP may designate their professional status by the use of the initials M.T. (ASCP) after their names. In connection with its program of certification, the Board has established educational and training requirements which include completion of a prescribed course of studies at an accredited school. The Registry charges an original application fee of $20.00 and a renewal charge of $3.00 annually. The record shows that the Registry is "recognized by the leading medical and hospital groups as the only authoritative qualifying body for this field" of medical technology.*fn1

The Board of Registry has promulgated a Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct which are to govern the professional life of a registered medical technologist. Among other provisions, the Standards of Conduct contains the following rules.

"A medical technologist will work at all times under the direction or supervision of a pathologist or other duly qualified and licensed doctor of medicine, such qualifications being determined on the basis of accepted medical ethics.

"A medical technologist will not act as owner, co-owner, advisor or employee, or by means of any subterfuge, participate in an arrangement whereby an individual not regularly licensed to practice medicine is enabled to own or operate a laboratory of clinical pathology."

Plaintiff, Janet L. Higgins, in June 1963 received a B.S. degree in medical technology from Rider College after completing a Registry approved period of hospital training at Mercer Hospital in Trenton. That year, upon passing the examination conducted by the Board of Registry, she was certified as a medical technologist and her name was listed in the Registry. She obtained a position as a technologist at Mercer Hospital and in 1964, while so employed, received the annual renewal of her certificate.

In May 1964, the plaintiff left her position at Mercer Hospital to accept her present employment at Egan Laboratories, where her salary and working hours were better than they had been at the hospital. Egan Laboratories is an independent bio-analytic laboratory located in Trenton. Its director, although not a physician, is duly licensed by the State of New Jersey pursuant to the Bio-Analytical Laboratory and Laboratory Director's Act (N.J.S.A. 45:9-42.1 et seq.), which provides that the licensed director exercise "direct and constant supervision" over the laboratory's operations.*fn2 Nevertheless, because the laboratory operation is not supervised by a pathologist or other duly qualified and licensed doctor of medicine, plaintiff's employment conflicts with the proscription contained in the ASCP Standards of Conduct quoted above. For this reason, ASCP's Board of Registry refused to renew the plaintiff's certification for 1965. The plaintiff was aware that her acceptance of employment at ...

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