On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 276 N.J. Super. 234 (1994).
The opinion of the Court was delivered by Handler, J. Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in Justice Handler's opinion. Justices Pollock and O'hern did not participate.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Handler
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
JOSEPH V. DITROLIO, M.D. V. LEONARD ANTILES, MD., ET AL. (A-145/146-94)
(NOTE: This is a companion case to Circle Chevrolet v. Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla, Mystic Isle Devel. Corp. v. Perskie & Nehmad, and Mortgagelinq Corp. v. Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co., also decided today.)
Argued March 28, 1995 -- Decided August 1, 1995
HANDLER,J., writing for a unanimous Court.
Joseph V. DiTrolio, M.D.,seeks monetary damages for a variety of tortious acts committed by the four defendant-doctors and their professional medical group. DiTroijo claims that as a result of the actions of these defendant-doctors, who are on the medical staff at Mountainside Hospital (Mountainside), he was wrongfully denied full promotional staff privileges at the hospital and suffered consequential damages, including injury to his reputation and economic well-being and emotional distress. This lawsuit follows a previous lawsuit against Mountainside and its Board of Trustees (hereinafter "the privileges lawsuit"), in which DiTrolio sought to obtain the privileges that he claimed were unfairly denied him.
In the privileges lawsuit, DiTrolio alleged that the decision to deny him full staff privileges was arbitrary and capricious, was based on false evidence, failed to comport with medical staff by-laws, and deprived DiTrolio of his right to due process under the by-laws and New Jersey case law. DiTrolio requested an order compelling Mountainside and its Board of Trustees to adopt and enforce a hospital committee's full recommendation, which provided that he receive full staff privileges as an associate attending physician and that he be supervised by an outside urologist or be allowed to perform certain procedures at the other hospitals. The complaint mentioned the defendant-doctors numerous times in order to establish the factual basis of the allegations in the privileges lawsuit.
Discovery proceeded for almost a year, during which time the defendant-doctors were deposed. On May 4, 1990, DiTrolio and Mountainside reached a settlement agreement in which DiTrolio agreed, among other things, to dismiss the then-pending lawsuit without prejudice. Six days after the settlement was signed, DiTrolio brought the tort action against the four defendant-doctors and the professional medical group. The facts giving rise to the tort claims against these defendants also gave rise to the claims against Mountainside and its Board of Trustees in the earlier action.
Thereafter, the trial court dismissed the complaint against defendant-doctors and their group, concluding that DiTrolio's claims were barred by the entire controversy doctrine as enunciated in Cogdell. A majority of the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that the entire controversy doctrine did not apply because the remedies sought in the two suits were very different. In a Concurring opinion, one Judge found that the doctrine was not applicable because the prior litigation was settled without prejudice. One Judge Dissented, finding that the entire controversy doctrine should apply to bar the second action.
The appeal is before the Supreme Court as of right based on the Dissent in the Appellate Division.
HELD: It is the commonality of facts that defines the scope of a controversy and implicates the joinder requirements of the entire controversy doctrine. Pursuant to that doctrine, Joseph V. DiTrolio, M.D. is barred from bringing the second action against defendant-doctors and their professional medical group because the factual bases in both lawsuits are identical and those defendants had a material interest in the original lawsuit.
1. It is the core set of facts that provides the link between distinct claims against the same or different parties and triggers the requirement that they be determined in one proceeding. One measure of whether distinct claims are part of an entire controversy is whether parties have a significant interest in the Disposition of a particular claim, one that may materially affect or be materially affected by the Disposition of that claim. Defendant-doctors had a material interest in the privileges lawsuit sufficient to mandate their joinder in that action. The factual bases of both the first action and the second action are identical; most of the same evidence presented in the privileges lawsuit is not only relevant to the second suit against the individual doctors, but actually formed the basis for this claim. In the privileges lawsuit, at least nineteen paragraphs of the complaint specifically implicated defendant-doctors. Joinder of defendant-doctors would have broadened the scope of discovery, advanced the goal that the ultimate determination of the action be comprehensive, just and conclusive as to all persons named in the controversy, resulted in a fuller and fairer presentation of the relevant evidence, and would have enabled the factfinders to make a more informed and complete determination of liability. (pp. 14-20)
2. The entire controversy doctrine does not require commonality of legal issues. Rather, the determinative consideration is whether distinct claims are aspects of a single larger controversy because they arise from interrelated facts. It is this commonality of facts, rather than the commonality of issues, parties or remedies, that defines the scope of a controversy and implicates the joinder requirements of the entire controversy doctrine. (pp. 20-22)
3. The premise behind the application of the entire controversy doctrine is judicial fairness. Party joinder is limited to parties with a material interest in the lawsuit. The focus is on whether defendants would be in a better position to defend themselves if the claims against them had been raised and asserted in the first litigation. Defendant-doctors are now disadvantaged because they were not parties to the first litigation. Their inability to participate in the first trial clearly affects their position in the second. (pp. 22-24)
4. Mandatory joinder is not unfair to a plaintiff where he or she had sufficient information to have included the defendants in the earlier lawsuit. DiTrolio was fully aware of the actionable conduct of defendant-doctors when he brought the first suit. He had ample opportunity of fully litigating the claim against defendant-doctors in the first action; he simply chose not to do so. The need for a single comprehensive adjudication, however, may be outweighed by the complexity, confusion or unmanageability that might arise from joinder. That decision is left to the discretion of the trial court, not the parties. (pp. 24-26)
5. DiTrolio does not claim unfairness attributable to excusable neglect. He already obtained the equitable relief he requested in the original suit and should not now be allowed to manipulate the judicial system to get the monetary damages he could have sought in the first action. The consideration of inefficiency and waste of judicial resources is not negated by the fact that a prior action did not proceed to trial or judgment on the merits. At the time of the settlement, defendant-doctors were known to DiTrolio not just as witnesses but as additional parties who could have been joined by the filing of an amended complaint. Although a settlement or dismissal without prejudice is a factor a court should consider when applying the entire controversy doctrine, neither is dispositive in the circumstances of this litigation. Defendant-doctors were not parties or privy to the settlement that purported to authorize DiTrolio's subsequent lawsuit against them. (pp. 26-32)
Judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and DiTrolio's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILENTZ and JUSTICES GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in JUSTICE HANDLER's opinion. JUSTICES POLLOCK and O'HERN did not participate.
The opinion of the Court was delivered by HANDLER, J.
In this case, we again consider the scope of the entire controversy doctrine. The occasion is presented in an action by a doctor seeking monetary damages for a variety of tortious acts committed by four doctors and their professional medical group. Plaintiff claims that as a result of the actions of the doctors, who are on the medical staff of a hospital, he was wrongfully denied full promotional staff privileges at the hospital and suffered consequential damages. This action follows a previous law suit against the hospital and its board of trustees, in which plaintiff sought to obtain the privileges that he claimed were unfairly denied.
We must determine whether the entire controversy doctrine is applicable to bar the current action because the facts giving rise to the tort claims against the doctors and their medical group also gave rise to the claims against the hospital and its trustees in the earlier action. The issue is, basically, whether a sufficient commonality of facts undergirds each set of claims to constitute essentially a single controversy that should be the subject of only one litigation.
The trial court applied the entire controversy doctrine to bar the current action. The Appellate Division reversed. 276 N.J. Super. 234 (1994). The appeal is before us as the result of a Dissent in the Appellate Division. R. 2:2-1.
In 1984, plaintiff Joseph DiTrolio was admitted to the medical staff of Mountainside Hospital (Hospital) as a provisional staff member in the Department of Urology (Department), and as such, was subject to supervision and observation by active staff members. 276 N.J. Super. at 238. The Hospital's bylaws provided that an appointment as a provisional staff member was for a two-year term, whereupon the individual could either be promoted to the position of active staff member in the rank of an associate attending physician, with no supervision, or reappointed for a single additional term, as a provisional staff member with supervision. Ibid.
At the time of plaintiff's appointment, the Department of Urology consisted of four voting members: Drs. Leonard Antiles, Peter Boorjian, Dominic Falcone and Oleh Bachynsky. Dr. Antiles was the director of the Department. Three of the voting members, Drs. Antiles, Boorjian and Falcone, were shareholders in the Montclair Urological Group. Ibid.
Plaintiff maintains that from the beginning of his affiliation with the Hospital in 1984, the doctors engaged in conduct "for the sole purpose of interfering with his ability to treat patients there." Specifically, plaintiff points to numerous scheduling problems. The doctors, who supervised plaintiff during surgery, would often cancel at the last minute. Consequently, plaintiff claims that he was "forced to limit his hospital admissions to only a handful of patients each year."
After two years as provisional staff, plaintiff became eligible for appointment to the active medical staff of the Hospital. The bylaws required the Department to make a recommendation concerning plaintiff's medical competency. In September 1986, the Department submitted its recommendation to the Medical Staff Membership and Credential's Committee (M & C Committee). The same four doctors who comprised the Urology Department also at that time comprised the entire M & C Committee. The Urology Department recommended against plaintiff's appointment as an active staff member and for reappointment as a provisional staff member under continued supervision and observation. Id. at 238-39. In their review of plaintiff's record, the members of the Department determined "that Dr. DiTrolio has not done a sufficient number of cases to have supervision and observation removed. Therefore, he is not eligible to be promoted to Associate Attending." Id. at 239. The Department, however, also recommended that plaintiff be permitted to perform four specified procedures without supervision or observation. Ibid. The M & C Committee accepted these recommendations. Ibid.
Specifically, the Department was concerned about Plaintiff's medical care in two cases that had been the subject of Department Quality Assurance presentations. The Department viewed these cases as involving "substandard" medical care and informed plaintiff at a September 11, 1986 meeting that if "the quality of his work does not improve significantly . . . the Department will not recommend the appointment to the Staff at the end of the provisional period."
The following year, on August 20, 1987, plaintiff once again requested promotion from provisional to associate attending status. Ibid. Because the Hospital's medical bylaws provide that a candidate can be reappointed to the provisional staff only once, the only options available to the doctors at this time were to recommend that plaintiff either be appointed as a full-fledged active staff member or to reject his appointment completely.
Once again, the Department recommended against the promotion, citing seven cases that "typified Dr. DiTrolio's inability to perform up to the standards of the Mountainside Urology Department." Ibid. The M & C Committee on February 16, 1988, accepted the Department's recommendation that plaintiff "not be reappointed to the [Hospital] medical staff because of his inability to maintain adequacy of medical care in the [Department]." Ibid. The Committee further recommended that plaintiff "however continue with his current privileges until due process is completed." Ibid.
In a letter dated February 17, 1988, plaintiff's attorney requested a hearing pursuant to the Hospital bylaws regarding plaintiff's "application for promotion to associate attending status . . . and removal of all departmental observation and supervision," asserting "that the Membership and Credentials Committee has failed to submit to the Medical Board a recommendation regarding Dr. DiTrolio's application for promotion from provisional to associate status." Ibid. Based on this request, an ad hoc committee of the Hospital's medical staff (Ad Hoc Committee) was constituted. Ibid. It conducted hearings on nine non-consecutive days between May 18 and July 5, 1988. Ibid. Plaintiff was represented by counsel throughout the ad hoc hearing. The Department doctors testified, as well as the Chairman of the M & C Committee and the Director of Medical Records. Plaintiff testified on his own behalf, and additionally presented two independent expert witnesses who testified that plaintiff did not violate accepted standards of medical care in the seven cases. Plaintiff also called the Hospital's Medical Staff President, the Hospital's Chief Executive Officer, and another doctor as witnesses. The hearing generated 1100 pages of transcripts.
In September 1988, The Ad Hoc Committee concluded that plaintiff should be promoted and that his medical care was satisfactory. In its review of the seven cases presented, the Ad Hoc Committee determined that plaintiff's overall management of the seven cases "was generally acceptable and does not justify a recommendation for non-reappointment." Id. at 240. The Ad Hoc Committee also recommended that because plaintiff had not had an opportunity to demonstrate competence at the Hospital in three areas of complex urological surgery, that ...