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URDINARAN v. AARONS

September 26, 2000

RICARDO URDINARAN, M.D., PLAINTIFF,
V.
WILLIAM B. AARONS, JR., M.D., FRANCIS J. PREVITI, M.D., BOARDWALK SURGERY ASSOCIATES, P.A., SUSAN BANE, M.D., ATLANATIC CITY MEDICAL CENTER, JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 50, INCLUSIVE, FICTIOUS NAMED DEFENDANTS, JOINTLY, SEVERALLY, AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, District Judge.

  OPINION

Presently before the court is Defendants William B. Aarons, M.D., Francis J. Previti, M.D., Boardwalk Surgery Associates, P.A., Susan Bane, M.D., and Atlantic City Medical Center's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Ricardo Urdinaran, M.D.'s claims alleging antitrust violations under the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the New Jersey Antitrust Act and his claims alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, malicious interference with prospective economic advantage, and breach of contract. This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1367. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted as to Plaintiffs federal and state antitrust claims. Because the Court is disposing of all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, the Court declines to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state contract and tort claims.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Ricardo Urdinaran was a general surgeon practicing at Shore Memorial Hospital and Defendant Atlantic City Medical Center ("ACMC"). In June of 1995, Plaintiff relinquished certain medical privileges at ACMC. In November of 1996, Plaintiff sought reinstatement of those privileges. After an extensive hearing and various appeals, Plaintiff ultimately was denied reinstatement.

The first phase of the events leading to this litigation occurred between Spring of 1994 and Summer of 1995. On May 17, 1994, the Quality Assessment Committee ("QAC") at ACMC, chaired by Defendant William B. Aarons, M.D. ("Dr.Aarons"), sent Plaintiff a letter requesting information regarding the death of one of his patients a month earlier. The QAC's function is to ensure patient care quality by reviewing cases flagged for potential problems. On March 4, 1995, the QAC again requested an explanation regarding Plaintiff's treatment of the patient. Plaintiff did not respond to either inquiry.

On April 13, 1995, the QAC met to consider several of Plaintiffs cases. According to the minutes of the meeting, the QAC found "a demonstrated pattern of judgmental and technical failures," including, in two cases, Plaintiffs failure to order CT scans before performing exploratory surgery. Dr. Aarons testified, and the minutes reflect, that the QAC recommended corrective action be initiated against Plaintiff. Several weeks after the meeting, on June 3, 1995, Plaintiff was involved in another patient incident, in which he accidentally inserted a catheter into an artery rather than a vein, a mishap which required repair by another surgeon.

On the morning of June 9, 1995, Defendants Dr. Aarons and Francis J. Previti, M.D. ("Dr.Previti"), who was Chairman of the Department of Surgery, met with Plaintiff to discuss his performance. Drs. Aarons and Previti told Plaintiff he could either voluntarily relinquish his surgical privileges or could face corrective action subject to ACMC's Fair Hearing Committee. Dr. Aarons told Plaintiff that, in his opinion, he would likely lose his surgical privileges. Plaintiff alleges, and Drs. Aarons and Previti deny, that they threatened Plaintiff with summary suspension if he did not relinquish his privileges. Plaintiff requested monitoring as an alternative, but Dr. Aarons told him such a solution would be too onerous.

Plaintiff contends that Drs. Aarons and Previti, having learned of Plaintiffs burgeoning practice, conspired to deprive Plaintiff of his privileges at ACMC and thus appropriate some of his business due to a need to support a new associate in Dr. Previti's practice.*fn1

On June 19, 1995, after consulting a lawyer and discussing his options with several physicians, including Defendant Susan Bane, M.D. ("Dr.Bane"), Plaintiff relinquished his privileges at ACMC with regard to intra-abdominal surgery, requested relief from his ACMC emergency room duties, and resigned from ACMC's trauma team.

On November 12, 1996, Plaintiff sought reinstatement of his privileges at ACMC. After the ACMC Medical Staff Executive Committee denied his request purportedly on the basis of his previous resignation and Plaintiffs failure to provide the credentials committee with sufficient evidence of his then current clinical competence, Plaintiff requested a hearing before the Fair Hearing Committee ("FHC"), as provided for in the ACMC By-Laws. The hearing, which began on May 22, 1997, lasted seven days. Finding unjustified deviations in Plaintiffs performance and no evidence that Drs. Previti and Aarons were motivated by economic self-interest, the FHC recommended that the Executive Committee affirm its previous denial of Plaintiffs privileges, which the Executive Committee did on December 19, 1997. After the Board of Governors then affirmed the Executive Committee's decision, Plaintiff requested appellate review by an appeals panel of the Board of Governors, which, on April 22, 1998, affirmed the Board's prior decision.

At all relevant times, Plaintiff continued to practice at Shore Memorial Hospital and retained some privileges at ACMC. In Atlantic County, which Plaintiff claims is the relevant geographic market, there is also a third hospital, Kessler Memorial Hospital, at which Plaintiff did not have privileges. In general surgery, which Plaintiff claims is the relevant product market, there were thirty-four other surgeons practicing at these three hospitals during this period.

On February 5, 1999, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants ACMC, Drs. Previti, Aarons, and Bane, Boardwalk Surgery Associates, and John Does 1-50. Plaintiff contends that he was unfairly coerced into relinquishing his privileges at ACMC and that the entire peer review process was unfairly biased, all part of a conspiracy to oust him from the hospital and appropriate his business. In the First and Second Counts, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants acted to restrain competition and interstate and intrastate trade and to monopolize or attempt to monopolize in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, 2, the Clayton Act, § 4, 15 U.S.C. § 15(a), and the New Jersey Antitrust Act, N.J.S.A. 59:9-4(a), et seq. Plaintiff also alleged fraudulent misrepresentation (Third Count), malicious interference with prospective economic advantage (Fourth Count), and breach of contract, on the theory that the By-Laws constituted a contract between Plaintiff and ACMC (Fifth Count).

On July 24, 2000, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"[S]ummary judgment is proper `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

Despite the "factually intensive" nature of antitrust cases, "the standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 remains the same." Town Sound & Custom Tops, Inc. v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 959 F.2d 468, 481 (3d Cir.) (in banc) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 868, 113 S.Ct. 196, 121 L.Ed.2d 139 (1992). There is no "special burden . . . [for] summary judgment in antitrust cases." Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Technical Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 468, 112 S.Ct. 2072, 119 L.Ed.2d 265 (1992).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Sherman Act Section 1

Section 1 of the Sherman Act provides: Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, ...

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