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Springer v. Henry


January 18, 2006


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (D.C. No. 00-cv-00885) District Judge: Honorable Gregory M. Sleet.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge.


Argued October 26, 2005

Before: SLOVITER, FISHER, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.


The case before us can be viewed on two levels. On one level, we have an appeal by an employer from an adverse verdict in favor of an employee (here independent contractor) on his claim of unlawful termination in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment. On the other level, the amicus curiae, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, argues that the issue transcends the relationship between the parties and instead impacts thousands of patients damaged as a result of hospital errors, incompetence, wrongdoing, and cover-ups. On either level, our task is to review the law applied by the District Court on a plenary basis and ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict.


The Appellant (defendant in the District Court), Renata Henry, has been the Director of the Division of Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health ("Division"), the division of the State of Delaware's Department of Health and Social Services ("DHSS") responsible for the Delaware Psychiatric Center ("DPC" or "Center") since July 1, 1999. Dr. Gregg Sylvester was the Secretary of DHSS from October, 1997 through January, 2001, the time period at issue here.

Plaintiff/Appellee, Dr. David T. Springer, a psychiatrist, was an independent contractor at the DPC from July 1, 1991 until June 30, 2000 pursuant to nine successive one-year contracts. Although each contract specified that Dr. Springer could be terminated without cause upon fifteen days' notice, and none of the contracts guaranteed renewal, at the end of each contract year Dr. Springer received and signed a proposed contract for the following year.

Each of Dr. Springer's yearly contracts since July 1, 1996 specified his duties as "[t]o provide psychiatric services to patients at Delaware Psychiatric Center." App. at 1431. The parties agree that in practice Dr. Springer also served as the director of the DPC psychiatric residency training program from 1993 until 2000, the elected president and the chairperson of its Medical Staff Executive Committee from 1999 to 2000, and a member of its credentials committee from 1993 to 2000.

In a series of five memoranda dated from October 21, 1999, to January 26, 2000, Dr. Springer voiced his critical opinions on matters relating to the policies, procedures and administration of the DPC. These were introduced into evidence at trial as Plaintiff's Exhibits PX-1 through 5. Other physicians, medical residents, and staff members signed onto these memoranda. We summarize them below but because they are central to the issues before us they are included verbatim in the Appendix to this opinion.

PX 1, a memorandum dated October 21, 1999 entitled "Concerns about Delaware Psychiatric Center," contains a long list of inadequacies on patient care and safety issues.

App. at 1384. It describes the DPC as failing in the task of treating psychiatric patients with high quality care in a respectful and safe environment. The memorandum charges that there was "gross understaffing of the hospital;" that experienced psychiatrists had left because "they declined to compromise the patient care and safety;" that security was poor; that members of the staff had subjected patients to demeaning comments; that patients had complained of being physically abused; that "the patient units lack[ed] discipline due to lack of training provided to the aides and technicians;" and that "[s]taff [was] afraid to speak out on issues affecting patient care and safety." App. at 1384-86. In the final paragraph, the memorandum states that as "hospital administration has shown lack of concern over this it is time that these issues were put in front of legislature and electorate of Delaware whose family members come here for treatment and whose tax money is put into work." App. at 1387. Although the memorandum was signed by 11 psychiatric residents, Dr Springer conceded that he helped to edit the language of PX 1. The memorandum shows copies going to Governor Carper, the Secretary of Health & Social Services Sylvester, the Hospital Director Simono, the Medical Director Dr. Smayer, the Training Director Dr. Springer, Senators of Delaware, the DHCC, the Department of Public Safety, and the News Journal, and there was testimony that it was handed to Governor Carper during one of his visits to the hospital.

PX 2, a memorandum dated November 23, 1999 (just one month after the earlier memorandum), from Dr. Springer, in his capacity as president of the DPC Medical Staff Executive Committee and co-signed by five other physicians, is captioned "Critical Issues in the Care of the Mentally Ill in Delaware" and is addressed to the DPC Governing Body. App. at 1388. It summarizes the earlier "plea for help" for the beleaguered program previously outlined by the DPC medical residents, and, in Dr. Springer's own words, "was basically a plea to the Governor, the hospital director, Ms. Henry, and other people." App. at 780. It states, inter alia, that "the capacity of DPC to provide [Delaware citizens with severe and/or long term mental illness] with treatment is deteriorating and facing collapse as of July 2000." App. at 1388.

The third memorandum, PX 3, is dated December 2, 1999, less than two weeks later, and was written by Dr. Springer on behalf of the DPC Medical Staff Executive Committee. Dr. Springer testified that it was handed to a Medicare reviewer who was on campus "in hopes that the Medicare folks would help us in terms of some of the concerns that we had with patients." App. at 784-85. It was signed by four physicians in addition to Dr. Springer, and, in its own words, sought to bring attention to the unresolved issues at DPC, and "proposed actions that may begin us on the road to protecting and preserving patient care and safety." App. at 1390. The solutions proposed were to "Address Safety Issues as Soon as Possible;" "Fix Understaffing/Personnel Issues as Soon as Possible;" and "Increase Physicians' Authority to Ensure Quality and Safe Patient Care." Id.

PX 4, dated December 16, 1999, two weeks later, was written by Dr. Springer, in his capacity as President of the DPC Medical Staff, and Psychiatric Residency Training Director, and is addressed to the DPC Governing Body Members and consists of a proposed agenda for the December 22, 1999 Governing Body Meeting. That agenda lists some of the areas that the medical staff believed needed to be addressed under the headings "Need for a Psychiatric Residency Program at DPC," "Need to Attract and Retain Dedicated and Qualified Teaching Attendings" and "Contingency Plans." App. at 1392-93. Under the latter heading, the proposal urges that "if a decision is made to close the residency program, the current residents should be given the option of completing their entire training at DPC." App. at 1393.

The fifth memorandum, PX 5, was Dr. Springer's report to the DPC Governing Body, entitled "Medical Staff President Report to the Governing Body Meeting of January 26, 2000." App. at 1394. The evidence reflects that it was not presented until the March 21, 2000 DPC meeting. The Report summarized the issues of concern affecting patient care at DPC that the Medical Staff Executive Committee Officers proposed for discussion by the Governing Body. The Report stated that "[t]he most glaring issue at hand is that the DPC medical staff is now in open disagreement with the hospital administration about how the patients should be treated." App. at 1400. It notes, inter alia, that "the situation has deteriorated to the point that physicians are essentially being asked to practice medicine at below their own minimum ethical standards on a routine basis" and lists "New Concerns Around Patient Care, Credentialing [sic] and Liability Issues for DPC." Id. It also discusses "New Patient Care Issue," "Ethical Issues," and "Continued Concerns Around Patient Care and Safety." App. at 1400-04. PX 5 additionally contains the two statements that Henry argues are "falsities" that allegedly deprive the communications of their First Amendment protection - one that she describes as alleging Medicare fraud and the other referring to an applicant as "unlicensed." Those statements will be discussed at length hereafter.

On May 12, 2000, less than two months after Dr. Springer's presentation of the fifth memorandum, Henry notified Dr. Springer by letter that his contract at DPC would not be renewed upon its expiration on June 30, 2000, and that the Division would be publishing Requests for Proposals (RFP), to which Dr. Springer was "free to respond." App. at 1405.

Delaware state law had changed in 1996 to require that contracts for professional services exceeding $50,000 per year, such as those under which Dr. Springer worked, be awarded through a process of public bidding. 29 Del. Code Ann. tit. 29, §§ 6913, 6981 (2005). Dr. Sylvester instructed his Division Directors, including Henry, in accordance with these changes. Since May, 1999, the Division has published Requests for Proposals for the provision of psychiatric services to various Division programs, including the DPC. Dr. Springer did not respond to any of those Requests for Proposals.

It is Dr. Springer's position that he was the only physician whose contract was not renewed before or during the year 2000, ostensibly because of the new state requirement. Although Henry relies on this 1996 state law revision as one of the bases for non-renewal of Dr. Springer's contract, she produced no evidence that she had sent any such notice to anyone else.*fn1

On October 6, 2000, Dr. Springer initiated the instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief*fn2 for the non-renewal of his contract, claiming that said non-renewal constituted retaliation for his engagement in speech protected under the First Amendment. On November 9, 2001, Henry moved for summary judgment. She argued that Springer's speech was not protected because it addressed his personal concerns, it was disruptive, he would have been terminated because he failed to bid for renewal, he suffered no damages, and that Henry was entitled to qualified immunity. Dr. Springer moved for partial summary judgment on the ground that his speech was protected by the First Amendment, and argued that Henry was not entitled to qualified immunity because his First Amendment right was clearly established.

In a Memorandum and Order entered March 12, 2002 (the "March Order"), the District Court denied Henry's motion for summary judgment and granted Dr. Springer's motion. The Court held that (1) Dr. Springer's "speech was protected under the First Amendment" because "[t]he content of Springer's speech clearly addressed a matter of public concern" and (2) Henry "is not entitled to qualified immunity" because "Springer's right to engage in speech was clearly established at the time he was terminated," and there were no facts to show that Springer's comments had any disruptive effect. App. at 49. The court stated, in conclusion, "a jury must decide whether his protected speech motivated his termination, whether he would have been terminated in the absence of the speech, and whether he suffered damages." App. at 16. The case proceeded to trial.

On April 1, 2004, the jury returned a verdict for Dr. Springer. In response to special interrogatories, it found the following: (1) Dr. Springer had "proven by a preponderance of the evidence that his protected activity under the First Amendment reflected in Plaintiff's Exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision to not renew or offer him a new contract," App. at 18-19; (2) PX 2, 3, 4, and 5 were the instances of protected activity for the decision not to renew Henry's contract; (3) Henry had failed to prove "by a preponderance of the evidence that regardless of plaintiff's exercise of his First Amendment rights, [that she] would . . . not have renewed his contract in July 2000," App. at 19; (4) Dr. Springer suffered actual injury from the non-renewal of his contract; (5) the damages that Dr. Springer had suffered which were proximately caused by the non-renewal of his contract were $285,464 to the present and $588,431 into the future, App. 20; and (6) $100,000 in non-economic damages. In an additional interrogatory, the jury found that (7) Henry "acted recklessly, intentionally or maliciously with regard to plaintiff," App. at 22, and awarded Dr. Springer $25,000 in punitive damages in connection with the latter finding.

On September 17, 2004, the District Court entered a memorandum opinion and order on the parties' motion for post-trial relief ("September Opinion") in which it upheld the jury verdict in all respects but struck the $100,000 award of non-economic reputation damages. Henry filed this timely appeal.



The standards by which we review the trial court's rulings are well-settled. We exercise "plenary review over the District Court's denial of judgment as a matter of law," applying "the same standard as the District Court." Johnson v. Campbell, 332 F.3d 199, 204 (3d Cir. 2003). We also exercise plenary review of a district court's grant of summary judgment. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). We review the denial of a new trial for abuse of discretion. Foster v. Nat'l Fuel Gas Co., 316 F.3d 424, 429-30 (3d Cir. 2003). A new trial should be granted only where the "great weight" of the evidence cuts against the verdict and "where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand." Sheridan v. E. I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 100 F.3d 1061, 1076 (3d Cir. 1996) (en banc).


We have recently reviewed the analysis applicable when a public employee files a claim of retaliation for engaging in protected First Amendment activity. McGreevy, 413 F.3d at 364. The plaintiff must first demonstrate that s/he engaged in protected activity, i.e. speech that addresses a matter of public concern. We then employ the balancing test derived from Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563 (1968), "to determine whether an employee's interest in the speech outweighs the state's countervailing interest as an employer in promoting workplace efficiency and avoiding workplace disruption." McGreevy, 413 F.3d at 364 (quoting Pickering, 391 U.S. at 568). Next, the plaintiff must prove that the protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in the allegedly retaliatory action. Thereafter, the burden shifts to the employer to demonstrate that the allegedly retaliatory action would have been taken absent the protected conduct. Id.

Whether an employee's speech is protected under the First Amendment is a question of law. Azzaro v. County of Allegheny, 110 F.3d 968, 975 (3d Cir. 1997) (en banc); Baldassare v. New Jersey, 250 F.3d 195 (3d Cir. 2001). The First Amendment's protection of an employee's right to speak on matters of public concern extends to independent contractors. Bd. of Comm'rs, Wabaunsee v. Umbehr, 518 U.S. 668, 686 (1996).*fn3 See also O'Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake, 518 U.S. 712, 721 (1996). Henry has not seriously disputed that the contents of Dr. Springer's speech (i.e., a physician's critique of patient safety and unsafe working conditions) constitute matters of public concern. In several cases cited by the District Court the courts held that statements by health care providers regarding patient care involved matters of public concern. Scheiner v. New York City Health and Hospitals, 152 F.Supp.2d 487, 495-96 (S.D.N.Y. 2001); Kattar v. Three Rivers Area Hosp. Auth., 52 F.Supp.2d 789, 799 (W.D. Mich. 1999). We adopt the District Court's determination that Dr. Springer's speech raising concerns on the state of healthcare at the DPC facility addressed matters of public concern. The distribution of the five communications to persons within the hospital and those responsible for governing the hospital as well as to public officials and the general public through the media was not inappropriate.

Henry's appellate brief lists sixteen issues but essentially they condense to Henry's claim that the District Court erred in holding that Dr. Springer's speech was protected under the First Amendment without analyzing whether the five memoranda contained false statements that are allegedly unprotected*fn4 and in holding that Henry was not entitled to qualified immunity. We consider each issue in turn.

1. The Alleged False Statements

Henry's claim asserting that material containing falsities is unprotected under the First Amendment must be considered in the context of now well-established principles. In Pickering, where the principles relating to a government employee's free speech right were first enumerated, a teacher was dismissed by the Board of Education for writing and publishing in a newspaper a letter criticizing, inter alia, the Board's allocation of school funds between educational and athletic programs. The Supreme Court unequivocally rejected the view of the Illinois Supreme Court "that teachers may constitutionally be compelled to relinquish the First Amendment rights they would otherwise enjoy as citizens to comment on matters of public interest in connection with the operation of the public schools in which they work . . . ." Pickering, 391 U.S. at 568. The Court repeated its earlier statement made the preceding year that "[t]he theory that public employment which may be denied altogether may be subjected to any conditions, regardless of how unreasonable, has been uniformly rejected." Id. at 568 (quoting Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 605-06 (1967)).

It was in its discussion of the required balancing "between the interests of the teacher, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees," id. at 568, that the Pickering Court made any reference to false statements. The Court reviewed Pickering's speech and determined that some of the statements were erroneous. It did not hold that the speech was therefore unprotected, as Henry would have us do. The Court stated:

What we do have before us is a case in which a teacher has made erroneous public statements upon issues then currently the subject of public attention, which are critical of his ultimate employer but which are neither shown nor can be presumed to have in any way either impeded the teacher's proper performance of his daily duties in the classroom or to have interfered with the regular operation of the schools generally. In these circumstances we conclude that the interest of the school administration in limiting teachers' opportunities to contribute to public debate is not significantly greater than its interest in limiting a similar contribution by any member of the general public.

391 U.S. at 572-73 (footnote omitted). It continued:

The public interest in having free and unhindered debate on matters of public importance - the core value of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment - is so great that it has been held that a State cannot authorize the recovery of damages by a public official for defamatory statements directed at him except when such statements are shown to have been made either with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.

391 U.S. at 573 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

Unlike the Pickering Court's acceptance that Pickering's communication included false assertions, we are not prepared to accept without question Henry's assertion that PX 5 contained false statements. They may be more accurately viewed as exaggerations in the context in which they were made.

One of the two statements Henry alleges was false, that the hospital hired a physician who was not licensed, was discussed by the District Court in its September Opinion. PX 5 states that "[t]wo Acting Medical Directors were appointed by the administration in one week, including an unlicensed psychiatrist." App. at 1401. Henry objects to the statement that the Administration appointed an "unlicensed psychiatrist." Henry argues that the psychiatrist referred to was actually licensed to practice at DPC. Dr. Springer testified that the basis for his statement was that the psychiatrist in question was "not an independently licensed psychiatrist" or physician but rather had only a DPC institutional license, granted by Henry herself. The District Court's September Opinion states that Henry requested temporary credentialing for a particular physician applicant. Dr. Springer objected, three members of the Credentialing Committee voted to grant the physician partial privilege and two, including Dr. Springer, voted not to do so. Henry refused to sign the physician applicant's credentialing unless he was given full unrestricted privileges. At the conclusion of the discussion of that incident in one half of a page on PX 5, the Report states that "[t]he Medical Staff requests that the Governing Body pass a motion supporting adherence to the Medical Staff Bylaws, especially in regard to matters of credentialing [sic] physicians to the DPC Medical Staff." App. at 1401. Dr. Springer's asserted bases for his statements do not support a contention that they were recklessly made.

The other falsity Henry alleges relates to the section of the same Report headed "Ethical Issues" and alleges that "[i]n order to give the appearance to Medicare reviewers that DPC had adequate staffing," nurses, psychologists, and staff were brought in from elsewhere. The Report denominates this action as unethical, states that it might bring future negative actions against the hospital and requests that the Governing Body pass a motion that DPC must "follow ethical principles in dealing with state, federal or other regulations or other overseeing bodies." App. at 1401. This discussion hardly accuses Henry or DPC with Medicare fraud, as Henry contends.

Even if these statements contain a somewhat one-sided view, their recounting, totaling no more than one page in the 14- 1/2 pages of PX 1 through PX 5, does not support Henry's characterization of the exhibits as containing falsities. They represent a small portion of the evidence presented.

The District Court permitted counsel for Henry to present testimony at trial as to falsity, yet evidence elicited from Henry on direct examination establishes that she believed there to be no untrue allegations in PX 3 or PX 4. The trial transcript demonstrates that the "falsities" counsel for Henry tried to elicit through his client's testimony were merely Henry's disagreements with Dr. Springer as to what policies would best improve the DPC:

[Counsel for Henry]: Okay. Turning to Exhibit 3 -- and again, this is one that you have seen quite a bit in the past few days, I think -- are there allegations contained in this document which you believe are untrue?

[Henry]: No.

[Counsel for Henry]: Are there recommendations in this document with which you disagree, that is, that you would believe are not a good idea?

[Henry]: Yes.

[Counsel for Henry]: No. 4, Exhibit 4, are there allegations contained in this that you believe are, let's start with true?

[Henry]: Are there allegations that are true? A lot of these are recommendations. Allegations, I don't see allegations that are true.

[Counsel for Henry]: Do you see allegations that are false or is it just a matter of recommendations?

[Henry]: The majority of these are recommendations.

[Counsel for Henry]: Are they recommendations that were consistent with the plan that you had for correcting the problems at the hospital?

[Henry]: There is one suggestion that I would not agree with on this, that would not fit in my plans with how I thought the problems needed to be fixed.

[Counsel for Henry]: Otherwise, you had no big problem with this?

[Henry]: No.

App. at 1180-81.

Such "recommendations," by definition, cannot be false. The testimony before the court was unequivocal: Henry answered "[n]o" to every question about whether she could find false allegations in PX 3 or PX 4. Id.

Henry additionally argues that the District Court did not allow her to present sufficient testimony to support her falsity argument. She adduces a page of bullet-pointed "[s]tatements contained in Plaintiff's Exhibits 1-5 upon which Ms. Henry's full testimony would have been helpful." Appellant's Br. at 18-19. However, every one of these statements is devoid of factual assertions except the last, and this last statement relates to PX 5 discussed above, not PX 3 or 4.

Henry's argument that the District Court failed to fulfill its duty by submitting the five documents to the jury as protected despite Henry's contention that there was undisputed evidence that each contained statements which were untrue or believed to be untrue misses its mark. The issue is not falsity vel non but whether such statements, even if untrue, were knowingly or recklessly made. See Pickering, 391 U.S. at 574 (1968).*fn5 There was no such evidence. On the contrary, the District Court stated that "[i]t is apparent that [Dr. Springer] was motivated by a desire to improve conditions at the DPC and was frustrated that, in his view, he was encountering resistance." App. at 46-47. Because we reject Henry's argument that the communications were unprotected because of alleged falsities, it is irrelevant whether the District Court submitted two of the memoranda to the jury as protected and decided post-trial that the remaining were protected. After examination of the documents as the Supreme Court did in Pickering, we hold that all five exhibits are protected under the First Amendment.

2. Reiteration of Qualified Immunity Defense

Henry's other argument reiterates her pre-trial argument that she was entitled to qualified immunity, an argument the District Court rejected in its March Order denying Henry's motion for summary judgment on that ground. Henry now argues that in view of the evidence presented at trial, the District Court erred in failing to reconsider its ruling rejecting her claim of entitlement to qualified immunity as a matter of law.

The District Court held that Dr. Springer's right to speak on various problems confronting hospital administration was clearly established. The court also rejected Henry's contention that Springer's right was not clearly established because his contract was not certain to be renewed under the new bidding process.

Promptly after this ruling, Henry filed an interlocutory appeal. This court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that "disputes of fact preclude this court from exercising jurisdiction." Springer v. Henry, No. 02-1776 at 3 (3d Cir. Nov. 27, 2002) (citing Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304 (1995)).*fn6 We identified only one such dispute of fact in said order: "[T]he parties dispute whether appellee, David T. Springer, was treated differently than other physicians with respect to rebidding for their positions." Id. We deferred our review of qualified immunity pending "appeal at the conclusion of the case," i.e., the instant appeal.*fn7 Forbes, 313 F.3d at 147-48.

We exercise plenary review of the District Court's determination that Henry was not entitled to qualified immunity.*fn8 Leveto v. Lapina, 258 F.3d 156, 161 (3d Cir. 2001); see also Forbes, 313 F.3d at 148 ("In assessing a claim of qualified immunity, we must review the law relevant to the official's behavior and ask whether the official could have believed that his or her actions were justified by law.").

Henry relies on the Sixth Circuit's decision in Gossman v. Allen, 950 F.2d 338 (6th Cir. 1991), where the court held that the employer was entitled to qualified immunity on a claim that it violated the employee's rights because a reasonable official could have believed that Gossman knowingly or recklessly made false statements, and could be terminated on the basis of those unprotected statements. Id. at 341-42. Gossman does not support Henry's claim of qualified immunity because Henry, unlike the employer in that case, failed to proffer any persuasive evidence that Springer made false statements or that any of the statements he made were made with his knowledge or with recklessness as to their falsity. Therefore, no reasonable official could have fired Springer on the basis of those statements.

As the Supreme Court has noted, "the court should ask whether the [official] acted reasonably under settled law in the circumstances, not whether another reasonable, or more reasonable, interpretation of the events can be constructed five years after the fact." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 228 (1991). Henry raises the issues of knowledge and recklessness for the first time in the instant appeal;*fn9 she never sought to present evidence as to Dr. Springer's mental state with regard to allegedly false statements.

Because Dr. Springer's First Amendment right to speak out was clearly established at the time of his non-renewal, we consider whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Dr. Springer, it would be clear to a reasonable official in Henry's position that s/he could not properly refuse to renew Dr. Springer's contract because of the new state bidding requirement. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 200, 202 (2001); Karnes v. Skrutski, 62 F.3d 485, 494 (3d Cir. 1995). In our Interlocutory Order of November 27, 2002, we stated that whether a reasonable official could have sent the non-renewal notice depends primarily upon whether "appellee, David T. Springer, was treated differently than other physicians with respect to rebidding for their positions." Springer, No. 02-1776 at 3 (Interlocutory Order).

Both at trial and on appeal, Henry has failed to refute evidence tending to show that Dr. Springer was the only independent contractor physician whose contract was non-renewed in 2000 and the only such physician to have ever received a non-renewal letter during his nine years of working at the hospital. Viewing this record in the light most favorable to Dr. Springer, no reasonable official could have sent a non-renewal letter to only one of at least five other independent contractor physicians at the hospital.

Henry nonetheless argues that "[a] reasonable official in [] Henry's position could have believed that requiring [Dr. Springer] to comply with state procurement laws did not violate [Dr. Springer's] rights." Appellant's Br. at 41. We view the question before us somewhat differently. As our order denying the interlocutory appeal suggests, the relevant question is whether a reasonable official in Henry's position could have believed that there was any constitutional basis for requiring only Dr. Springer and no other independent contractor physician to comply with state procurement laws. Because Henry provided no plausible reason for her targeting of Dr. Springer to the exclusion of other independent contractor physicians, the answer to this question is in the negative. Henry's rationale that she began to enforce the bidding requirement with Dr. Springer because he was the independent contractor physician who was at DPC the longest is not plausible. On the facts viewed in the light most favorable to Dr. Springer, see Karnes, 62 F.3d at 494, no reasonable official could have believed that the decision to target solely Dr. Springer could be based on any reason other than retaliation for protected speech.


Henry challenges the judgment for both economic damages and punitive damages. The jury awarded Dr. Springer $873,895 for his economic loss notwithstanding Henry's counsel's argument that Dr. Springer did not suffer any economic injury as a result of losing his job. She argues that there was no assurance that his contract would have been renewed and that he was never promised that it would be. Her claim is unpersuasive.

Dr. Andrisani, Dr. Springer's expert witness, gave testimony sufficient to serve as the basis for the jury's finding that Dr. Springer's contract would have been renewed absent the non-renewal letter.*fn10 The only contradictory evidence was the testimony of Dr. Link, Henry's expert witness. It was the jury's role to determine which expert was more credible, and the jury reasonably could have adopted the view of Dr. Springer's expert witness.

On a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law, a district court "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 151 (2000). The District Court correctly observed in its September Opinion that "[w]hether Springer's contract would have been renewed but for his memos was a question of fact properly before the jury." App. at 39. Drawing all inferences in favor of Dr. Springer, a reasonable juror could infer that he would work many more years at the DPC. The evidence was sufficient to support the jury's economic damages award.

A jury may award punitive damages when it finds reckless, callous, intentional or malicious conduct. See Alexander v. Riga, 208 F.3d 419, 430-31 (3d Cir. 2000); see also, Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 54-56 (1983). This standard is disjunctive: "[T]he defendant's conduct must be, at a minimum, reckless or callous. Punitive damages might also be allowed if the conduct is intentional or motivated by evil motive, but the defendant's action need not necessarily meet this higher standard." Savarese v. Agriss, 883 F.2d 1194, 1204 (3d Cir. 1989). In response to special interrogatories, the jury specifically found $25,000 in punitive damages appropriate because Henry acted "recklessly, intentionally or maliciously with regard to [Dr. Springer]." App. at 22.

Although we might not have reached the same verdict as the jury, the record contains sufficient evidence to support the jury's conclusion that Henry singled out Dr. Springer for intentional disparate treatment. As we noted above, Dr. Springer produced unrefuted evidence that he was the only independent contractor physician whose contract was non-renewed in 2000. The District Court ruled that "[a] reasonable jury could have concluded that Henry was motivated by evil intent or reckless indifference." App. at 41.

The jury's finding of reckless or intentional behavior is supported by consideration of the circumstances under which Dr. Springer received Henry's non-renewal notice which informed him his contract would not be renewed and that "the Division will be publishing Requests for Proposals." App. at 1405. Although an RFP with a submission deadline of 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 17 ("May 17 RFP") was issued on April 10, 2000, (App. 1472-73), Henry did not send the non-renewal notice to Dr. Springer's home address until Friday, May 12. Henry testified--and the jury was entitled to believe--that he received the notice of non-renewal on the evening of Monday, May 15, less than two days before the proposal deadline.*fn11 As the District Court noted, "Henry notified Springer only five days, at best, before the proposal deadline despite the fact that the position had been advertised for over a month." App. at 41.

On May 16, 2000, Dr. Springer tried fruitlessly to obtain an extension that would have allowed him sufficient time to fill out the requisite thirty page application form by the May 17 RFP's proposal deadline, which form Henry had failed to attach to the non-renewal letter. On the same day, Henry was notified of Dr. Springer's attempt to secure an extension in filling out the application, but there is no evidence that she attempted to assist him despite the fact that the timing of her non-renewal notice was the source of his impediment. Even Dr. Sylvester testified that Henry followed "unusual" procedures in ending Dr. Springer's employment.*fn12 App. at 681.

The jury finding of callous or malicious behavior also is supported by Henry's attitude toward Dr. Springer and the medical staff in general. Dr. Sylvester testified that Henry viewed her interactions with the medical staff, including Dr. Springer, as "adversarial." App. at 666. Three witnesses--Henry, Dr. Sylvester, and Dr. Springer--testified that Henry was upset and unhappy with Dr. Springer. Dr. Springer testified that during meetings of the DPC Governing Body Henry was "angry and spoke [to him] with a lot of emotion," App. at 780. Based on its observations at trial, the jury could have concluded that Henry acted vindictively.

The evidence supports the jury finding that Henry acted at least recklessly or callously, if not intentionally or maliciously, with respect to Dr. Springer's constitutionally protected rights.*fn13 The District Court did not err in affirming the jury's punitive damages award.*fn14


We see no error of law. Nor can we conclude that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court in its entirety.

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