California court finds physician was denied fair hearing

A judge has ordered a hospital to void a disciplinary action taken against the doctor.

By — Posted Aug. 22, 2005

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A court victory for a California doctor is likely to encourage other physicians to try to clear their disciplinary records if they did not receive proper peer review, the doctor's attorney said.

A judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, Calif., to void a disciplinary action against Lizellen La Follette, MD, whose privileges were restricted by the hospital without a required peer review hearing.

At press time, mediation was scheduled this month to try to settle the case, said Charles Bond, the doctor's attorney. Bond said the case sets a precedent that courts are willing to void discipline against doctors who are not given a proper hearing.

"It is important for all doctors to require due process in the medical staff proceedings," Bond said. "Any doctor could be wrongly accused. If denied due process, they would never have an opportunity to vindicate themselves or protect their reputation among colleagues."

A Marin General Hospital spokeswoman would not comment, saying the hospital does not discuss cases in litigation.

In May and June 2004, according to the judge's ruling, the hospital became concerned about Dr. La Follette's involvement in two cesarean section surgeries. One baby later died, and the parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital. That suit is pending. Bond would not discuss details of the incidents, citing the confidentiality of peer review.

After an investigation, the hospital imposed the restriction that Dr. La Follette's obstetrics cases be observed by another ob-gyn for six months, records show. The restriction was imposed on July 2, 2004, and that August, Dr. La Follette asked for a hearing to contest the discipline.

CMA supports physician

Despite communication between the doctor's and hospital's attorneys, the hospital never scheduled a hearing or gave a written notice of charges, according to the judge's ruling. Dr. La Follette filed her lawsuit in February.

The hospital argued that time limits for hearings are directory but not mandatory, court records show.

"In this instance, the hospital, without any excuse whatsoever, refused to provide any of the steps of due process," Bond said.

The California Medical Assn. in March filed an amicus brief in support of Dr. La Follette. The CMA said hospital peer review must be fair, and California sets deadlines for such hearings. When deadlines are not met and a physician does not get due process, "the discipline taken against the physician must be voided completely and the hospital barred from initiating any proceedings in furtherance of that discipline," the brief said.

On April 25, Marin County Superior Court Judge James Ritchie issued a preliminary injunction.

In his ruling, Ritchie noted that California requires hospitals to "provide fairly conducted peer review in accordance with due process." He said the hospital did not give Dr. La Follette the necessary fair hearing to contest discipline taken against her.

He ordered that the hospital not disclose facts or circumstances of the discipline imposed. He also said it must correct any reports made to the Medical Board of California, National Practitioner Data Bank and other entities to show the discipline as voided.

Bond said Dr. La Follette is back working at the hospital and she wants to continue practicing there.

"The ramifications [of discipline] have tentacles that can strangle everything a doctor has worked for [for] their entire lives," he said.

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Case at a glance

Lizellen La Follette, MD, v. Marin General Hospital et al.

Venue: Superior Court of California, Marin County
At issue: A judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering Marin General Hospital to void a disciplinary action against Lizellen La Follette, MD, whose privileges were restricted without a peer review hearing.
Impact: The court victory may lead to fairer and quicker peer review at hospitals and give physicians motivation to seek to have their disciplinary records cleared in cases in which they did not receive a fair hearing.

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