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Farris v. Labette County Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 4, 2019

MICHAEL FARRIS, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
LABETTE COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER, d/b/a LABETTE HEALTH, and BRIAN WILLIAMS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CARLOS MURGUIA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 13.) Plaintiff brings claims for breach of contract (Count I); wrongful discharge in violation of the Kansas Risk Management Act (“KRMA”) (Count II); wrongful discharge in violation of public policy based on the Kansas Healing Arts Act (“KHAA”) (Count III); retaliation in violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”) (Count VI); and violations of due process based on the revocation of plaintiff's employment and clinical privileges (Counts IV and V). Defendants ask the court to dismiss all claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and in the alternative, to dismiss various claims as inadequately pleaded, precluded, or due to qualified immunity.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Dr. Michael Farris is the former medical director of the emergency department at defendant Labette County Medical Center (“Labette Health”). Defendant Brian Williams is the CEO of defendant Labette Health. Plaintiff alleges that he was employed by defendants pursuant to an agreement requiring adequate cause or grounds for termination. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants wrongfully terminated his employment in retaliation for reporting multiple violations of state and federal law and hospital policy by defendant Williams.

         Plaintiff alleges that on or about February 16, 2017, hospital staff informed plaintiff that defendant Williams unlawfully altered the order of a treating physician. Defendant Williams is “neither licensed to practice medicine nor qualified for licensure.” (Doc. 1, at 4.) According to the report, Dr. Melinda Allen had diagnosed a trauma patient with a neck injury on or about February 15, 2017, and “[i]n the course of providing medical screening and necessary stabilizing treatment, Dr. Allen placed the patient in a soft neck brace, referred the patient to a treating physician at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Missouri, and ordered the medically-appropriate transfer.” (Id.) After this decision by a treating physician, defendant Williams “demanded that Dr. Allen's stabilizing treatment order be changed from a soft neck brace to a hard neck brace. . . . [and that] the patient be [instead] transferred to a facility in Springfield, Missouri, where his former employer had privileges, in contravention of Dr. Allen's transfer order.” (Id.) Under this directive “and upon [defendant Williams's] assertion of supposed authority and control over employed physicians as CEO of Labette Health, Dr. Allen changed her treatment order from a soft neck brace to a hard neck brace.” (Id.)

         Upon staff reporting this incident to plaintiff, he reported his knowledge of the matter internally through an online Quality Data Check Risk Management form. This internal reporting was consistent with the hospital's Risk Management Program, which plaintiff chaired. Plaintiff took leave for prescheduled surgery and recovery and realized on February 24, 2017 that his work e-mail access was no longer functioning. Defendant Williams contacted plaintiff that day and informed him that he was immediately terminated from Labette Health. Plaintiff asked whether he would be afforded the rights due under his employment agreement and defendant Williams stated that he would not. Because plaintiff's staff and clinical privileges at Labette Health were contingent upon maintaining malpractice insurance, and the termination of employment also ended plaintiff's malpractice insurance, this termination effectively revoked plaintiff's staff and clinical privileges.

         On February 4, 2019, plaintiff filed this suit for wrongful termination and violation of various contractual and due process rights owed to him under his employment agreement and as a public employee. Defendants now move to dismiss, arguing that the court lacks jurisdiction and, in the alternative, that defendant Williams is immune from suit and plaintiff's claims are either precluded or inadequately pleaded.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) generally takes one of two forms: either a facial challenge or a factual challenge. Stuart v. Colo. Interstate Gas Co., 271 F.3d 1221, 1225 (10th Cir. 2001) (citing Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir. 1995)). Id. A facial attack challenges the allegations in the complaint regarding subject matter jurisdiction. Id. In reviewing a facial attack, the court must accept the complaint's allegations as true. A factual attack “go[es] beyond allegations contained in the complaint and challenge[s] the facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction is based.” Id. Defendants' jurisdictional challenge does not challenge the facts of the complaint, so the court will apply the standard for a facial attack.

         B. 12(b)(6)

         On a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court assumes true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint, disregards all legal conclusions worded as factual allegations, and grants the non-moving party all reasonable inferences from the pleadings. Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1228 (10th Cir. 2012). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” not merely possible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (quotation marks omitted); see Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The court begins with defendants' arguments on jurisdiction before turning to defendants' arguments on plaintiff's wrongful termination and retaliation claims under state and federal law, followed by plaintiff's due ...


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