By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On November 16, 2016, an appeals court in Texas affirmed a $1.37 million sanction against a doctor. The physician was ordered to pay the fine after the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit he filed against his former employers. The decision affirmed that the actions of his former employers, Baylor College of Medicine (Baylor) and Texas Children’s Hospital, did not cause the litigation fees which the court assessed to the doctor as sanctions.
The case had previously made its way up to the Texas Supreme Court, which makes the November 16, 2016, opinion the second time the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals has weighed in on the case. Additionally, it is the second time it has held the sanctions were merited for Dr. Rahul K. Nath.
The Back Story of the Case.
According to the opinion, Dr. Nath was employed by Baylor as a plastic surgeon and was affiliated with Texas Children’s Hospital. He was fired in 2004 and in February 2006 filed a lawsuit against his former supervisor at Baylor and Texas Children’s. According to court documents, Dr. Nath had accused his former supervisor of making defamatory statements about him after he stopped working. The alleged defamatory statements included that Dr. Nath had been fired, was unqualified and lacked professional ethics and integrity. (Note: We are just stating what was alleged in the lawsuit.)
To read the opinion in full, click here.
Were the Former Employers Responsible for the Accumulated Attorney and Litigation Fees?
The court was considering whether the behavior of Baylor or Texas Children’s was ultimately responsible for the fees accumulated litigation fees and expenses in the case. Previously, the trial court found that both Texas Children’s and Baylor’s actions had not caused the expenses for which Dr. Nath was sanctioned. The trial court wrote that the amount was appropriate as it was “far less” than the actual fees incurred by either party in defending Dr. Nath’s claims.
On appeal, Dr. Nath argued that the trial court hadn’t held a proper evidentiary inquiry, that it had based its sanctions award on “conclusory and self-serving” affidavits. Dr. Nath claimed that he was wrongly denied discovery in the case. To learn more about Dr. Nath’s challenge, click here.
Despite Dr. Nath’s arguments, the Fourteenth Court disagreed, holding that the trial court followed the exact instructions from the Supreme Court before deciding to impose the sanctions. Additionally, the court found that there was evidence in the record to support the conclusion that neither Texas Children’s nor Baylor’s conduct caused the expenses that were passed on to Dr. Nath as sanctions.
Adequate Supporting Evidence.
The first time the case came before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, it affirmed the sanctions against Dr. Nath. The high court held that there was evidence to support the trial court’s finding of bad faith and improper purpose on Dr. Nath’s part with regard to certain filings in the case.
Dr. Nath appealed, and the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in finding the doctor had exercised bad faith and improper purpose in certain filings. The high court remanded it back to the trial court to consider to what extent, if any, Texas Children’s and Baylor’s actions may have “caused the expenses for which recovery is sought.”
After a hearing, the trial court determined that neither employer’s behavior caused the expenses, and again imposed the sanctions against Nath. In appealing that ruling to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Dr. Nath argued that the trial court had made procedural errors in hearings and evidence submission in reaffirming the sanctions.
The trial court granted Texas Children’s and Baylor’s motions in June 2010, and also sanctioned Dr. Nath $726,000 for a portion of Texas Children’s fees in defending the suit and $644,500 for a portion of Baylor’s. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling, and Dr. Nath appealed to the state Supreme Court.
To learn more about defamatory statements and how to handle such claims, click here to read one of my prior blogs.
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Knaub, Kelly. “Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” Law360. (November 16, 2016). Web.
Knaub, Kelly. “Doc To Challenge $1.3M Sanction Before Texas High Court.” Law360. (January 15, 2014). Web.
“Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” LexisNexis. (November 16, 2016). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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