Appeals court affirms ruling in medical staff lawsuit

MARSHALL – The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a Lyon County judge’s decision in a lawsuit brought against Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center last year. The lawsuit, filed by members of the hospital’s medical staff, was brought to the appeals court in November. Oral arguments were given in May.

An opinion on the case was published by the Court of Appeals on Monday morning. The opinion affirmed earlier rulings on the Avera Marshall medical staff’s legal status, and whether or not the hospital’s medical staff bylaws formed a contract between Avera Marshall and the medical staff.

The original lawsuit was filed last year by Dr. Steven Meister, then the chief of Avera Marshall’s medical staff, and Dr. Jane Willett, on behalf of the hospital medical staff. The suit alleged that Avera Marshall violated medical staff bylaws and prevented the chief of staff and the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee from fulfilling their duties. Key issues in the lawsuit included the question of whether the medical staff was a legal entity that could sue, and whether the bylaws were a contract between the hospital and medical staff.

An order from a Lyon County District Court judge in September ruled that the medical staff was not an entity that could sue or be sued. The order also said the medical staff bylaws were not a contract, but Avera Marshall was still required to follow them. The order said Avera Marshall could change its medical staff bylaws without needing the approval of two-thirds of the medical staff, as long as it “substantially complies” with procedures in the bylaws.

Monday’s appeals court opinion said both sides of the case presented “persuasive policy arguments,” on the hospital and the medical staff’s needs in providing the best care possible for patients. However, the opinion found that under Minnesota laws, the medical staff is not a group with the legal capacity to sue, and that medical staff bylaws are not a contract.

Several organizations filed amicus curiae briefs in the appeal, including the Minnesota Hospital Association and the American Medical Association. An amicus brief is a document giving the appeals court judges additional factual information that may help them when considering an appeal.

Kathy Kimmel, attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Monday that it hasn’t been decided whether a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court will be filed in the case. The plaintiffs have 30 days from Monday to file a petition for further review, she said. Once a petition is filed, the Minnesota Supreme Court can choose whether or not to take the case.