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Abu-Hatab v. Blount Memorial Hospital

July 24, 2007

MAZEN ABU-HATAB, M.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
BLOUNT MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, INC., AND NASEEM H. SIDDIQI, M.D., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas W. Phillips United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Dr. Mazen Abu-Hatab, has sued defendants alleging he was retaliated against for approaching the leadership of defendant Blount Memorial Hospital about the possibility of establishing a "neutral dialysis unit." Plaintiff alleges that he experienced retaliation for his constitutionally protected speech and was otherwise denied due process of law due to Blount Memorial's suspension of his medical staff privileges which ultimately resulted in the permanent removal of his staff privileges at Blount Memorial. Based on these allegations, plaintiff asserts two claims for alleged violations of his civil liberties pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and common law claims for breach of contract, defamation, and interference with business relations against defendants. Pending before the court are the following motions filed by the parties: (1) plaintiff's motion for oral argument on all pending motions [Doc. 28]; (2) plaintiff's motion for leave to file amended complaint [Doc. 21]; (3) defendant Blount Memorial Hospital's motion to dismiss [Doc. 29]; and (4) defendant Dr. Siddiqi's motion to dismiss [Doc. 12].

I.

Plaintiff's Motion for Oral Argument The parties have filed extensive briefs pertaining to the motions to dismiss in which they have fully briefed all of the issues in support of the parties' positions. The court has reviewed the briefs and the record in this case, and does not feel that oral argument is necessary. Therefore, plaintiffs' motion for oral argument [Doc. 28] is DENIED.

II.

Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint Plaintiff has moved for leave to amend his complaint. Although defendant Dr. Siddiqi opposes the motion, at this early stage in the case the defendant will not be prejudiced by the amendment. As Fed.R.Civ.P. instructs, leave to file an amended complaint shall be "freely given when justice so requires." Accordingly, for the good cause stated, plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint [Doc. 21] is GRANTED. Plaintiff is DIRECTED to file his amended complaint with the clerk.

III.

Blount Memorial Hospital's Motion to Dismiss Defendant Blount Memorial Hospital moves the court to dismiss plaintiff's fourth claim for relief (defamation) and plaintiff's fifth claim for relief (tortious interference with prospective business relations). In support of the motion, Blount Memorial states that as a public hospital, it is immune from liability for such claims pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-201, et seq. Thus, plaintiff's fourth and fifth claims fail to state claims for which relief may be granted and should be dismissed.

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, requires the court to construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all the complaint's factual allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiff undoubtedly can prove no set of facts in support of his claims that would entitle him to relief. Meador v. Cabinet for Human Resources, 902 F.2d 474, 475 (6th Cir.) cert. denied, 498 U.S. 867 (1990). The court may not grant such a motion to dismiss based upon a disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations. Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1198 (6th Cir. 1990); Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 377 (6th Cir. 1995) (noting that courts should not weigh evidence or evaluate the credibility of witnesses). The court must liberally construe the complaint in favor of the party opposing the motion. Id. However, the complaint must articulate more than a bare assertion of legal conclusions. Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434 (6th Cir. 1988). "[The] complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Id. (citations omitted).

Plaintiff concedes in his response [Doc. 31] that the cause of action stated in his amended complaint for defamation is not allowed under the GTLA. Accordingly, plaintiff's fourth claim for relief for defamation will be DISMISSED as to defendant Blount Memorial.

However, plaintiff asserts that his fifth claim for relief for interference with prospective business relations is not barred by the GTLA. In his amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that the wrongful conduct of Blount Memorial has interfered with his business relations with defendant, his patients at defendant's hospital and other facilities, and insurance companies. Blount Memorial contends that plaintiff's claim for interference with prospective business relations is barred by § 29-20-205(2) of the GTLA which provides an exception to the removal of immunity for injuries arising from "interference with contract rights." T.C.A. § 29-20-205(2); Hobson v. Metro. Govt. Of Nashville, 2003 WL 22071545. Blount Memorial argues that the exception to the removal of immunity for interference claims stated in § 29-20-205(2) should apply to claims based on interference with prospective business relationships as well as contractual relationships.

In Trau-Med of Am., Inc v. Allstate Ins. Co., 71 S.W.3d 691 (Tenn. 2002), the Tennessee Supreme Court stated that the cause of action for intentional interference with a business relationship is merely "an extension of the well-known [tort of] interference with contractual relations. Id. at 699. The court further explained that the business relationships protected by the tort of intentional interference with business relationships "include any prospective contractual relations . . . if the potential contract would be of pecuniary value," including a "continuous business or other customary relationship" which is non-contractual. Id. at 701 (emphasis provided). As this tort is an extension of the tort of interference with contractual relations, the court finds that it is also subject to the GTLA's retention of immunity for claims of interference with contract rights. See Martinek v. United States, 254 F.Supp.2d 777, 790 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (determining that claims for interference with business relationships fall within the exclusion for claims arising out of interference with contract rights). Accordingly, plaintiff's fifth claim for relief for interference with business relations will be DISMISSED as to defendant Blount Memorial.

IV.

Dr. Siddiqi's Motion to Dismiss Defendant, Dr. Naseem Siddiqi, moves the court to dismiss all of plaintiff's claims against him. First, Dr. Siddiqi asserts that plaintiff's claims brought under § 1983 should be dismissed because Dr. Siddiqi is a private actor whose actions cannot be fairly attributed to the state, and secondly, because they are time-barred. Plaintiff's constitutional claims for retaliation and violation of due process and his claim for defamation are governed by Tennessee's one- year statute of limitations. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(3). Dr. Siddiqi claims that Dr. Hatab knew or should have known about these potential causes of action when his privileges were suspended as a "precaution" in November of 2004. However, Dr. Hatab's privileges were not finally suspended until February 21, 2006, after completion of the hospital's investigation, fair hearing process, and an ...


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