Anticompetitive Conduct Suit Filed Against Texas Hospital

Friday marked the filing of a suit in the Western District of Texas against defendants Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa, Cigarroa Heart and Vascular Institute, Laredo Texas Hospital Company and Laredo Physician Associates by plaintiffs Doctors Hospital of Laredo and Laredo Physicians Group. The complaint came amid allegations that the defendants were engaging in anticompetitive conduct regarding the availability of cardiologists in Laredo, Texas.

In August 2020, according to the complaint, the plaintiffs began actively recruiting cardiologists to the city of Laredo to ensure that the citizens were receiving “prompt and high quality cardiological care.” They explain that given the size and population of the town, there should be a minimum of 20 cardiologists available in the area. However, Laredo is home to just 8 cardiologists, 6 of whom are just “interventional cardiologists, the type needed to support acute-care hospitals and patients with acute cardiology needs.”

The complaint accuses the defendants of engaging in anticompetitive and tortious behavior. When Dr. Cigarroa heard of the plaintiff’s intent to recruit additional cardiologists, he allegedly entered into a conspiracy with the other defendants where the plaintiff describes their goal was to “deprive Doctors Hospital and Physicians Groups of the doctors and employees needed to compete and provide interventional cardiology services to the Laredo market.”

The alleged conspiracy was carried out through threats to Doctors Hospital and prospective interventional cardiologists who the plaintiff was reaching out to. Through threats and coercion, the defendants were able to prevent multiple cardiologists from taking employment in Laredo. The defendants then informed Doctors Hospital that they would “no longer respond” to emergency calls from the plaintiff. Since the defendants represent over half of the interventional cardiologists in the town, the plaintiffs believe this behavior constitutes anticompetitive conduct.

The defendants furthered their misconduct when they “induced Dr. Santos [Doctors Hospital’s only cardiovascular surgeon] to agree to join Defendant LPA, breaching his enforceable non-compete contractual provision.” After securing Dr. Santos, the defendants allegedly induced the cardiothoracic surgery technicians at Doctors Hospital to join LMC and work with Dr. Cigarroa and Dr. Santos.

The misconduct of the defendants has injured the plaintiffs as the Doctors Hospital’s “acute-care cardiology program will be threatened with extinction and, critically, Laredo patients are left with higher health care costs and greater health risks and without competitive market alternatives.” The plaintiffs claim that the behavior violates both federal and state law. The complaint cites violations of the Sherman Act (restraint of trade, monopolization, attempted monopolization) and two counts of tortious interference. They are seeking favorable judgement, pre and post-judgement interest, and litigation fees.

The plaintiffs are represented by Yetter Coleman, LLP.