California Doctor Sues Over State Malpractice Reporting Process

On Friday a case was filed in the Eastern District of California by Dr. Sundar Natarajan against Dignity Health and its subsidiary, St. Joseph’s Medical Center. The case is regarding the constitutionality of delegating the responsibility for monitoring, reporting, and disciplining California physicians for medical malpractice to private institutions, such as hospitals, without an element of state due process in the court systems.

The plaintiff was a practicing doctor with medical privileges at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, according to the complaint. The plaintiff quotes the codification of the requirement for a “fair hearing” in the physician disciplinary process in 1989, including the stated purpose to protect both patient safety and the rights of physicians to practice their professions. The plaintiff also cites caselow demonstrating that “the Business and Professions Code sets out a comprehensive scheme that incorporates the peer review process into the overall process for the licensure of California physicians.”

The plaintiff argues that the delegation of authority without certain guarantees of due process is unconstitutional. Specifically, the plaintiff notes that the current system allows the healthcare corporations the unilateral right to choose the judge and jury in the adversarial process, that there is no known objective standards mandated for the hearing, there is no timely independent judicial review of the original hearings, and that the hospital entities act under color of law. The plaintiff specifically argues that these issues affected his hearing with St. Joseph’s Medical Center, especially the factor regarding the right to chose the arbiter, as Dr. Natarajan specifically argues that the choice of hearing officer was biased and directed the outcome of his hearing.

The plaintiff is suing for declaratory judgment that the statute is unconstitutional as well as seeking injunctive relief of reinstatement of his privileges. The plaintiff is represented by the Law Office of Tara Natarajan.