The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

April 11, 2014

Most of doc’s lawsuit still stands

SHARON — A local judge has left mostly intact a lawsuit filed by a doctor against Sharon Regional Health System, Sharon Regional Physician Services and Sharon Regional CEO John R. “Jack” Janoso Jr.

Dr. Craig A. McKinney sued after he was fired for admitting he had smoked marijuana while employed by physician services and failing a drug test.

The suit alleges breach of contract, violation of the state’s wage law, malicious prosecution, breach of statutory duty and defamation.

Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John dismissed the breach-of-statutory-duty claim, in which McKinney argued the defendants should not have reported their actions against McKinney to the state Board of Medicine. The board suspended McKinney’s license temporarily.

The Medical Practice Act requires that hospital or health care facilities with “substantial evidence that a professional has an addictive disease for which the professional is not seeking treatment” file a report with the Board of Medicine.

McKinney argued he does not have an addictive disease.

St. John said the law grants immunity to anyone who files a report “in good faith and without malice,” and does not establish a process of recourse for anyone who believes he or she was wrongly reported.

Concerning the breach-of-contract count, aimed at the health system and physician services, McKinney argued he was fired without proper notice as specified in his contract.

The defendants said his conduct irreparably destroyed the trust they had with him, and that the health system is not a party to the contract.

St. John said the claim against the health system seeks to “pierce the corporate veil” by arguing that the health system and physician services are essentially the same entity.

McKinney alleged enough facts to proceed with that claim, including the fact the Janoso is chief executive officer and president of both entities; his hiring by physician services gave him privileges at the health system’s hospital; the entities share an address; and Janoso used health system letterhead to inform McKinney of his firing and the state Board of Medicine of McKinney’s admitting to smoking pot, St. John said.

As to whether McKinney’s conduct trumps the contract’s notice requirements, that’s an issue best left for a fact finder, meaning a jury or a judge acting upon a summary judgment motion, St. John said.

The corporate veil argument also rules the wage claim against the health system and physician services. However, St. John dismissed a wage claim against Janoso because it is not alleged that he violated the contract as an individual.

In the malicious-prosecution claim, McKinney alleged a letter Janoso sent to the Board of Medicine “is false and/or lies,” St. John said. Because the suspension occurred less than a week after the letter was sent, he can infer “that no investigation was conducted before the suspension,” St. John said.

McKinney also claimed he was defamed by the letter. St. John said the claim includes all the elements required for a defamation action.

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