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Talley v. Christiana Care Health System

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 19, 2019

LYNN E. TALLEY, D.O., Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTIANA CARE HEALTH SYSTEM, MATTHEW K. HOFFMAN, MD, and KENNETH L. SILVERSTEIN, MD, Defendants.

          Michele D. Allen and Catilyn E. Quinn, ALLEN AND ASSOCIATES, Hockessin, DE, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Joanna J. Cline and James H. S. Levine, PEPPER HAMILTON LLP, Wilmington, DE; Barbara T. Sicalides, Barak A. Bassman, and Megan Morley, PEPPER HAMILTON LLP, Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BURKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff Lynn Talley ("Plaintiff) now presses only Delaware state law claims against Defendants Matthew K. Hoffman, M.D. ("Dr. Hoffman"), Kenneth L. Silverstein, M.D. ("Dr. Silverstein") and Christiana Care Health System ("Christiana Care") (collectively, "Defendants"). In the operative Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), Plaintiff alleges breach of contract against Christiana Care (Count I), defamation against Christiana Care (Count II), interference with prospective economic advantage against all Defendants (Count III), tortious interference with contractual relations against all Defendants (Count IV), and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count V) against Christiana Care. (D.I. 67) Presently before the Court is Defendants Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Silverstein's (collectively, the "Individual Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Counts III and IV of the SAC against them, which is filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (the "Motion").[1] (D.I. 70) For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the Motion with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. The Parties

         Plaintiff is a board-certified physician in the field of obstetrics and gynecology ("OB-GYN" or "OB/GYN"). (D.I. 67 at ¶¶ 2, 15) She is a resident of Pennsylvania and previously had a private practice in Newark, Delaware. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 10)

         Christiana Care, a teaching hospital, is a private, non-profit corporation with its headquarters located in Newark, Delaware. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 34)[2] Dr. Hoffman works in Delaware as the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Christiana Care. (Id. at ¶ 4) Dr. Silverstein works in Delaware as the Chief Clinical Officer of Christiana Care. (Id. at ¶ 5)

         2. Plaintiffs Tenure at Christiana Care and the Events Leading to Her Termination

         Plaintiff, a member of the Medical-Dental Staff at Christiana Care from 1982 until her termination on July 15, 2016, was granted privileges to practice medicine at Christiana Care in accordance with the Medical-Dental Staff Bylaws ("Bylaws") and the Medical-Dental Staff Credentials Manual ("Credentials Manual"). (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17)

         As is set out in the SAC, Plaintiffs tenure with Christiana Care was rocky at times. The SAC describes how Plaintiff: (1) was at one point placed on a "Focused Professional Practice Evaluation[;]" (2) was required in 2014 to take a voluntary leave of absence; and (3) was removed from the teaching service for four weeks in 2015, due to complaints made against her by residents. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 27-28, 43-44) In various ways, Plaintiff alleges that these negative employment actions were not due to her fault, but due to the wrongful acts of her colleagues. (Id.)

         Then, around March 24, 2016, Christiana Care precautionarily suspended Plaintiff by way of a letter sent to Plaintiff by Dr. Silverstein. (Id. at ¶ 47; D.I. 71, ex. A) According to the letter, this suspension came about because, inter alia, Plaintiff had not appropriately handled a Cesarean Section that Plaintiff performed on a patient on March 15, 2016, and because, more generally, Plaintiffs behavior and interactions did not promote a working environment that was '"conducive to team-based patient care'" or to the '"education of residents.'" (D.I. 67 at ¶ 50; D.I. 71, ex. A) Because her privileges were now suspended, Plaintiff had to seek immediate coverage for her patients. (D.I. 67 at ¶ 54) Plaintiff asserts that Christiana Care's ultimate intention with this suspension was for its OB-GYN hospitalists and its OB-GYN group in Greenville, Delaware to absorb Plaintiffs patients. (Id. at ¶ 56)

         Meanwhile, Plaintiff alleges that on or about April 21, 2016, Dr. Hoffman was sent a report via e-mail regarding provider Cesarean Section rates for the period January 2013 through 2016. (Id. at ¶ 73) According to the data in the report, Plaintiff had performed 470 procedures during the listed time period. (Id. at ΒΆ 75) Plaintiff thus alleges that Dr. Hoffman was aware of the contractual relationship that Plaintiff had with these patients, and that he ...


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