MARSHALL - Parties in a lawsuit brought against Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center had their say in court on Wednesday during a hearing with a Lyon County District Court judge. After hearing legal arguments from attorneys, Judge Michelle Dietrich took the case under advisement and will rule on it in the near future.
The hearing addressed two issues: Avera Marshall's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order preventing Avera Marshall from implementing new staff bylaws. Around 20 spectators were present in the courtroom gallery Wednesday, including representatives of both the plaintiffs and the defendants in the lawsuit. A few Avera Marshall doctors seated in the gallery's front row were wearing their white coats.
The lawsuit was brought against Avera Marshall earlier this year, by Dr. Steven Meister, the hospital's chief of staff, and Dr. Jane Willett, on behalf of the medical staff. The suit alleges that Avera Marshall has violated medical staff bylaws and prevented the chief of staff and the hospital's Medical Executive Committee from fulfilling their duties. The plaintiffs are seeking a judgment that the medical staff bylaws are a contract between the hospital and medical staff. Plaintiffs are also seeking a temporary restraining order against Avera Marshall.
Both the American Medical Association and the Minnesota Medical Association had asked to be heard as friends of the court in the lawsuit. Earlier this week, the judge issued an order denying a motion to appear as friends of the court in the suit.
David Crosby, attorney for Avera Marshall, argued that the plaintiffs did not have the standing to sue Avera Marshall. The medical staff and Medical Executive Committee were created by the medical center, and were not unincorporated groups, he said. Crosby also argued that Minnesota statutes say a non-profit organization like the medical center should be governed by its board of directors.
Kathy Kimmel, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that the medical staff and MEC were unincorporated groups that represented physicians both affiliated with and not affiliated with the medical center. Avera Marshall's medical staff bylaws formed an agreement which both the medical staff and the hospital needed to follow, she said.
Attorneys also gave arguments concerning the plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order against Avera Marshall. Arguments both for and against the order focused on whether the medical staff bylaws constituted a contract, and whether issuing or not issuing a restraining order would harm Avera Marshall or the medical staff.
During both portions of the hearing, attorneys clashed over whether or not the lawsuit was spurred by conflict between Avera Marshall and Affiliated Community Medical Centers. ACMC did not file the lawsuit against Avera, although the two medical staff members named as plaintiffs are affiliated with the group. However, Crosby argued that ACMC was paying for the suit, and that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would result in a for-profit organization controlling staff decisions at the non-profit medical center. Kimmel's responses included that the medical staff also included physicians who were affiliated with neither Avera Marshall nor ACMC, and that Avera-affiliated staff were among those who voted against proposed changes to staff bylaws. She also argued that the Avera Marshall board of directors would be making unilateral decisions regarding medical staff.
After asking attorneys questions about their arguments, Dietrich said she would take the case under advisement. Dietrich said she understood time was a factor in ruling on the motion for a temporary restraining order and would try to issue orders as quickly as possible.