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Christian Guier, M.D v. Teton County Hospital District

February 24, 2011

CHRISTIAN GUIER, M.D., APPELLANT (PETITIONER),
v.
TETON COUNTY HOSPITAL DISTRICT, D/B/A ST. JOHN'S MEDICAL CENTER, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT*, and BURKE, JJ. *Chief Justice at time of oral argument.

NOTICE:

This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Dr. Christian Guier appeals from an order of the district court affirming a decision by St. John's Medical Center Board of Trustees to revoke his medical staff privileges. After reviewing the entire record, we conclude the Board's decision is supported by substantial evidence, is not arbitrary or capricious, and is otherwise in accordance with law. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Dr. Guier presents the following issues for review:

1. Whether Dr. Guier was denied his constitutional and statutory right to a contested case hearing when the Agency reversed the burden of proof.

2. Whether the Agency's breach of the Medical Staff Reappointment Agreement, by refusing to notify Dr. Guier of complaints that had been made against him, its disregard for its own policies, and its persistent concealment of evidence, renders its decision arbitrary and capricious.

St. John's styles the issues as follows:

1. Was the burden of proof applied appropriately in Dr. Guier's fair hearing? In any event was there substantial evidence to support the Board's final decision?

2. Did St. John's Medical Center provide Dr. Guier procedural due process?

3. Did St. John's Medical Center act arbitrarily and capriciously?

FACTS

[¶3] Teton County Hospital District, doing business as St. John's Medical Center, is a Wyoming Governmental Agency organized pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 35-2-401 through 35-2-404. St. John's Board of Trustees (Board of Trustees or Board) is an "agency" as defined by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-101(b)(i). Medical Staff Bylaws govern the management of the Hospital and were adopted pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-2-113. As a requirement of continuing medical staff membership, all physicians must periodically submit an application for reappointment. The application for reappointment requires physicians to abide by all of the Bylaws, including those governing standards of professional conduct, and to sign a Code of Conduct resolution.

[¶4] Dr. Guier, an orthopedic surgeon, joined the medical staff in 1990. During his tenure, Dr. Guier exhibited disruptive behavior in the operating room on multiple occasions. Prior to the events leading to this litigation, the operating room staff at St. John's had refused to work with Dr. Guier on two occasions due to his disruptive behavior. The first of these incidents occurred in 1992 and the second occurred sometime between 1994 and 1996. A focused review of Dr. Guier's performance at the hospital was conducted from December 1, 2005 through May 31, 2006.*fn1 The summary report from that review stated that "[r]epeated instances of behavioral issues with Dr. Guier have created a strain in the working relationships between Dr. Guier and some members of the staff."

[¶5] In May of 2006, Dr. Guier completed an application for reappointment to the medical staff. As part of its consideration of Dr. Guier's application, the Medical Executive Committee (MEC), the professional review body at the Hospital, reviewed the focused report. In a June 21, 2006 letter, the Chief-of-Staff of the Hospital advised Dr. Guier that "the MEC is concerned about your professional conduct. Your inappropriate interactions with staff on several occasions, as noted in the focused review report, raise questions about your ability to work reasonably with others in the hospital." In July, the MEC recommended a six-month reappointment of Dr. Guier's privileges, on the conditions that Dr. Guier would sign a Medical Staff Reappointment Agreement and that the MEC would continue the focused review of his professional conduct and clinical performance for the entire term of the reappointment. The Reappointment Agreement identified several specific behavioral concerns and set forth the following conditions of reappointment:

a. Dr. Guier shall not, under any circumstances, shout or otherwise raise his voice with any individual at St. John's, including but not limited to, nurses, administrative staff or other employees, Medical Staff members, patients or visitors. This includes responding to any individual who calls to discuss concerns or issues regarding Dr. Guier or his patients.

b. Dr. Guier shall not, under any circumstances, make discourteous comments, including but not limited to, name calling, or give discourteous orders or demands to any individual at St. John's, including but not limited to, nurses, administrative staff or other employees, Medical Staff members, patients or visitors. This includes responding to any individual who calls to discuss concerns or issues regarding Dr. Guier or his patients.

c. Dr. Guier shall not, under any circumstances, criticize any individual at St. John's in front of or within earshot of any other individual at St. John's, including but not limited to, nurses, administrative staff or other employees, Medical Staff members, patients or visitors. Dr. Guier will address any criticisms of or concerns about employees or staff members to the appropriate supervisor in a courteous manner and in private.

d. Dr. Guier shall not threaten, physically or otherwise, any person at St. John's, including but not limited to, nurses, administrative staff or other employees, Medical Staff members, patients or visitors.

e. Dr. Guier shall not exhibit any other inappropriate, unprofessional or disruptive behavior while on St. John's premises.

Dr. Guier signed the Reappointment Agreement on July 10, 2006, after writing his own "addendum," which he testified was "an avenue in which we could try and institute some reasonable process to try and deal with some of the issues that were at hand." The typewritten addendum appeared at the bottom of the last page of the Agreement and was signed by Dr. Guier. It provided:

This agreement is signed with the understanding, that certain terms need to be defined, some facts or conclusions are in need of verification, and that the agreement is subject to acceptable amendments to be agreed upon in the near future. As a beginning we agree to due process in the event of any complaint brought against Dr. Guier and vice versa, by Dr. Guier against the Hospital Staff or Medical Staff. Due process is defined as (1) notification of a complaint (2) the nature of the complaint (3) an opportunity to respond and (4) call for witnesses (including the accusers with some exceptions)[.] Due process needs to be granted to all individuals from the beginning.

The Board of Trustees approved the six-month reappointment.

[¶6] In the ensuing months, several employees reported incidents of Dr. Guier's inappropriate behavior. Some of these incidents were verbally relayed to supervisors and others were also documented in written reports. The supervisors did not discuss the verbal reports with Dr. Guier at the time they were made. The workplace discord reached a crisis level on October 16, 2006 when the MEC was presented with a "Work Refusal Petition" signed by the entire operating room staff. The Petition stated:

This petition represents repeated documented occurrences in the operating room as well as psychological abuse in a hostile work environment. This petition also represents the concerns of the current operating room staff at St. John[']s Medical Center. These concerns are in reference to Dr. Chris Guier and his repeated abuse to the operating room staff. We have exhausted our pleas for change and have finally resorted to this method of resolution. As of this 16th day of October 2006, the Operating Room staff at St. John[']s Medical Center refuses to continue performing any cases with Dr. Chris Guier. The signatures below support this letter, as a much anticipated resolution is needed.

(Emphasis in original.) The MEC discussed the Petition with Dr. Guier at a meeting held the following day. At that meeting, the doctor in charge of the focused review shared the findings from the latest focused review report with Dr. Guier. The doctor explained that the most significant part of the report involved Dr. Guier's interaction with operating room personnel, and noted that all of the incident reports generated regarding Dr. Guier had been discussed with him by human resources. Dr. Guier acknowledged that he had reviewed the incident reports, but stated that no one had brought up to him that there were behavioral issues. He stated that the Petition came as a surprise to him because he made an attempt to address problems in the operating room as they arose.

[¶7] At the conclusion of the meeting, the Medical Executive Committee summarily suspended Dr. Guier's privileges for 29 days pending investigations by the Hospital's CEO and by an ad hoc committee created by the MEC. Dr. Guier was notified in writing of the suspension and of the fact that there was a request for an investigation pursuant to the Bylaws. The MEC informed Dr. Guier that

it was the unanimous consensus of the MEC that there are reasonable grounds to believe your conduct and activities pose a threat to the life, health, or safety of any patient, employee, or other person present at the Hospital and that the failure to take prompt action may result in imminent danger to the life, health or safety of any ...


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