California Anti-SLAPP Statute Protection Applies to Hospital's Termination of Physician Staff Contract


California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 – known as the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute – provides a procedural mechanism to test, before costly discovery and pre-trial proceedings, the viability of certain lawsuits. The statute provides for a special motion to strike and dismiss actions determined to have been brought "primarily to chill the valid exercise of constitutional rights of freedom of speech." The California Supreme Court has interpreted Section 425.16 to apply to an action arising after hospital peer review proceedings involving a staff physician because peer review is statutorily mandated, part of California's comprehensive physician-licensing scheme, and subject to judicial review. (Kibler v. Northern Inyo County Local Hospital District, 39 Cal4th 192, 196, 199-200 (2006).) Recently, the California Court of Appeal in Nesson v. Northern Inyo County Local Hospital District, __ Cal.App.4th __ (February 10, 2012), extended Section 425.16 to a hospital's cancellation of a physician's service contract following the summary suspension of his medical privileges by the medical staff's peer review committee.

The plaintiff, a radiologist, contracted with a hospital to administer the hospital's radiology department. The contract required the plaintiff to maintain membership on the hospital's active medical staff. Citing incidents of substandard patient care and episodes of erratic conduct, the medical staff's Medical Executive Committee (MEC) summarily suspended the plaintiff's staff privileges pending the completion of its peer review investigation. The hospital then terminated the plaintiff's contract, finding he could not fulfill the contract without having medical staff privileges. The plaintiff did not pursue an administrative appeal of his suspension. Instead, he filed a civil complaint for damages against the hospital alleging breach of contract, retaliation and discrimination claims based on the hospital's cancellation of his services contract.

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