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O'Hea v. George Regional Health & Rehabilitation Center

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 11, 2018

KEVIN O'HEA, M.D. APPELLANT
v.
GEORGE REGIONAL HEALTH & REHABILITATION CENTER D/B/A GEORGE REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEM COMMUNITY MEDICAL CENTER A/K/A GEORGE COUNTY HOSPITAL AND PAUL GARDNER, INDIVIDUALLY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/22/2017

          GEORGE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. KATHY KING JACKSON TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: WILLIAM MITCHELL CUNNINGHAM TROY THOMAS SCHWANT

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: JOSEPH LEE ADAMS LINDSAY THOMAS DOWDLE

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ.

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. Kevin O'Hea appeals the judgment of the George County Circuit Court, alleging that the court erred in granting summary judgment based on the following reasons: (1) he was not allowed to conduct discovery; (2) there was evidence in the record that his claims were properly stated, preserved under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) notice provision, and not barred by the one-year statute of limitations; (3) his abuse-of-process claim was proper because the Mississippi Board of Medical Examiners has statutory powers and privileges similar to the legal system. We find no merit to O'Hea's arguments; therefore, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. O'Hea worked as a physician at George County Hospital (GCH), which is a community hospital and undisputedly a political subdivision, governed by the MTCA.[1] On June 3, 2011, GCH terminated O'Hea in accordance with the provisions in his employment contract, which allowed GCH to terminate him upon giving a 120-day's notice. On April 12, 2012, O'Hea sent a notice of claims letter to Paul Gardner, the chief executive officer of GCH.[2] According to O'Hea, Gardner received the notice the next day. O'Hea states that he took no action and did not file his lawsuit during the ninety-five days after Gardner's receipt of the notice letter because of relevant provisions of the MTCA. GCH did not respond to the notice. On August 17, 2012, O'Hea filed his complaint, specifically alleging that on or about July 3, 2011, GCH had published in The Mississippi Press a letter that stated his termination was due to the fact that he would not abide by the rules and policies of the hospital. He further alleged that on or about July 5, 2011, among other alleged false statements, Gardner told over 100 people at a county board of supervisors meeting that he had failed a prescription narcotics audit, which O'Hea contends was not true. Finally, O'Hea contended that GCH (and Gardner acting as CEO) committed abuse of process when they made an allegedly false report to the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure that he had been released from his contract with GCH because he had violated hospital policy regarding the over prescribing of narcotics.

         ¶3. As a result, O'Hea, was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation to determine whether his license should be restricted, suspended, or revoked. He was also compelled to attend a hearing concerning his fitness to practice medicine in Mississippi. Notably, he maintained that none of the allegations made by Gardner and GCH were true. O'Hea's complaint was filed against both of those defendants, which the defendants jointly replied to-denying all allegations in the complaint.

         ¶4. GCH and Garner later filed a joint motion for summary judgment, and O'Hea filed a Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) motion.[3] The circuit court denied O'Hea's motion and granted summary judgment in favor of GCH and Gardner on all claims. Having abandoned his negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, O'Hea now appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶5. The standard of review, pursuant to Vicksburg Healthcare LLC v. Dees, 152 So.3d 1171, 1173-74 (¶5) (Miss. 2014) (citations omitted), is as follows:

This [c]ourt will review the circuit court's denial of [d]efendants' motion for summary judgment under a de novo standard. All evidence will be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. If no genuine issue of material fact exists to be resolved, then summary judgment shall be granted, as a matter of law, in favor of the movant.

         I. Discovery

         ¶6. "Trial [c]ourts are afforded broad discretion in discovery matters, and this [c]ourt will not overturn a trial court's decision unless there is an abuse of discretion." Newsome v. Shoemake, 234 So.3d 1215, 1226 (ΒΆ43) (Miss. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The decision to grant or deny a continuance is within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed solely where ...


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