SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. (April 10, 2012)–After a seven-week trial and one day of deliberations, a jury in Santa Barbara rejected anti-trust conspiracy claims by spine surgeon Dr. Alan Moelleken against Cottage Hospital and four of its on-call neurosurgeons. Moelleken claimed the hospital and surgeons conspired to deliberately keep him from joining the hospital’s on-call medical panel that provides emergency brain and spinal treatment, and in doing so, prevented him from earning as much as $5 million over five years. (Alan Moelleken, M.D., et al vs. Cottage Health System, et al, County of Santa Barbara Superior Court, Case No 1339785). The defense verdict was reached on April 6, 2012.
“Moelleken had plenty of opportunity to show he could be a reliable panel member,” says A. Barry Cappello, managing partner of the Santa Barbara law firm of Cappello & Noël who represented the four on-call emergency room neurosurgeons (Dr. Thomas Jones, Dr. Scott Conner, Dr. Richard Chung and Dr. Alois Zauner with Santa Barbara Neurosurgery Associates). “He was given a chance to serve on the panel in 2000 but proved unreliable. Two independent panels of doctors convened by the hospital came to the conclusion that he should not be added.”
Representing Cottage Hospital during trial was Jeffrey LeVee, partner with the Los Angeles office of Jones Day. Evidence and testimony were presented by Cappello and LeVee that showed Moelleken was not harmed financially by Cottage Hospital’s decision, with Moelleken making about $11 million a year from his orthopedic clinics and a surgical center. “Moelleken makes more than the surgeons he was suing,” says Cappello. “The jury didn’t buy that he suffered financially. This was a case of someone who tried to use the legal system to bully others when he didn’t get his way.”
Cappello sees this case as having an impact on hospitals throughout the country. “If Moelleken had won,” says Cappello, “a doctor could sue every time a hospital makes a decision that benefits a patient but doesn’t financially benefit the doctor. The decision on who should be included on a hospital emergency call panel should be made by doctors independent of the hospital, as was in this case, with patient health as the deciding factor. A doctor’s ego or greed should not play a role.”
The jury voted nine to three to reject the claim that Cottage Hospital had engaged in anti-trust conspiratory behavior injurious to Moelleken. The jury also voted to reject the claims against the four surgeons by the same or greater numbers.