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BALTIERRA v. WEST VIRGINIA BOARD OF MEDICINE

March 31, 2003

MARIA DE JESUS BALTIERRA, M.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
WEST VIRGINIA BOARD OF MEDICINE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, a physician, filed this case seeking injunctive and declaratory relief and damages for alleged violations of her federal and state rights in connection with the revocation of her medical license. The initial complaint named the West Virginia Board of Medicine, its individual members, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and 50 Doe defendants. After the West Virginia defendants filed a motion to dismiss, plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint, expanding on her allegations and adding as defendants the North Dakota State Board of Medical Examiners, its individual members and its Executive Secretary, Rolf P. Sletten, and a defendant whom she named as "Buffalo General Hospital Department of Family Medicine, SUNY-Buffalo" ("SUNY-Buffalo").*fn1

All defendants have filed dispositive motions, which plaintiff has opposed. This Memorandum and Order only resolves the motion of SUNY-Buffalo and certain other motions that have become moot. The remaining motions will be addressed by the Court in the near future.

I. Background

To summarize the complaint insofar as it relates to the motions that will be addressed at this time, plaintiff asserts the following: Plaintiff received the degree of doctor of medicine from the University of Minnesota in 1981. Complaint ("Compl.")*fn2 ¶¶ 7-10, 12-14, 24. She completed her post-graduate year in two parts, receiving three months credit from SUNY-Buffalo and ten months credit from the Transitional Medicine Program at the Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, West Virginia. Compl. ¶ 26. Plaintiff then was granted permanent licensure in West Virginia, effective May 2, 1992. Compl. ¶ 27. Focusing on emergency medicine, plaintiff then obtained licenses in Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. Compl. ¶¶ 29-40. She renewed her West Virginia license five times through 2002, without incident or disciplinary action. Compl. ¶ 28.

In 1998, plaintiff was recruited to work in North Dakota with the increasing Hispanic migrant worker population and obtained a temporary license in that state. Compl. ¶¶ 45-46. However, her application for a permanent license was denied, allegedly because she made a false statement in response to one question on the application. The answer related to her training at SUNY-Buffalo, was provided with the advice of counsel, and was based on her understanding that a resident/intern could not be "terminated" "in the traditional sense of the word." Compl. ¶¶ 55, 56. Plaintiff alleges that the claim that she made a false statement on the application is based on a letter that defendant Sletten, executive director of the North Dakota Board, "solicited directly" from Dr. Daniel Morelli, Vice-Chair of the Department of Medicine at SUNY-Buffalo. Compl. ¶¶ 57, 64, 65. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Morelli's statements contained in his letter were false and were made with the knowledge that his letter would be used to deny plaintiff a North Dakota license and also would be used against her in disciplinary actions by other licensing boards. Compl. ¶¶ 66-72. As a result, plaintiff alleges that she was denied a permanent license in North Dakota. Compl. ¶ 82.

Plaintiff further alleges that the information from Morelli was passed on by Sletten to defendant Ronald Walton, executive director of the West Virginia Board, which then instituted a proceeding against plaintiff which resulted in revocation of her West Virginia license. Compl. ¶¶ 83-90, 130. Plaintiff challenges numerous aspects, both substantive and procedural, of the West Virginia proceedings. Compl. ¶¶ 91-130, 139, 140, 143-52.

Plaintiff alleges that defendant Secretary of Health and Human Services maintains a database of complaints against physicians that is intended to encourage licensing boards to "identify and discipline those who engage in unprofessional behavior, and to restrict the ability of incompetent physicians . . . to move from State to State. . . ." Plaintiff asserts that the database is maintained pursuant to the Healthcare Quality and Improvement Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11101 et seq., Compl. ¶¶ 143, 154. Although plaintiff asserts that she has had no history of misconduct in her practice of medicine, the North Dakota board submitted information about her to the defendant Secretary which was published on the database. This caused the West Virginia Board to initiate disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff, which resulted in her license revocation by that state, which in turn was reported to the Secretary. Compl. ¶¶ 155, 156, 168-172. Plaintiff's efforts to have the Secretary correct the information provided by the North Dakota Board were unsatisfactory. Compl. ¶¶ 175-178, 181-82.

II. The Motion of SUNY-Buffalo

Plaintif's claim against defendant SUNY-Buffalo is summarized in her First Amended Complaint:

whether the BGH, through the actions of its staff, agents, faculty and representatives, can escape scrutiny and liability for submitting a false report relating to BALTIERRA's medical training and separation from the SUNY-Buffalo Family Medicine Training Program, knowing full well the destructive impact such a report would have on her licensure status, her profession and her ability to earn a livelihood as a physician.
Compl. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Morelli knew her statement in the letter to Sletten that she had been terminated from training in February 1987 was false. Further, plaintiff claims, Morelli made the statement "with full knowledge that this letter would be used" to reject plaintiff's application for licensure in North Dakota and also in future disciplinary actions by other agencies. Compl. ¶¶ 57, 64-80.

Defendant SUNY-Buffalo has filed a motion to dismiss, encompassed in a Notice of Motion to Dismiss and an Affidavit prepared by Barbra A. Kavanaugh, an Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York and attorney for the defendant. See Notice of Motion to Dismiss 02-541 ("SUNY-Buffalo Mot."). Although there is no memorandum in support of the motion, the motion is based on several sections of Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and alleges that the grounds for the motion are lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, improper venue, insufficiency of service of process, and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. In addition, Kavanaugh's affidavit asserts that plaintiff "has failed to allege that Defendant [SUNY-Buffalo] has engaged in any activity or has had any contacts within the District of Columbia sufficient to enable this Court to exercise jurisdiction over the [d]efendant." Id., Affidavit of Barbra A. Kavanaugh at ¶ 8. The motion filed on behalf of this New York defendant, while not as extensive as motions usually filed in this Court, is a concise statement of the grounds on which the defendant relies.

All defendants except the federal defendant have raised the issue whether their contacts with the District of Columbia are sufficient to enable this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over them in this case. In an Order issued on August 15, 2002, plaintiff was given 30 days to respond to the motion filed by SUNY-Buffalo, and was informed that if she did not respond the Court might treat the motion as conceded and dismiss her claims against this defendant. Plaintiff submitted a very brief response to the New York defendant's motion as part of her opposition to the motions of the North Dakota State Board of Medical Examiners and the West Virginia Board of Medicine, which was filed September 23, 2002 ("Opposition") (Docket Number 57), pp. 3-4, 8-9.*fn3 In support of her position that this Court can exercise jurisdiction, plaintiff relies on the District of Columbia long arm statute, 13 D.C. Code § 423 (2001), and alternatively on the general statute authorizing personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations that do business within the District of Columbia. See Opposition, pp. 8-9.*fn4

In order for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident, the prospective defendant must have contacts with the jurisdiction sufficient to satisfy "`traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" See Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1941)). Without such minimum contacts, intentionally established, due process is violated when a defendant is required to respond to process in a foreign state. See Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 474 (1985); Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958). The contacts must be such that the defendant reasonably ...


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