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Alexian Brothers Medical Center v. Sebelius

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 12, 2014

ALEXIAN BROTHERS MEDICAL CENTER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendant

For Alexian Brothers Medical Center, All Saints Hospital, Arlington Memorial Hospital, Baptist Memorial Health System, Baylor University Medical Center, Baylor University Medical Center at Garland, Baylor University Medical Center at Irving, College Hospital Costa Mesa, Community Health Center of Branch County, Community Health Partners West, Cooper Health System, Eastern Maine Healthcare System-Emmc, Freeman Health System, Harris Methodist Erath County, Harris Methodist Fort Worth, Harris Methodist Walls Regional Hospital, Hillcrest Healthcare System, Lourdes Hospital, Lutheran Medical Center, Marshall Regional Medical Center, Memorial Healthcare Center, Memorial Hermann Hospital System, Memorial Hermann Hospital System-Memorial Hospital, Memorial Hermann Hospital System-Memorial Hospital Pasadena, Mercy Franciscan Mt. Airy, Mercy Hospital Anderson, Mercy Hospital of Clermont, Mercy Hospital of Scranton, Mercy Hospital of Tiffin, Mercy Hospital of Wilkes-Barre, Mercy Medical Center, Methodist Medical Center of Illinois, Nyack Hospital, O'Connor Hospital, Parkland Health And Hospital System, Polly Ryon Memorial Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital of Allen, Presbyterian Hospital of Winnsboro, Re Thomason Hospital, Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Rush North Shore Medical Center, Samaritan Hospital, Seton Medical Center, St. Alexius Medical Center, St. Anne Mercy Hospital, St. Charles Mercy Hospital, St. Elizabeth Health Center, St. Francis Medical Center, St. Joseph Health Center, St. Joseph Hospital, St. Mary's Jefferson Memorial Hospital, St. Mary's Medical Center, St. Paul Medical Center, St. Rita's Medical Center, St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, Temple University Hospital, Inc., Texoma Medical Center, Community Hospital, Trinity Mother Frances Health System, Uhhs University Hospitals of Cleveland, United Regional, Valley Baptist, Zale Lipshy University Hospital, All Plaintiffs, Catholic Health Partners, Texas Health Resources, Plaintiffs: Michael R. Gottfried, DUANE MORRIS, LLP, Boston, MA, USA.

Baptist Health Services, Interested Party, Pro se, San Antonio, TX USA.

Page 106

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

The plaintiffs, sixty-five hospital providers, brought the instant suit seeking judicial review of an adverse decision by the Provider Reimbursement Review Board, the administrative forum for Medicare providers to appeal determinations by Medicare administrative contractors, that denied Medicare reimbursements to the plaintiffs. See Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. After filing the complaint in this action on behalf of the plaintiffs, plaintiffs' counsel, Duane Morris, LLP (" Duane Morris" ) now seeks to withdraw its representation before serving the complaint on the defendant. See Mot. Withdraw ¶ ¶ 1-3, ECF No. 5. According to Duane Morris, its representation of the plaintiffs in this suit was limited " to fil[ing] a Complaint on behalf of the Plaintiffs solely to preserve their rights to seek judicial review while they sought to engage other counsel." Id. ¶ 2. At the request of plaintiffs' counsel, the Court stayed this action for sixty days to provide the plaintiffs the opportunity to obtain successor counsel. See May 22, 2014 Minute Order. The stay was lifted on July 22, 2014, without an appearance by successor counsel. See July 22, 2014 Minute Order. Under D.D.C. local rule 83.6(c), a party that " intends to . . . object to the withdrawal . . . [must] so notify the Clerk in writing within seven days of service of the motion." LCvR 83.6(c). Fifteen plaintiff hospital providers filed their objection with the Clerk of the Court out of time. See Pl.'s Objection by Baptist Health Servs., ECF No. 9 (dated July 17, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by O'Connor Hosp., Robert F. Kennedy Med. Ctr., St. Francis Med. Ctr., Seton Med. Ctr., ECF No. 10 (dated July 24, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Trinity Mother Frances Health Sys., ECF No. 11 (dated July 18, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys., ECF No. 12 (dated July 25, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by St. Paul Med. Ctr., Zale Lipshy Univ. Hosp., ECF No. 13 (dated July 29, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Robert Wood

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Johnson Univ. Hosp., ECF No. 14 (dated July 30, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Cooper Health Sys., ECF No. 15 (dated July 30, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Parkland Health & Hosp. Sys., ECF No. 16 (dated July 30, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Catholic Health Partners, ECF No. 17 (dated July 30, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Texoma Med. Ctr., ECF No. 20 (dated July 30, 2014); Pl.'s Objection by Texas Health Res., ECF No. 21 (dated July 30, 2014); Pl.'s Reply and Objection by Parkland Health & Hosp. Sys., ECF No. 22 (dated August 7, 2014). To date, no successor counsel has made an appearance. For the reasons provided below, the Court shall stay this case to provide plaintiffs one final opportunity to obtain successor counsel.

LEGAL STANDARD

" As a fundamental premise, counsel is under an obligation to see the work through to completion when he agrees to undertake the representation of his client." Laster v. District of Columbia, 460 F.Supp.2d 111, 113 (D.D.C. 2006) (citation omitted); see also Byrd v. District of Columbia, 271 F.Supp.2d 174, 176 (D.D.C. 2003) (same). Under LCvR 83.6(c), " if a party's written consent is not obtained, or if the party is not represented by another attorney, an attorney may withdraw an appearance for a party only by order of the court upon motion by the attorney served upon all parties to the case." " The Court may deny an attorney's motion for leave to withdraw if the withdrawal would unduly delay trial of the case, or be unfairly prejudicial to any party, or otherwise not be in the interests of justice." LCvR 83.6(d). " The decision to grant or deny counsel's motion to withdraw is committed to the discretion of the district court." Laster, 460 F.Supp.2d at 113 (citing Whiting v. Lacara, 187 F.3d 317, 320 (2d Cir. 1999)). The Court may also consider other factors, such as the length of time the case has been pending, the time it would take for the party to secure successor counsel, and the " degree of financial burden that counsel would suffer if the court required him to remain in the case." Byrd, 271 F.Supp.2d at 176 (citing Barton v. District of Columbia, 209 F.R.D. 274, 277-78 (D.D.C. 2002)).

DISCUSSION

The plaintiffs object to Duane Morris' motion on the basis that withdrawal will be unfairly prejudicial under D.D.C. Local Rule 83.6 for two reasons. First, plaintiffs object that they will be prejudiced if counsel is permitted to withdraw because Duane Morris was " instrumental" in the underlying administrative appeal that plaintiffs are challenging, and, consequently, it would be " virtually impossible" for plaintiffs to engage counsel " given the late stage of the proceedings." See, e.g., Pl.'s Objection by Baptist Health Servs. at 1-2; Pl.'s Objection by O'Connor Hosp., Robert F. Kennedy Med. Ctr., St. Francis Med. Ctr., Seton Med. Ctr. at 2. The plaintiffs argue that Duane Morris is uniquely and " intimately" familiar with the subject matter of this action. See, e.g., Pl.'s Objection by Baptist Health Servs. at 1-2; Pl.'s Objection by Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys. at 2. The plaintiffs further contend that granting the withdrawal motion would undermine plaintiffs' expectation that they would be represented by Duane Morris. See, e.g., Pl.'s Objection by Baptist Health Servs. at 2; Pl.'s Objection by Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys. at 2. Several of the plaintiffs point to a statement each hospital provider signed that " further bolster[ed] [plaintiffs'] impression that Duane Morris would be counsel of record for the case at present." Pl.'s Objection by Texas Health Res. at 2. This statement authorized Duane Morris " in collaboration with CampbellWilson, LLP

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[a healthcare consultant that represented the plaintiffs in the administrative proceedings], to file a lawsuit in the United States District Court to perfect" their rights to appeal the underlying decision by the Provider Reimbursement Review Board. See, e.g., Pl.'s Objection by Baptist Health Servs. at 2; Pl.'s Objection by Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys. at 2; see also Duane Morris LLP's Response Objection Letters (" Resp. Pl.'s Objections" ) ¶ 3.b., ECF No. 18.

Second, in light of the difficulty of securing new counsel for the collective group, the plaintiffs would be prejudiced because withdrawal of counsel would necessitate dismissal of this case. As the Court noted in its May 22, 2014 Minute Order, corporate entities are not permitted to appear pro se and, therefore, absent counsel, this action will be dismissed. McDaniel v. U.S.C.I.A., No. 08-2244, 2008 WL 5423259, at *1 (D.D.C. Dec. 30, 2008) (dismissing claims filed by pro se corporation because " only individuals, not corporations or other legal entities, may proceed pro se" (citing Rowland v. California Men's Colony, 506 U.S. 194, 201-02, 113 S.Ct. 716, 121 L.Ed.2d 656 (1993))); Lennon v. McClory, 3 F.Supp.2d 1461, 1462 n.1 (D.D.C. 1998) (" A corporation cannot represent itself and cannot appear pro se. It must be represented by counsel or it will be treated as not having appeared at all, and default judgment may be entered against it." ). Consequently, granting counsel's motion to withdraw and dismissing the instant suit would thereby compel each provider to proceed individually which would lead to " significant legal expenses" and " exponentially increase the Courts [sic] docket . . . ." Pl.'s ...


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