Monday, July 30, 2012

Leon Page v. Tri-City Healthcare: Should public hospital trustees protect the interests of the public--or should they protect the institutions FROM the public?

See minute order.

Tri-City Hospital tried to get Leon Page's public interest lawsuit thrown out, but failed. Page sued after the board prohibited trustees Randy Horton and Kathleen Sterling from voting.

Like so many powerful institutions these days, the hospital abused a law that is supposed to protect free speech and constitutional rights--the anti-SLAPP law. Sadly, the law has been used to stifle complaints from the public.

Judge Timothy Casserly noted in his decision against Tri-City Healthcare on July 25, 2012:

"On October 27, 2011, Larry Anderson presented to the Board a renunciation of Horton and Director Kathleen Sterling in which he accused them of placing the interests of their constituents above those of Defendant.

"...On April 28, 2011, the Board in closed session voted to prohibit Horton from participating and voting in closed sessions meetings of the Board.

"Since then, the Board has excluded Horton from closed sessions conducted on May 26, 2011, June 16, 2011, June 30, 2011, July 28, 2011, August 15,2011, August 23, 2011, August 25, 2011, September 22, 2011, September 27, 2011, September 29, 2011, October 4, 2011, and December 20, 2011.

"Additionally, Defendant announced it would not provide Horton with legal defense or indemnity if he was sued in his official capacity. Defendant denied Horton the stipends provided to attend meetings. Defendant spends money on security personnel to prevent Horton from participating in closed session meetings of the Board. As a result of Horton's exclusion, Plaintiff and similarly situated individuals have been denied meaningful representation on the Board, and the Board's voting rights have been reallocated, disenfranchising a segment of the voting public."

The judge noted this exception to the anti-SLAPP law:

"The Legislature enacted section 425.17 to control the abuse of the anti-SLAPP statute. The statute creates an exception to section 425.16 that protects public interest lawsuits from anti-SLAPP motions.

The statute states in pertinent part:

(b) Section 425.16 does not apply to any action brought solely in the public interest or on behalf of the general public if all of the following conditions exist:

(1) The plaintiff does not seek any relief greater than or different from the relief sought for the general public or a class of which the plaintiff is a member. A claim for attorney's fees, costs, or penalties does not constitute greater or different relief for purposes of this subdivision.

(2) The action, if successful, would enforce an important right affecting the public interest, and would confer a significant benefit, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, on the general public or a large class of persons.

(3) Private enforcement is necessary and places a disproportionate financial burden on the plaintiff in relation to the plaintiff's stake in the matter.

No comments: