VICTOR BERNARD WILLIAMS, M.D. APPELLANT
BAPTIST HEALTH D/B/A BAPTIST MEDICAL CENTER ET AL. APPELLEES
FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SIXTH DIVISION [NO.
60CV-14-808] HONORABLE TIMOTHY DAVIS FOX, JUDGE
K. Valley; and George W. McGriff & Associates, by: George
W. McGriff, pro hac vice, for appellant.
Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C.,
by: Byron Freeland and Megan D. Hargraves, for separate
appellee Baptist Health d/b/a/ Baptist Health Medical Center.
Anderson, Murphy & Hopkins, L.L.P., by: Jason J.
Campbell, for separate appellee John E. Hearnsberger, M.D.
D. VAUGHT, JUDGE
appellant, Dr. Victor Williams, is an African American
surgeon who had a staff appointment and clinical privileges
at Baptist Health Medical Center (Baptist Health) in Little
Rock from 2003 until the hospital terminated their
relationship on April 14, 2011. The termination followed an
internal peer-review process that found Dr. Williams provided
substandard care in four of his surgical cases. As required
by state and federal law, Baptist Health reported its adverse
action to the Arkansas State Medical Board, which prepared to
take action regarding Dr. Williams's medical license in
Williams subsequently sued Baptist Health, the hospital
administrator, and several doctors who served on the
peer-review committees, the Arkansas State Medical Board
(Board), and Dr. John Hearnsberger, individually and as
chairman of the Board. The complaint sought monetary damages
and injunctive relief based on thirteen causes of action
alleging defamation, tortious interference with contracts,
violations of the Arkansas Constitution, and violations of
the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, including discrimination under
Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-123-107 and retaliation
under Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-123-108. The
complaint also alleged that Baptist Health failed to follow
its own bylaws when it terminated Dr. Williams's staff
membership and clinical privileges.
circuit court granted summary judgment on the claims against
circuit court also granted summary judgment to Baptist Health
and the individual Baptist Health appellees on all but one
claim alleging that the hospital failed to follow its bylaws.
The circuit court heard testimony on that claim over the
course of a three-day bench trial in February 2017, and it
entered findings of fact and conclusions of law on April 21,
2017, that dismissed the claim with prejudice.
Williams now appeals, arguing that the circuit court erred in
several respects. We affirm the order granting summary
judgment to Dr. Hearnsberger. We also affirm the judgments in
favor of the Baptist Health appellees on the six
constitutional claims, the defamation claim, the retaliation
claim, and the claim alleging that Baptist Health failed to
follow its own bylaws during the peer-review process. We
reverse the judgment in favor of the Baptist Health appellees
on the discrimination and tortious-interference claims,
however, because we agree that the circuit court abused its
discretion when it denied Dr. Williams's motions to
compel discovery of peer-review records regarding other
physicians at Baptist Health.
Facts and Procedural History
Williams obtained his license to practice medicine in
Arkansas in 1999 and was board-certified to practice general,
cardiothoracic, and vascular surgery. He became a member of
the medical staff at Baptist Health in November 2003.
January or February 2010, Dr. Guy Gardner, the chief medical
officer at Baptist Health, reviewed several of Dr.
Williams's surgery cases after receiving complaints from
unidentified persons. Dr. Gardner's review caused him to
be concerned about the standard of care that Dr. Williams had
rendered in a handful of his cases, and he reported his
concerns to Douglas Weeks, the administrator of the hospital,
and to Dr. Tim Burson, the chief of surgery.
February 5, 2010, Mr. Weeks and Dr. Burson met with Dr.
Williams in Mr. Weeks's office at Baptist Health.
According to Mr. Weeks, the purpose of the meeting was to
inform Dr. Williams "of the seriousness of the
information that Dr. Guy Gardner had obtained" and to
explain that the cases would be subject to internal peer
review that "could have serious implications" for
his clinical privileges at the hospital. Mr. Weeks wanted Dr.
Williams to "understand all of his options,"
including voluntary resignation of his staff appointment,
"which would enable him to not have to report [an
involuntary loss of privileges] to the National Practitioner
Williams declined to voluntarily resign his appointment, and
the hospital's peer-review process began. The Surgery
Control Committee discussed the surgical cases that Dr.
Gardner identified at one of its regular meetings on March
11, 2010. Afterward, Dr. Burson, as chairman of the Surgery
Control Committee, wrote a letter to Dr. Williams explaining
that the committee had reviewed eleven of his cases and
identified suspected deviations from the standard of care in
five of them. The letter identified the five cases under
investigation and advised Dr. Williams that the committee
scheduled the cases for discussion with him on April 5, 2010.
Surgery Control Committee met with Dr. Williams on April
The committee members in attendance included appellees Dr.
Scott Marotti, Dr. Robert Moffett, Dr. Frederick Meadors, Dr.
Robert Casali, and Dr. Burson. The committee gave Dr.
Williams the opportunity to answer questions and explain his
treatment of each of the patients. At the conclusion of the
meeting, the committee found that Dr. Williams was unable to
address significant concerns about the quality of care in
each case. The committee noted, in particular, that Dr.
Williams appeared unwilling to acknowledge or take
responsibility for the substandard care that he rendered in
on April 16, Dr. Burson wrote a letter to the Professional
Staff Credentials Committee (Credentials Committee) to
request that it investigate the five cases under review and
take appropriate corrective action. Dr. Susan Keathley, the
chair of the Credentials Committee, dispatched a letter to
Dr. Williams later that day to notify him of the Surgery
Control Committee's request and to inform him that the
Credentials Committee would meet on April 21, to review and
discuss the cases at issue. Dr. Keathley advised Dr. Williams
to be prepared to address several concerns related to the
five cases, including preoperative judgment; medical
decision-making; technical ability; ability to recognize
postoperative complications; lack of timely follow-up;
documentation; and "unwillingness to acknowledge
identified issues or take responsibility." The letter
also informed Dr. Williams that these issues could result in
suspension or termination of his staff appointment and
clinical privileges at Baptist Health Medical Center and all
other Baptist Health facilities.
Credentials Committee met with Dr. Williams on April 21. The
committee members in attendance included appellees Dr. Susan
Keathley and Dr. Everett Tucker. Following the meeting, the
Credentials Committee issued a report and recommendation that
found Dr. Williams had deviated from the standard of care in
four of the five cases and that there was sufficient evidence
to warrant termination of Dr. Williams's staff
appointment and clinical privileges. The committee therefore
formally recommended termination and directed the immediate
suspension of Dr. Williams's clinical privileges pending
further review. Mr. Weeks notified Dr. Williams of the
Credentials Committee's action by a letter dated April
25, Dr. Williams, through counsel, appealed the suspension
and recommended termination to the Hearing Committee of the
Professional Staff of Baptist Health Medical Center (Hearing
Committee), which is composed of the chief (or vice chief) of
each clinical department in the hospital. While that
administrative appeal was pending, Baptist Health reported
the suspension of Dr. Williams's clinical privileges to
the National Practitioner Databank and the
Board. The Board voted to investigate the matter,
requested that Dr. Williams appear, and obtained the medical
records of the patients involved in Baptist Health's
decision to take corrective action. At Dr. Williams's
request, however, the Board postponed further proceedings to
allow Dr. Williams to pursue an administrative appeal with
Baptist Health and to allow him to participate in a physician
education and assessment program.
February 28, 2011, the Hearing Committee conducted a
five-hour hearing and heard testimony from witnesses on
behalf of Dr. Williams and the Credentials Committee. The
following day, the Hearing Committee issued its report and
recommendations affirming the Credentials Committee's
Williams timely appealed the Hearing Committee's decision
to the Board of Trustees' Appellate Review Committee
(Appellate Review Committee) on March 24, 2011. After
reviewing the hearing record and written statements from both
parties, the Appellate Review Committee affirmed the Hearing
Committee's report and recommendations on April 12, 2011.
The Appellate Review Committee found, in particular, that the
staff bylaws had been followed during the peer-review
process; that the decision of the Hearing Committee was based
on substantial evidence; and that the Hearing Committee's
decision "was a reasonable one in light of the
Hospital's duty to the public." Mr. Weeks notified
Dr. Williams in writing on April 14, 2011, that his clinical
privileges had been terminated.
proceedings before the Board resumed on June 8, 2012, when
the Board accepted Dr. Williams's offer to attend a
physician-assessment program in lieu of rendering a
disciplinary decision. The Board later determined that Dr.
Williams did not comply with the requirements of the
assessment program, however, and it ultimately voted to
revoke his license on April 3, 2014.
February 25, 2014, shortly before the Board voted to revoke
Dr. Williams's license, Dr. Williams filed a complaint in
the Pulaski County Circuit Court for damages and injunctive
relief against Baptist Health; Douglas Weeks, in his
individual and official capacity as the hospital
administrator; several doctors individually and in their
official capacities as members of the peer review committees
at Baptist Health; the Arkansas State Medical Board; and Dr.
John Hearnsberger individually and in his official capacity
as chairman of the Board. The complaint generally alleged
that all the defendants acted "jointly, maliciously and
in concert" to "drive [Dr. Williams] out of the
practice of medicine in Little Rock, North Little Rock, and
Pulaski County . . . because of his race . . . and [to
eliminate] economic competition."
the Baptist Health appellees in particular, Dr. Williams
alleged that they "reviewed or caused to be reviewed
medical records of [Dr. Williams's] patients in the hope
of finding something that could be used to justify
suspension, revocation, or denial of [his] medical staff
privileges[.]" Dr. Williams alleged that he was not
afforded a fair procedure during the peer-review process at
Baptist Health and, because of his race, was treated more
harshly than similarly situated white doctors whose cases
were also subjected to internal peer review. Regarding the
Board and Dr. Hearnsberger, the complaint alleged that Dr.
Hearnsberger had a conflict of interest that caused him to be
biased in favor of taking adverse action against Dr. Williams
and that the alleged bias tainted other members of the Board.
on these and other alleged facts, the complaint asserted
thirteen claims for relief, including six counts alleging
that Dr. Hearnsberger and the Baptist Health appellees had
violated several provisions in the Arkansas Constitution. The
complaint further alleged that the termination of Dr.
Williams's staff appointment and clinical privileges was
retaliatory and racially discriminatory in violation of his
rights under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act and that the
Baptist Health appellees were liable for defamation in
connection with the report that the hospital made to the
National Practitioner Databank. The complaint also alleged
two counts of tortious interference with contract, asserting
that the appellees' adverse actions interfered with Dr.
Williams's contracts with referral physicians, insurance
companies, other hospitals, and his patients. Finally, the
complaint alleged that the Baptist Heath appellees failed to
comply with the medical-staff bylaws when they terminated his
staff appointment and clinical privileges.
circuit court granted Dr. Hearnsberger's motion for
summary judgment and dismissed him from the lawsuit in his
individual capacity in an order entered on December 8,
2014. The Baptist Health appellees, in three
separate motions, successfully moved for summary judgment on
all but one of the claims in the complaint. The circuit
court, interpreting the bylaws claim to be a "due
process type claim," determined that there were genuine
issues of material fact regarding whether Baptist Health
substantially complied with the procedure in its bylaws when
it terminated Dr. Williams's staff appointment and
clinical privileges. The circuit court dismissed the claim
with prejudice, however, after a three-day bench trial in
Williams now appeals, alleging that the circuit court erred
by denying him a jury trial; by denying his motions to compel
discovery of peer-review information concerning white
physicians who practiced at Baptist Health; by finding that
Baptist Health substantially complied with its bylaws; and by
granting summary judgment in favor of the Baptist Health
appellees and Dr. Hearnsberger.
Motions to Compel
Abuse of discretion
discovery was ongoing in the circuit court, Dr. Williams
propounded several interrogatories that sought information
about other surgeons who had clinical privileges at Baptist
Health. The interrogatories collectively asked Baptist Health
to provide the name of every physician who had been called to
meet with the Surgery Control Committee during a certain time
period; to state whether particular surgeons-including
several members of the Surgery Control Committee-had been
required to meet with the committee; and to state whether
Baptist Health had become aware of substandard care or
misconduct of other surgeons without taking disciplinary
action. Several interrogatories also sought the identities of
the physicians whose complaints motivated Dr. Gardner to
review Dr. Williams's surgical cases. Baptist Health
refused to answer the interrogatories by invoking the
peer-review privilege set forth in Arkansas ...