FROM THE POPE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 58CV-14-347],
HONORABLE DENNIS CHARLES SUTTERFIELD, JUDGE
& Gillham, P.L.L.C., by: Luther Oneal Sutter, Little Rock;
and Baker & Schulze, Little Rock, by: J.G. "Gerry"
Schulze, for appellant.
Lindsey & Jennings LLP, Little Rock, by: Regina A. Young and
Gary D. Marts, Jr., for appellee.
R. ABRAMSON, Judge
2014, Pope Emergency Group (Pope) had an arrangement with St.
Marys Regional Medical Center in Russellville (St. Marys)
whereby Pope agreed to supply physicians to staff the
hospitals emergency department. In February 2014, Pope
entered into an agreement with the appellant, Dr. Carroll
"Don" Johnson, to provide emergency room physician
services as an independent contractor at St. Marys. On June
30, 2014, Dr. Johnsons confrontation with a nurse led St.
Marys to request that Pope remove Dr. Johnson from the staff
of the emergency department, whereupon Pope terminated its
contract with Dr. Johnson.
Johnson filed a complaint in the Pope County Circuit Court
alleging that Pope and its parent company, Schumacher Group
of Arkansas (Schumacher), were liable for breach of contract
and wrongful termination. Dr. Johnson also sued Russellville
Holdings, LLC, which owns and does business as St. Marys
Regional Medical Center. Dr. Johnson alleged that the
hospital tortiously interfered with his contract with Pope
and Schumacher. Pope filed a counterclaim for breach of
contract alleging that Dr. Johnson had failed to
return a $30,000 signing bonus as required by the terms of
Schumacher, and St. Marys all filed motions for summary
judgment, whereupon Dr. Johnson nonsuited all his claims
against them. Pope elected to continue pursuing its
counterclaim, however, and the circuit court granted summary
judgment in its favor in an order entered on February 2,
2017. Dr. Johnson now appeals the circuit courts order. We
Facts and Procedural History
Johnson is a physician who specializes in emergency medicine.
In late 2013, after years of working in Jonesboro, Dr.
Johnson decided to return to St. Marys, where he had
previously worked as an emergency room physician from 2000
until 2008. The prospect of Dr. Johnsons return to St.
Marys was initially met with some hesitation by the
administration of St. Marys and officials at Pope and
Schumacher because some patients and hospital staff had
complained that Dr. Johnson was "rude,"
"arrogant," and "condescending" during
his previous tenure in the emergency department.
Nevertheless, on January 24, 2014, Dr. Johnson and Pope
executed a "Physician Agreement" (Agreement)
whereby Dr. Johnson agreed to provide physician services in
the emergency department at St. Marys. The Agreement became
effective on February 17, 2014, and it had a one-year term
that would automatically renew every year that Dr. Johnson
"worked at least one (1) clinical shift." The
Agreement also provided, however, that Pope could terminate
the contract "immediately" and "without
written notice" for a number of reasons, including when
"Hospital Administration requests the removal of [Dr.
Johnson] or reports that [he] is being disruptive,
unprofessional, or unreasonably uncooperative with the
medical or administrative staff of [the] Hospital."
Additionally, Dr. Johnson would have to return a $30,000
signing bonus if he failed to meet any of the terms and
conditions of the Agreement, including his obligation to
"maintain membership in good standing on the Medical
Staff of [St. Marys] and abide by the bylaws, rules, and
regulations of the Medical Staff[.]"
Johnson began working at St. Marys on March 8, 2014. A
couple of months later, Dr. McLane Simpson, the emergency
room medical director for Pope and Schumacher, learned of two
incidents in which Dr. Johnson and emergency room nurses had
clashed over the use of nurse-initiated order sets, which
authorized the nurses to order— in the attending
physicians name— certain medical tests and medications
according to a patients particular complaint. The order
sets had not been in use during Dr. Johnsons previous tenure
at St. Marys, and he believed that they allowed nurses to
engage in the unauthorized practice of medicine. Dr. Johnson
also opined that the order sets resulted in
fraud because many of the tests that the nurses
ordered— and the hospital billed to the patients—
were unnecessary. After discussing the issue with Dr. Johnson
and hearing his objections, Dr. Simpson ordered the nursing
staff to avoid using the ...