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Obi v. Exeter Health Resources, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 16, 2019

Loretta-Azuka Obi, Plaintiff
v.
Exeter Health Resources, Inc.; Core Physicians LLC; and Barton & Associates, Inc., Defendants

          ORDER

          Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff, Dr. Loretta-Azuka: Obi, MD, brings this action against three corporate defendants, advancing state common law claims for breach of contract, intentional (tortious) interference with contractual relations, and defamation. She invokes this court's diversity subject matter jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and seeks $15 million in damages. Defendants move for summary judgment, asserting that there are no genuinely disputed material facts and claiming they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on each of Dr. Obi's claims. Dr. Obi objects.

         For the reasons discussed, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.

         Standard of Review

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is “obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.” Block Island Fishing, Inc. v. Rogers, 844 F.3d 358, 360 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In this context, a factual dispute “is ‘genuine' if the evidence of record permits a rational factfinder to resolve it in favor of either party, and ‘material' if its existence or nonexistence has the potential to change the outcome of the suit.” Rando v. Leonard, 826 F.3d 553, 556 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). Consequently, “[a]s to issues on which the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, that party may not simply rely on the absence of evidence but, rather, must point to definite and competent evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Perez v. Lorraine Enters., 769 F.3d 23, 29-30 (1st Cir. 2014). In other words, “a laundry list of possibilities and hypotheticals” and “[s]peculation about mere possibilities, without more, is not enough to stave off summary judgment.” Tobin v. Fed. Express Corp., 775 F.3d 448, 451-52 (1st Cir. 2014). See generally Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         Background

         Defendant Exeter Health Resources, Inc. (“Exeter Health”) is the parent corporation of Exeter Hospital, Inc., in Exeter, New Hampshire. Defendant Core Physicians, LLC (“Core”) is an organization that employs the hospitalists who work at Exeter Hospital. And, finally, defendant Barton & Associates (“Barton”) is an organization that provides locum tenens physicians to various organizations around the country, including Core.[1]

         In 2016, Dr. Obi signed a “Client Services Agreement” with Barton (document no. 46-4). Approximately one year later, Barton contracted with Core to provide Core with locum tenens healthcare providers, on an “as needed” basis. See Group Locum Tenens Agreement (document no. 45-1). Later that year, Barton assigned Dr. Obi to a placement as a locum tenens physician at Exeter Hospital, for a period of nine days, beginning on December 24, 2017. See Placement Order (document no. 46-5).[2]Core did not enter into any contractual relationship with Dr. Obi, nor did it pay her directly for her services. See Affidavit of Debra Cresta, President of Core Physicians, LLC (document no. 45-8) at para. 7. Rather, pursuant to its agreement with Barton, Core was obligated to pay Barton $320 per hour of services provided by Dr. Obi (with a slightly higher hourly rate of compensation for December 25 and January 1). Barton, in turn, would compensate Dr. Obi, pursuant to their separate contractual agreement.

         To facilitate Dr. Obi's work at the hospital, Exeter Hospital granted her temporary medical staff membership and privileges to practice at the hospital. In exchange, Dr. Obi signed an “Applicant's Consent and Release” (document no. 45-3). During Dr. Obi's nine days at Exeter Hospital, the hospital received a number of complaints about her from staff, patients, and patients' family members. In short, those complaints centered around two general categories of concerns: Dr. Obi's odd personal behavior and her unprofessional clinical practices.

         Following a preliminary investigation into those reports, Exeter Hospital revoked Dr. Obi's temporary privileges. And, by letter to Dr. Obi dated February 9, 2018, the President of Exeter Hospital Medical Staff summarized the complaints against Dr. Obi, reaffirmed the suspension of her temporary privileges, and informed her of the various due process rights available to her. Dr. Obi was also told that, as required by federal law, Exeter Hospital would have to file a report with the National Practitioner Databank indicating that her clinical privileges had been suspended. See Letter from Rick Hollister, MD (document no. 45-4). See generally 45 C.F.R. § 60.12 (“Each health care entity must report to the NPDB and provide a copy of the report to the Board of Medical Examiners in the state in which the health care entity is located the following actions: (i) Any professional review action that adversely affects the clinical privileges of a physician or dentist for a period longer than 30 days, . . ..”) (emphasis supplied).

         Dr. Hollister's letter recounts a series of troubling interactions that, according to a variety of sources, Dr. Obi had with patients (e.g., praying over patients without their consent, telling patients that dementia is caused by spirits inhabiting a person's body, recruiting patients to adopt her church/religious beliefs). It also states that, following an extensive review of Dr. Obi's work, her “documentation practices” revealed a “widespread lack of contemporaneous [treatment] notes” that impeded proper patient care and, in one case, may have contributed to a patient's death.

         Dr. Obi acknowledges the “lapse in [her] progress notes, ” but blames those lapses on having been over-worked by the hospital. And, while she admits praying with various patients, Dr. Obi generally denies the substance (but not the existence of) the troubling reports made by staff, patients, and patients' family members. See Affidavit of Loretta Obi, MD (document no. 47-1), at para. 6. She claims some people were coerced into making those (allegedly false) reports, while other reports were made by individuals with racial biases against her, personal grudges, or an interest in concealing the “secrets” about Exeter Hospital that she had discovered (and was, at least in part, exposing on various social media platforms):

Revoking my license was retaliation because of the secret information I discovered through research and personal experiences, and for also publicly exposing them at Exeter Hospital and social media platforms.
The truth of this matter is that only people with something to hide, evil minds, evil intents, evil deeds would make up and use allegations especially the behavioral concerns to deny another being of her ability to survive and provide for her children because those poses [sic] no threat to anyone. Most were fabricated to distract from the real health issues that the medical community at large have overlooked because they created them to keep humanity sick, subjugated and dependent. Most of the allegations are smoking mirrors to cover up the real issues, the real health risks that I was very vocal about during my time spent at Exeter Hospital. I was kicked out of Exeter hospital out of fear and to protect their interests because of the SECRETS that I knew and was exposing which must have also been caught in their internal electronic incident reporting system but never mentioned in the allegations. Why didn't Exeter hospital report to NPDB that I made these statements if they were false? Think for yourself!

Affidavit of Loretta Obi, MD, at paras. 9-10 (emphasis in original). Dr. Obi describes the “secrets” that she uncovered at Exeter Hospital as “crimes against humanity.” Id. at paras. 4 and 12. They are listed at length in her affidavit and they are documented, at least to some extent, in videos Dr. Obi posted to YouTube that apparently show various interactions she had with patients and staff members.[3]

         Following the suspension of her clinical privileges, Dr. Obi was given notice of that action and an opportunity to respond. She elected not to participate in the process. Exeter Hospital filed a report with the National Practitioner Databank (“NPDB”), notifying it of the decision to suspend Dr. Obi's temporary privileges on grounds that she posed an immediate threat to health or safety, committed errors in prescribing or dispensing medications, made inappropriate and unprofessional comments to patients, and failed to ...


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