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News of the Day ... In Perspective

04/06/2006

Medical staff bylaws are a contract—and a law overriding them is unconstitutional

Last week, a medical staff won a victory when Tallahassee Judge Janet Ferris declared Florida law HB-1447 unconstitutional. The law is also known as the St. Lucie County Hospital Governance Law.

According to a former pathologist at the hospital, Lawnwood Medical Center v. Randall Seeger, M.D., as President of the Medical Staff (Case No. 2003 CA 2865), stems from the hospital’s action many years ago to revoke the privileges of two pathologists who opposed exclusive contracts, over the objections of the Medical Executive Committee. The pathologists sued and won, the hospital having violated state peer review laws. The hospital discharged the MEC, which in turn sued and won.

A law was enacted that which exempted Lawnwood from following the Medical Staff Bylaws. This law essentially applied only to a single entity, according to the opinion.

In her opinion, Judge Ferris wrote: “Article I, section 10, Florida Constitution provides that ‘[n]o bill of attainder, ex post facto law or law impairing the obligation of contracts shall be passed.’ The Florida Supreme Court has stated that the right to contract is one of the most sacrosanct rights guaranteed by the fundamental law.”

Before the Hospital Governance Law passed, the Medical Staff Bylaws prohibited the Corporation from taking an independent action against the medical staff’s recommendation without “good cause.” The effect of the Law is to give the Corporation plenary power over the medical staff.

The Law, ruled the Court, serves no legitimate public interest, but rather provides a benefit to a special interest.

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