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Judge dismisses federal lawsuit against Ballad Health

Matthew Lane • Dec 11, 2019 at 5:17 PM

GREENEVILLE — A federal judge has dismissed an antitrust lawsuit against Ballad Health, ruling that the plaintiffs did not provide any factual allegations of any potential injury.

The lawsuit alleged that three members of the Ballad Health board of directors had a conflict of interest by also serving as ETSU trustees/officers, since Ballad competes with ETSU Physicians.

U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier issued his ruling on Wednesday, dismissing the lawsuit without prejudice.

Collier wrote in a memorandum that the plaintiffs have not alleged any facts to demonstrate a concrete, particularized injury. Collier continued by saying the lawsuit fails to state the nature of an alleged injury beyond asserting a violation of (federal law).

“It is insufficient to claim injury based solely on the existence of a statutory violation,” Collier wrote. “There must be an allegation of harm as a result of the violation.”

Jonathan Burns, communications director for Ballad Health, said in a statement to the Times News, “We are pleased the court agreed with our argument and dismissed this lawsuit.”

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Earlier this year, a group of 10 local residents filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville against Ballad, ETSU Physicians and all 11 members of Ballad’s board of directors.

The plaintiffs argued that three members of the board — David Golden, Scott Niswonger and Brian Noland — also serve as ETSU trustees/officers. The plaintiffs further claimed this is a conflict of interest since Ballad competes with ETSU Physicians.

The lawsuit sought an injunction preventing Noland, Niswonger and Golden from serving on two competing boards and an order compelling the reconstituting of the Ballad board of directors.

MOTIONS & RESPONSES

During the summer, the plaintiffs and the defendants filed a number of motions and responses to motions and memorandums in support of both.

In its motion to dismiss, Ballad argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place, that they failed to allege a case or controversy and that Ballad has immunity under the federal antitrust laws.

In response, the plaintiffs filed a 34-page memorandum opposing the motion and likening Ballad to an “octopus” and a “bully of the seas.” The memorandum included more than 200 pages of new material.

In addition to granting Ballad’s motion to dismiss, Collier also denied the plaintiff’s latest motion to amend the complaint.

“(The) proposed amended complaint still fails to adequately allege ... standing. While plaintiffs do provide more specific facts regarding the alleged injury, the complaint lacks any factual allegations that the injury is particularized to the plaintiffs,” Collier wrote.

POSSIBLE APPEAL

In a statement sent to the Times News late Wednesday, Frank Santore, the attorney for the plaintiffs, indicated the ruling may be appealed.

“In our country, we are governed by laws, not by men,” the statement read. “We accept the ruling of Federal District Judge Collier, who, we realize, has labored long and hard, as have all sides in this litigation, over resolution of the rather unique issues this case has presented. We shall be meeting shortly to determine the prudence of appealing this matter to the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.”

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