SIKESTON -- Federal anti-trust and conspiracy charges brought by the Ferguson Medical Group against Missouri Delta Medical Center have been dismissed.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry of Missouri's eastern district made her decision Wednesday on FMG's claims that the hospital violated the Sherman Antitrust Act passed in 1890 to address improper, predatory and harmful competitive practices.
Charles Ancell, MDMC's president and CEO, and Robert Scott Matthews, a former chairman of the MDMC's board of directors, were also named as defendants.
"I hope we can take this as an opportunity to reconcile and focus all our efforts on providing quality health care," Ancell said.
Ferguson officials expressed disappointment in the ruling and said they are considering their options in the case.
"Naturally, we are disappointed in Judge Perry's ruling that the size of our market area prevents us from pursuing an anti-trust action against MDMC," said Kevin Blanton, M.D., a Ferguson medical group physician and spokesman. "We believe that the relevant market area for physician and ancillary services is a smaller market area that should not include areas such as Cape and Poplar Bluff. Judge Perry simply ruled the market area is larger and does include those area. Therefore MDMC cannot be considered monopolistic."
"However, the ruling in no way vindicates MDMC for the specific improper actions alleged in the suit. Judge Perry simply decided the remaining claims should be resolved in state court," he said.
Blanton continued, adding: "It is important to remember that we took this action to stop what we believe to be improper and anti-competitive activities by MDMC that harm the community. We will continue to aggressively pursue that goal as long as necessary to ensure a fair and competitive market."
In September 2002, FMG filed a lawsuit at the state level which alleged its former partner physicians Loring R. Helfrich, Anthony C. Poole, Kevin P. Rankin and Fred K. Uthoff failed to honor components of their partner agreements by resigning on July 1, 2002, to work for MDMC. Dr. Fred Thornton was also added to the suit a few weeks later.
In January, FMG refiled the charges at the federal level with the anti-trust and conspiracy charges.
As the federal anti-trust and conspiracy charges were dismissed with prejudice, they may not be refiled.
Charges related to the restrictive covenant by which FMG partner physicians agree to not practice medicine within a 40-mile radius of FMG's main location at 1012 North Main St. for two years upon leaving the group may still be refiled at the state level.
While FMG sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the hospital from employing the departed doctors or from them otherwise working in this area, a judge ruled on March 11, 2004, that the physicians named in the lawsuit could continue to practice medicine here.