HARRISBURG – The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has chosen to uphold summary judgment in a defamation case between physicians emanating from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – McKeesport.

Judges John T. Bender, Lillian Harris Ransom and John L. Musmanno ruled Dec. 13 to affirm a motion for summary judgment granted in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, for defendant Richard Bondi M.D. and against plaintiff Showri Palepu, M.D.

In 2012, Barbara Moore, R.N. was a staff nurse at UPMC McKeesport as she had been for about 35 years. At the end of 2012, an incident occurred in the operating room between Moore and Palepu, a surgeon. According to Moore, Palepu made a disparaging remark about her age, and following the operation, Moore informed another nurse that Palepu upset her.

Moore further discussed the incident with her supervisor, Gina Ruggieri. Bondi, through his role as Chairman of the Department of Surgery at UPMC McKeesport, learned of the incident between Palepu and Moore. Bondi spoke to Ruggieri, who confirmed that Moore had reported the incident. In February 2013, Bondi attended a peer review committee meeting at which he relayed to the committee the incident as reported to him.

In April 2014, Palepu filed a complaint alleging the statement made by Bondi to the peer review committee “placed Palepu in a false light and constituted defamation and injurious falsehood.”

Following discovery, in August 2015, Bondi filed a motion for summary judgment. In response to Bondi’s motion for summary judgment, Palepu conceded that: (1) Moore believed Palepu made a disparaging remark about her age; and (2) Ruggieri confirmed the reported incident to Bondi.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant and subsequently denied a motion for reconsideration Palepu filed in March. Palepu appealed, claimed Bondi’s statement was knowingly false and summary judgment was not properly granted.

“The Peer Review Protection Act provides, in pertinent part: (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person providing information to any review organization shall be held, by reason of having provided such information, to have violated any criminal law, or to be civilly liable under any law, unless (b) such information is false and the person providing such information knew, or had reason to believe, that such information was false,” Ransom said.

Ransom said while it was clear an age-related incident took place between Moore and Palepu, Bondi “had no reason to know or believe the information was false” and was shielded by the Peer Review Protection Act.

“Plaintiff submitted no evidence to support a finding that defendant knew or should have known that the information provided to the peer review committee was not true. To the contrary, plaintiff conceded facts essential to defendant’s assertion of privilege,” Ransom said.

“It is undisputed that: (1) Defendant did not concoct the age related incident between Ms. Moore and plaintiff; (2) Defendant was not offering his own account of the incident; and (3) He was merely relaying the information reported to him in his capacity as Chairman of the Department of Surgery,” Ransom added.

“Plaintiff conceded material facts in his response to defendant’s motion and submitted no evidence that an issue of material fact exists. Therefore, plaintiff failed to meet his burden in response to the motion for summary judgment.

Thus, the trial court acted correctly in granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. Order affirmed,” Ransom remarked.

The plaintiff is represented by Adam K. Hobaugh, John W. Murtaugh Jr. and Alan E. Cech of Murtaugh & Cahill, in Wexford.

The defendants are represented by John C. Conti of Dickie McCamey & Chilcote in Pittsburgh and Steven S. Goldberg in Philadelphia.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania case 458 WDA 2016

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas case GD-14-001811

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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