Anesthesiologist didn't breach fiduciary duties to previous anesthesia group after split, court rules

Eric Oliver - Print  |

The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's ruling that anesthesiologist Ronald Stevens, MD, didn't breach his fiduciary duties when he took business from his former anesthesia group, the Wyoming Times reports.

Dr. Stevens joined Anesthesiology Consultants of Cheyene (Wyo.) in the early 2000s, operating as part of the group for several years. A group of local physicians wanted to open a surgery center in 2008, and consulted with ACC on the anesthesia setup and to provide services at the center.

Dr. Stevens suggested to his group members that they could make higher profits by employing his wife Cassandra Rivers, RN, CRNA, as a consultant and having her provide the services. ACC did and made on average between $90,000 to $100,000 annually through the model.

In addition to his anesthesia services, Dr. Stevens provided pain management services. ACC's other clinician members had an issue with the low reimbursement rates, which caused Dr. Stevens to open and operate a separate pain management-only practice, High Plains Anesthesia, in 2013.

Dr. Stevens redirected Ms. Rivers' revenue to his practice, but continued to provide the typical profits to ACC. Once ACC realized this, they removed him from the group. Over the next four years, Ms. Rivers brought in $1.2 million in revenue to High Plains.

ACC sued Dr. Stevens and High Plains over breach of fiduciary duties on the grounds that he took a business opportunity away from ACC. ACC earned a summary judgment in its favor that Dr. Stevens appealed to a jury trial. The jury ruled in favor of Dr. Stevens, and ACC appealed the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found Dr. Stevens did not breach his fiduciary duties because ACC never "availed itself" of the business opportunity the surgery center presented.

"Sufficient evidence supports the jury's verdict that Dr. Stevens did not breach his fiduciary duties or the covenant of good faith and fair dealing," the Supreme Court concluded. "Because the law of the case doctrine did not apply to the district court's earlier summary judgment ruling on [the consultant's] breach of contract claim, the court properly submitted that claim to the jury."

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