BY DONNA WESTFALL
October 17, 2012. Shortly after 9 this morning, Judge Leonard J. LaCasse began the session stating, “This case has been kicking around and the buck stops here.” Just slightly over an hour later, the Judge pronounced his decision and granted the preliminary injunction. The crowded court room broke out in spontaneous applause. A broadly smiling Dr. Greg Duncan shook hands all around after the Judge issued his verdict. This injunction is limited to not changing services.
Regionalization has been a hot topic over the last couple of months as locals want to retain control while the Sacramento based Sutter Health wants to put control into the hands of their Bay Area and change the characterization of the hospital, from acute care to critical care cutting 50% of the beds and forcing patients to get treatment out of the area.
In making his decision, Judge LaCasse admits he could take up to 90 days in chambers and produce something that looks scholarly whether it is or not. He reiterated that it has gone on long enough and he was going to rule from the bench adding that any order he makes is appealable.
Before making his ruling, he pronounced general principles that courts are required to follow: Injunction should not be issued in a doubtful case. It should preserve the status quo until the matter can be resolved by a higher power. The court balances the hardships to see if there’s a good case for injunctive relief. An injunction is not a decision on the merits. It’s only to stay the course. The court looks at the likelihood that the plaintiff is going to prevail and the possibility that the plaintiffs can prevail. Even though the contract expired 20 years ago, both sides have continued to operate as though the contract were still in place. As to balancing relative harm, the Judge concluded that in the near term it’s a wash and not substantial. Judge LaCasse said, “The Courts injunction can’t be inconsistent with the public’s interest,” further stating that a lot of poor people and those on fixed incomes would have to go out of town if regionalization were to go forward.
Besides several of the doctors in attendance, Councilwoman Kelly Schellong and Supervisor 1st District, Leslie McNamer also attended in addition to nearly 60 people who sat in rapt attention. The Judge started out by asking if the contract was still in place and finalized by stating that he was asked to rule, and he enjoined Sutter Health from applying for seeking critical access. The Judge recognizes it is a complicated process for the district to follow and fight.
The attorney’s for Sutter Health requested a $750,000 bond be issued which was denied. Case law was cited that bonds cannot be required for public entities.
After granting the preliminary injunction, the Judge also granted the Respondents their Motion for arbitration to be held in Sacramento.