Patrick v. Burget

486 U. S. 94

May 16, 1988

When a hospital doctor named Timothy Patrick decided to also work as an independent medical provider, the other doctors at the hospital started being total jerks to him. Using peer-review proceedings, the other doctors disciplined Patrick, and got ready to fire him, and all of this was done, according to Patrick, in bad faith. Patrick resigned rather than risk being fired, and sued the other doctors for antitrust violation, since they were ultimately trying to squelch his independent practice. Because the peer-review processes were mandated and controlled by state laws, the other doctors argued that they were immune from antitrust suits under the state action doctrine.

The Supreme Court unanimously found otherwise (Blackmun did not participate). Marshall explained that the state action exemption only existed when the state had active supervision over any proceedings. While the state laid down basic principles of medical peer-review, it did not actively supervise the discipline or firing decisions in any real way. Marshall was even less impressed by the argument that the peer-review decisions were subjected to legal review. Minimal judicial review did not trigger the state action doctrine either. I liked this ruling, but mostly because the other doctors really were a bunch of petty bullies who needed to be taken down several notches.

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