Absolute immunity doesn't apply to examining doctor's independent medical exam reports
Case name: Lewis, et al. v. Drouillard, et al., No. 09-11059 (E.D. Mich. 03/22/10).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan denied a physician's request to dismiss a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act suit brought by a group of United Parcel Service employees whose workers' compensation disability benefits were discontinued. The physician was not entitled to absolute immunity for independent medical examination reports he prepared, but was immune from suit for any testimony he gave before the Michigan Workers' Compensation Agency.
What it means:
WCA hearings are the functional equivalent of judicial proceedings, and therefore, participants benefit from the same protections as participants in judicial trials. Although examining doctors are immune from liability for testimony they give before the WCA, their IME reports are nontestimonial evidence to which absolute immunity does not extend. Further, testifying before the WCA does not retroactively shield the doctor from liability for allegedly falsifying IME reports.
Summary: A group of UPS employees claimed that their employer, its insurance carrier, and the carrier's examining doctor worked together to defraud them of their workers' compensation benefits in violation of RICO. They contended that the doctor falsified IME reports, upon which the other defendants relied to deny benefits. In some cases, the doctor testified before the Michigan WCA regarding his medical conclusions. The doctor argued that he was immune from civil liability for performing IMEs and reporting his conclusions. The District Court denied the doctor's request to dismiss the suit.
The court explained the common-law principle of witness immunity -- that witnesses, like judges and prosecutors, are absolutely immune from civil liability based on their testimony in judicial proceedings. The RICO statute did not change the common law principle, nor was there evidence that Congress intended to alter or abolish "a tradition so firmly rooted in common law."
The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the rules of witness immunity did not apply to WCA proceedings, stating that such proceedings are no different from judicial proceedings, where witness testimony is protected. As such, the doctor was absolutely immune from civil liability for testimony he gave before the WCA.
However, the doctor's IME reports did not enjoy the same protection, as immunity does not extend to nontestimonial, documentary evidence. Moreover, the fact that the doctor testified before the WCA did not retroactively shield him from liability for allegedly falsifying IME reports.
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June 17, 2010
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