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Strong v. Brakeley

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

April 21, 2016

KEVIN F. STRONG
v.
REBECCA M. BRAKELEY et al

         Argued March 2, 2016.

          On the briefs: Phillip E. Johnson, Esq., Johnson, Webbert & Young, LLP, Augusta, for appellant Kevin F. Strong.

         Michael R. Poulin, Esq., and Amy Dieterich, Esq., Skelton Taintor & Abbott, Auburn, for appellees Rebecca M. Brakeley and Jonathan M. Bausman.Phillip E. Johnson, Esq., for appellant Kevin F. Strong.

         At oral argument: Phillip E. Johnson, Esq., for appellant Kevin F. Strong.

         Michael R. Poulin, Esq., for appellees Rebecca M. Brakeley and Jonathan M. Bausman.

         Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          OPINION

         GORMAN, J.

          [¶ 1] Kevin F. Strong appeals from a summary judgment entered in the Superior Court (Androscoggin County, MG Kennedy, J. ) in favor of Rebecca M. Brakeley and Jonathan M. Bausman granting them immunity from Strong's complaint for defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship. Strong contends that the court erred by concluding that 24 M.R.S. § 2511 (2015) provides Brakeley and Bausman with absolute immunity for statements they made regarding Strong's professional credentials. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

          [¶ 2] Viewed in the light most favorable to Strong, the summary judgment record establishes the following facts. See Cookson v. Brewer Sch. Dep't, 2009 ME 57, ¶ 11, 974 A.2d 276. Brakeley, Bausman, and Strong are all physicians licensed to practice medicine in Maine. Synernet, Inc., is a " credentials verification organization, which collects, verifies, and dispenses physician credentialing information" to its clients, including hospitals. St. Mary's Regional Medical Center is a hospital that provides health care services and follows competence review processes. St. Mary's contracted with Synernet to collect credentialing information on its behalf. Synernet began collecting credentialing information regarding Strong after Strong applied for staff privileges at St. Mary's in 2013. As part of that effort, Synernet sent " Professional Reference Questionnaires" to Brakeley and Bausman " for the purpose of assisting St. Mary's in collecting credentialing information relating to [Strong]." Brakeley and Bausman completed their questionnaires and returned them to Synernet, which then forwarded them to St. Mary's.

          [¶ 3] On October 15, 2013, Strong filed a complaint in the Superior Court against Brakeley and Bausman, alleging that certain negative statements made by them on Synernet's questionnaires caused St. Mary's to deny him staff privileges. By amended complaint, Strong asserted claims for defamation and tortious interference with his business relationship with St. Mary's, and sought punitive damages. Brakeley and Bausman filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that they enjoyed absolute immunity for their statements pursuant to 24 M.R.S. § 2511. The court denied the motion and allowed the case to proceed, but limited the scope of discovery to the immunity issue. After that discovery was completed, Brakeley and Bausman filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts and, based on its conclusion that section 2511 afforded them absolute immunity, the court granted that motion. Strong appeals.

         II. DISCUSSION

          [¶ 4] When, as here, a defendant moves for summary judgment, we first examine the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff to determine, de novo, whether any genuine dispute of material fact exists for trial.[1] Cookson, 2009 ME 57, ¶ 11, 974 A.2d 276. " An issue is genuine if there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute to require a choice between the differing versions; an issue is material if it could potentially affect the outcome of the matter." Id. (quotation marks omitted).

          [¶ 5] The court granted a summary judgment based solely on Brakeley and Bausman's immunity pursuant to 24 M.R.S. § 2511, which is found within the Maine Health Security Act, 24 M.R.S. ...


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