Surgeon Owes $1.3 for Botched Libel Suit

     (CN) – A Houston surgeon who sued Texas Children’s Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine for defamation will have to pay them $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees, a Texas appeals court ruled.
     The three-judge panel with the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas in Houston unanimously affirmed the imposition of the sanctions on Rahul Nath, M.D., as neither excessive nor arbitrary.
     Nath sued the hospitals and Dr. Saleh Shenaq in 2006, alleging tortious interference with prospective business relations and defamation. He said Shenaq falsely stated that Nath was fired from Baylor, was unqualified, was under criminal investigation and lacked professional ethics and integrity.
     Nath then amended his petition at least five times in the following years, adding claims of negligent supervision and negligent training against both hospitals, naming more individuals who allegedly defamed him, and adding claims for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, among other things.
     In April of 2010, Nath filed an amended petition that abandoned his previous claims and substituted a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. By August 2010, the court granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment.
     One month later, the court ordered Nath to pay $726,000 in the hospital’s legal fees as sanctions. One month later, the trial court did the same for Baylor, awarding it more $644,000 in attorneys’ fees.
     Nath failed to persuade an appellate panel that the sanctions were improper because they were imposed against him rather than his attorneys.
     Nath’s “vital” participation in the depositions of two doctors, his firing of his lead attorney and his filing of a lengthy affidavit indicated his active role in the litigation, the decision states.
     “We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding sufficient evidence that Nath was personally involved in the litigation and assisted in orchestrating the claims and tactics of these lawsuits,” Justice Adele Hedges wrote for the court.
     Hedges also rejected as meritless Nath’s argument that the hospitals’ sanction motions were filed too late and after trial.
     “In support of this assertion, Nath relies on cases regarding sanctions for discovery abuse,” Hedges wrote. “However, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld an award of sanctions under Chapter 10 and Rule 13 based on a motion for such sanctions filed after entry of a final judgment.”
     The panel also overruled arguments that Nath’s due process rights were violated, pointing out that he was given notice that Baylor was seeking sanctions of a specific amount and that a hearing was held on Baylor’s motion.

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