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OMC responds to lawsuit

Dr. Robert Witham's lawsuit charging Olympic Medical Center with operating a monopoly should be dismissed because state and federal laws specifically exempt hospital districts from such lawsuits.

That's what the hospital district's attorney has argued in a 16-page response to Witham's antitrust lawsuit. Witham filed the action July 8 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

The two sides are scheduled to be in court next on Oct. 2.

Witham is suing under Section 4 of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914. The suit also names Olympic Hospitalist Physicians P.S., which provides hospitalist services at OMC.

Hospitalists are doctors who care for inpatients in the absence of the patients' primary physicians.

Witham's lawsuit charges the hospital district with using "illegally obtained monopoly power" since 2004 to systemically destroy a competing physician's medical practice.

Witham seeks not just monetary damages but an end to what Witham charges are monopolistic practices, such as informing Witham's patients that he is not available to them. Witham says it is a conspiracy to reduce competition.

OMC's attorneys seek partial dismissal by arguing OMC is a public hospital district under Washington law and thus has "absolute immunity" from antitrust damage claims under the Local Government Antitrust Act of 1984.

They also argue the Washington Supreme Court has "unequivocally held" that public hospital districts are not subject to the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

"Indeed, the Washington Supreme Court has specifically held that the Consumer Protection Act does not apply to public hospital districts," the hospital district's response states.

Witham provides oncology services from his office at 224 N. Washington St., Port Angeles, one block from Olympic Medical Center. He also has physician privileges at OMC.

Witham has practiced medicine in Clallam County for 30 years and now also practices in Olympia and elsewhere in the Puget Sound area.

He is an independent investigator with the National Cancer Institute and a member of the boards of the Washington State Medical Oncology Society and Washington State Cancer Control Partnership.

Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@sequimgazette.com.

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