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Lake Circuit Court Magistrate Richard McDevitt on Wednesday denied a request by Sisters of St. Francis Health Systems to impose an emergency restraining order against a Crown Point woman who had criticized treatment at one of its facilities.
"I am very thankful that the court upheld my right to continue to speak out about what happened to my mother-in-law," said Nancy Anglis, who has been named in a defamation suit filed by Sisters of St. Francis.
"Caring for elderly parents is one of the most important issues we face in society," she said. "I will not be intimidated by a large corporation's effort to silence me."
David Ruskowski, president of St. Anthony Medical Center in Crown Point, said the hospital will continue to take whatever actions it feels appropriate to support and protect its staff.
"While we have not yet received the court's ruling, our concern has been, and remains, that Mrs. Anglis cease her unfounded attacks on the reputations and the right to work of our nurses, who, between them, have 40 years of dedicated and compassionate service," Ruskowski said. "We trust that Mrs. Anglis will end her attacks."
At issue were e-mails sent by Anglis to family and friends criticizing the treatment of her 87-year-old mother-in-law during a stay at St. Anthony Medical Center.
Anglis contends her mother-in-law, who suffers from dementia and was hospitalized with a broken hip, was mistreated by two nurses at St. Anthony.
The hospital conducted an investigation, after which one of the nurses was disciplined for calling the mother-in-law "evil" during an exchange with Anglis the morning of June 30 after Anglis found her mother-in-law restrained in a reclining chair at a nursing station.
The hospital found no other wrongdoing or any abusive treatment, attorneys told the court.
In filing a defamation suit against Anglis, health system attorneys had asked Anglis be restrained from further discussing her mother-in-law's treatment with anyone, including regulatory bodies.
The health system's attorneys argued Anglis was carrying out a personal vendetta against the two nurses and defaming the hospital.
Defense attorneys argued the restraining order amounted to prior restraint -- a violation of Anglis' constitutional rights to free speech.
"Judge McDevitt's ruling is not only a win for free speech, but for everyone who has elderly parents and grandparets who may need medical care," said Anglis' attorney, Donald Wruck, of the law firm of Wruck Paupore PC.
Wruck said Anglis has filed a countersuit against the health system.
The lawsuit alleges Sisters of St. Francis has abused the legal process by attempting to prevent her from accessing medical care at any of
its facilities in retaliation for reporting abuse to regulatory authorities.
The hospital lawsuit is a SLAPP lawsuit. A SLAPP lawsuit is filed for the purpose of silencing a critic by taking advantage of the American Rule that each side, win or lose, is responsible for his own attorney's fees. This allows deep pocket plaintiffs to drive up the legal costs for the defendant so high that he or she has to stop the criticism.
Indiana law has tried to address the situation by, in some situations, reversing the American Rule. The Indiana General Assembly needs to go further, providing more protection.
In this case the harshest sanctions possible should come down on the hospital, not only for the attempt to silence Ms. Anglis, but more importantly the attempt to prevent her from talking to state regulators. State regulators should not take that lightly. I worked for the Indiana Department of Insurance. I cannot imagine an insurer telling a member of the public that he or she couldn't talk to the Department of Insurance about a consumer complaint. IDOI would not have tolerated that. Hospitals though, I believe, are regulated by the Attorney General's Office. Why hasn't AG Greg Zoeller's office put a stop to the hospital's attempt to prevent Ms. Anglis from talking to the AG's office about a consumer complaint? This is yet another example of the AG more interested in going after whistleblowers than protecting consumers.
The law firm that filed this lawsuit is Krieg Devault, this time the office in Schererville. Krieg Devault has filed other SLAPP lawsuits on behalf of big corporate clients who wanted to silence critics. The partners of Krieg Devault should be ashamed of having their firm involved in such frivolous litigation aimed at attacking ordinary citizens who simply want to exercise their free speech rights. If it is not unethical to do what Krieg Devault is doing, it should be.
Saturday, November 8, 2008, Legislative Recommendation: Time for Indiana General Assembly to Slap Down SLAPP lawsuits