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Gul v. Center for Family Medicine

February 25, 2009

SAMINA GUL, M.D., PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CENTER FOR FAMILY MEDICINE AND DR. EARL KEMP, DEFENDANTS AND APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, HONORABLE WILLIAM J. SRSTKA, JR. Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gienapp, Circuit Judge

ARGUED ON September 29, 2008

[¶1.] Samina Gul, M.D. (Dr. Gul) commenced an action for breach of contract, defamation, and violation of due process against the Center for Family Medicine (CFM) and one of its physicians, Dr. Earl Kemp (Dr. Kemp). The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, although Dr. Gul's motion was for partial summary judgment as to liability on the contract claim. The circuit court ruled in favor of CFM and Dr. Kemp on the defamation, due process, and breach of contract claims. The circuit court also ruled that Dr. Gul was entitled to summary judgment as to her last month of salary under the contract. Dr. Gul appeals the due process and breach of contract summary judgment rulings and we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

[¶2.] CFM is affiliated with the University of South Dakota Medical School. In April 2004 Dr. Gul was accepted into CFM's medical residency program in the area of family medicine. Dr. Kemp, a family practice physician employed by CFM, supervised the residency program. Dr. Gul was accepted into the program on April 19, 2004, and signed a contract for the program on April 28, 2004. The contract was for a one-year term that was the first year of the three-year residency program.*fn1

Pursuant to the contract, Dr. Gul was paid a stipend for her services. Dr. Gul began her residency with CFM on June 26, 2004.*fn2

[¶3.] Problems with Dr. Gul's work developed and Dr. Gul was advised on December 30, 2004, that she was receiving a Notice of Unsatisfactory Performance and was placed on probation. That document provided in part that there were concerns about Dr. Gul's professionalism, organizational skills, and problem-solving abilities. Additionally, there were concerns with Dr. Gul's proficiency in speaking and writing the English language.

[¶4.] On April 27, 2005, Dr. Gul was notified by CFM that her residency contract would not be renewed for another year. CFM provided Dr. Gul with a document titled Notice of Non-Renewal of Resident Contract for Dr. Gul (Notice of Non-Renewal) which explained the non-renewal decision. The document served as official notice that Dr. Gul's residency contract would not be renewed by CFM after June 30, 2005, and that she would not be receiving a certificate of completion for her first year of residency. The Notice of Non-Renewal referenced the granting of a remedial month. Dr. Gul was subsequently told to turn in her keys and badge, and her scheduled rotations were assigned to other residents. At that time Dr. Gul was informed by CFM that she would be paid through the month of May.

[¶5.] Dr. Gul was provided with the Residents Manual which was comprised of the various policies and guidelines pertinent to the residency program. The manual provided that if a resident was being considered for dismissal from the program, she could request a hearing before the Resident Oversight Committee (ROC) in order to contest the dismissal.

[¶6.] After receiving the Notice of Non-Renewal, Dr. Gul requested a hearing before the ROC, which was held a few weeks later. After the hearing, at which Dr. Gul was represented by counsel, the ROC voted sixteen to one to approve the non-renewal decision. In accordance with the procedure set forth in the Residents Manual, Dr. Gul appealed the ROC's decision to the Graduate Medical Education Committee. Dr. Gul was granted a hearing before that Committee, which was comprised of seven physicians who supervise medical residents. The Committee heard evidence provided by Dr. Gul and her attorney, and the Committee ultimately affirmed the decision of the ROC. Dr. Gul then appealed the decision to CFM's Board of Directors, which affirmed the decision not to renew Dr. Gul's residency contract.

[¶7.] Dr. Gul commenced an action against CFM and Dr. Kemp for defamation, breach of contract, and due process violations. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of CFM and Dr. Kemp on those claims while simultaneously granting summary judgment in favor of Dr. Gul for her last month's salary, that being the month of June. Dr. Gul is appealing the circuit court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of CFM and Dr. Kemp on the issues of breach of contract and a claimed denial of due process. The summary judgment as to the defamation claim was not appealed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶8.] This matter is before the Court on appeal from a grant of summary judgment. Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. SDCL 15-6-56(c). "In reviewing a grant of summary judgment under SDCL 15-6-56(c) we must determine whether the moving party has demonstrated there is no genuine issue of material fact and [the moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Hoglund v. Dakota Fire Ins. Co., 2007 SD 123, ¶7, 742 NW2d 853, 856. All reasonable inferences drawn from the facts must be viewed in favor of the nonmoving party and reasonable doubts should be resolved against the moving party. Wilson v. Great N. Ry. Co., 83 SD 207, 212, 157 NW2d 19, 21 (1968). "The burden is on the moving party to clearly show an absence of any genuine issue of material fact and an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law." Butler Mach. Co. v. Morris Const. Co., 2004 SD 81, ¶5, 682 NW2d 773, 776 (quoting Chilson v. Kimbell Sch. Dist. No. 7-2, 2003 SD 53, ¶7, 663 NW2d 667, 669). "Our task on appeal is to determine only whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the law was correctly applied" by the lower court. Wojewski v. Rapid City Reg'l Hosp., Inc., 2007 SD 33, ¶12, 730 NW2d 626, 631 (quoting Reed v. McKennan Hosp., 2000 SD 66, ¶8, 610 NW2d 782, 784). The construction of a written contract is a question of law for the Court to consider. Dirks v. Sioux Valley Empire Elec. Ass'n, 450 NW2d 426, 427-28 (SD 1990). Affirmance is proper if any basis exists which would support the circuit court's ruling. ...


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