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John v. Idaho Department of Correction

January 6, 2012

JOHN F. NOAK, M.D., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; AND RICHARD D. HAAS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND PRISON HEALTH SERVICES, INC., A SUBSIDIARY OF AMERICAN SERVICES GROUP, INC., AND DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Richard D. Greenwood, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Jones, Justice

2012 Opinion No. 7

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

This case stems from Dr. John F. Noak's dismissal as the medical director for Prison Health Services, Inc. (PHS), which provided medical services for the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) under a contract. Noak appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of IDOC and Richard D. Haas, an IDOC employee, on claims of breach of an implied covenant of good faith, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and intentional interference with contract. The district court awarded attorney fees to IDOC, which Noak also appeals. We affirm the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

IDOC contracted with PHS to provide medical services for prison inmates. PHS hired Noak as its medical director for the IDOC contract. As medical director, Noak oversaw "all medical services provided by PHS to the various IDOC facilities." Noak was also the principal physician at some of the IDOC facilities, including the South Boise Women's Correctional Center (SBWCC).

On January 30, 2004, Noak treated an SBWCC inmate named Norma Hernandez, who had been ill for several days. Noak attended to Hernandez in an examination room and then helped in returning her to her cell down the hall. The details of Hernandez' trip from the exam room to her cell are "hotly disputed" and are central to the incident giving rise to this case. Noak and IDOC agree that "Hernandez left the exam room accompanied by Ms. [Jana] Nicholson, a certified medical specialist." Noak says that "[h]e heard someone say 'are you going to faint.'" According to Noak, he then went into the hall, positioned himself to support Hernandez if she did faint, determined she was not going to faint, and escorted her to her cell. But, according to Nicholson, Noak "came out of the exam room and 'aggressively' inserted himself between her and the patient." In Nicholson's account, Noak forced Hernandez to "walk 'briskly' down the hall." In Hernandez' version of the facts, Noak grabbed Hernandez by the arm, forced Nicholson to let go of Hernandez, and pushed Nicholson away. According to Hernandez, Noak ushered her down the hall, making her walk on her "tippy toes," and threatened her in the process.

Hernandez filed a complaint about Noak after the incident in the hallway. Hernandez asserted that Noak was "abrupt and rude," that he was unconcerned with her well-being, and that he threatened her with relocation to the Pocatello Women's Correctional Center if she did not "heal quickly." Based on Hernandez' complaint, IDOC Lieutenant Christie Presley issued an order to restrict Noak from SBWCC. Then, on February 12, 2004, Tom Beauclair, IDOC Director at the time, banned Noak from all IDOC facilities while IDOC investigated the incident. PHS placed Noak on administrative leave during the investigation. IDOC began an investigation and then referred the issue to the Ada County Sheriff to investigate Hernandez' allegations that Noak battered her. The Ada County Prosecutor declined to prosecute Noak.

On March 9, 2004, IDOC demanded that PHS replace Noak as medical director under IDOC's contract. IDOC made its demand in a letter that Haas drafted and Beauclair signed. The letter stated that IDOC had the right under its contract with PHS "to demand immediate replacement of 'anyone who has broken the rules and/or regulations of the Department, who poses a risk or unacceptable threat to security of the institution or whose actions are disruptive to a specific institution or the Department.'" PHS removed Noak as medical director and fired him on March 10, 2004.

Then, on March 15, 2004, Haas wrote a letter to the Idaho Board of Medicine (IBOM), notifying it of the occurrence. The letter stated that IDOC investigated a claim of battery against Noak; that Noak allegedly pushed another staff member and grabbed an inmate; that Noak was banned from IDOC facilities; and that IDOC had demanded Noak's replacement as medical director. IBOM took no action against Noak.

In the wake of his firing and the subsequent events, Noak brought this action against PHS, IDOC, and Haas, alleging numerous claims: (1) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (2) intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; (3) defamation per se; (4) tortious interference with contract or prospective economic advantage; and (5) conversion. Each of the defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims against them. Noak ultimately conceded that his conversion claim was meritless, so the court granted summary judgment for all defendants on that count. The district court granted summary judgment to IDOC and Haas on all remaining claims against them, and the court awarded attorney fees to IDOC. The court denied summary judgment to PHS on the claims for breach of the covenant of good faith, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation per se. PHS and Noak settled those claims and stipulated to dismissal with prejudice. Noak now appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to IDOC and Haas. We must determine whether respondents were entitled to summary judgment on any or all of Noak's claims, and whether IDOC was entitled to attorney fees.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of review.

In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, this Court applies the same standard as the district court that originally ruled on the motion. Hoyle v. Utica Mut. Ins. Co., 137 Idaho 367, 371, 48 P.3d 1256, 1260 (2002). "The Court exercises free review over the entire record that was before the district judge to determine whether either side was entitled to summary judgment." Farber v. Idaho State Ins. Fund, 147 Idaho 307, 310, 208 P.3d 289, 292 (2009). The district court should grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, 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." I.R.C.P. 56(c).

B. IDOC is entitled to summary judgment on Noak's claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

IDOC is entitled to summary judgment on Noak's claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing because IDOC and Noak had no contractual relationship. Idaho law implies a covenant of good faith and fair dealing when doing so is consistent with the express terms of an agreement between contracting parties. See Idaho Power Co. v. Cogeneration, Inc., 134 Idaho 738, 750, 9 P.3d 1202, 1214 (2000). When it is implied, "[t]he covenant requires that the parties perform, in good faith, the obligations imposed by their agreement." Id. Only a party to a contract may assert a claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Tolley v. THI Co., 140 Idaho 253, 261, 92 P.3d 503, 511 ...


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