Erlanger lawyer claims Hutcheson Medical Center lied about having no more information

Erlanger lawyer claims Hutcheson Medical Center lied about having no more information

March 19th, 2016 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Hutcheson Medical Center is seen in this December 2015 file photograph.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A lawyer for Hutcheson Medical Center says he has nothing left to share — no documents to look for, no documents to hide, nothing at all.

But a lawyer for Erlanger Health System says that's not true. It just can't be.

Jennifer Shelfer, the attorney for Erlanger, filed a motion in U.S. District Court on Thursday, arguing that Hutcheson has not given her enough important documents in the discovery process for the pending lawsuit between the two hospitals.

She asked Judge Harold Murphy to force Hutcheson to turn over more paperwork and explain everything it has done to try to find all pertinent documents. She also asked for Hutcheson to pay for some of Erlanger's attorney fees, saying she and the rest of her team have had to spend hours trying to force Hutcheson to turn over information it should have supplied a year ago.

Erlanger and Hutcheson are tangled in two federal lawsuits because a marriage between the hospitals ended in an ugly divorce 2 1/2 years ago. Erlanger loaned Hutcheson $20 million and has been demanding that money back. Hutcheson officials, meanwhile, said Erlanger's leaders always had sinister intentions with their management agreement, attempting behind the scenes to steal Hutcheson's patients.

Hutcheson has demanded an unspecified amount of money, though its lawyers believe the value should be greater than $20 million.

The case has implications for taxpayers throughout Catoosa and Walker counties because their elected officials offered security to Erlanger back in 2011, when the Chattanooga hospital issued the loan. If Hutcheson couldn't pay back the $20 million, the counties promised to each pay Erlanger half of that debt.

Nobody has paid that money yet.

Last year, as part of the two lawsuits, Erlanger's lawyers filed a motion for discovery. They wanted all documents that pertained to 25 questions. In April, Hutcheson gave Erlanger nine documents that answered four of those questions. They said all other documents were privileged.

In July, Erlanger filed another motion, asking the judge to force Hutcheson to give up more information. A month later, Hutcheson gave Erlanger 156 more documents. But Erlanger's lawyers asked for more, saying Hutcheson had not supplied all the information it could.

On March 3, Georgia Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, the attorney for Hutcheson and the son of one of the hospital's board members, told the judge that Erlanger's latest request was unnecessary.

"There are no other known documents that are responsive to the request," Weldon wrote.

But in Thursday's filing, Shelfer argued that Weldon had not attempted to answer all of Erlanger's questions.

"Apparently, believing that its untimely production of some additional documents pushes the fight off for another day," she wrote, "[Hutcheson] fails to respond to any of the substantive concerns identified by Erlanger — concerns which persist in the Hospital Authority's Amended Responses [from August]."

She also said Weldon should explain what specifically he has done to find all the documents that Erlanger wants.

"When parties are working to resolve discovery differences, they routinely exchange this sort of information voluntarily in an effort to avoid imposing on the court," Shelfer wrote. "[Hutcheson's] resistance to explaining what it has done in the way of discovery may in itself be telling. It appears that it simply has not done enough."

On Thursday, Weldon announced he will withdraw from his re-election campaign for state representative. He said he is spread too thin between his life as a politician, his life as an attorney and his life at home.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@times or at 423-757-6476.