in the Court of Appeals 14 November 2018.
by plaintiff from orders entered 30 June 2017 by Judge John
O. Craig and 1 February 2018 by Judge Anderson D. Cromer in
Forsyth County No. 15 CVS 2690 Superior Court.
B. Hough, P.A., by David B. Hough, for plaintiff-appellant.
Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, by G. Gray Wilson and
Linda L. Helms, for defendant-appellee Volker Stieber.
Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, by Kristine M.
Sims and William J. McMahon, IV, for defendants-appellees.
Richard Alan Brodkin was an oncologist treating cancer
patients at Forsyth Memorial Hospital in Winston-Salem. In 2014,
other oncologists at the hospital became concerned about Dr.
Brodkin's use of a treatment known as "induction
chemotherapy." Ultimately, following disagreements in a
collaborative meeting intended to ensure best practices, one
of the other oncologists took his concerns to the head of the
department. This resulted in a series of discussions,
investigations, and reports that led the hospital to present
Dr. Brodkin with an ultimatum: sign a letter agreeing to
limit some treatment practices, or be fired.
Dr. Brodkin refused to sign the letter, the hospital
terminated his employment. Dr. Brodkin then filed this
lawsuit, which included claims for breach of contract,
wrongful discharge, tortious interference, fraud, and
defamation. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor
of the Defendants on all claims, and this appeal followed.
explained below, the bulk of Dr. Brodkin's claims fail
because his employment contract was terminable without cause
and the hospital's decision to terminate the contract was
neither a breach of contract nor a violation of our
State's public policy. The fraud claim fails because
there is no evidence of fraud in this record. The defamation
claim fails because the challenged statements are protected
by qualified privilege. Thus, because the trial court
properly concluded that the defendants were entitled to
judgment as a matter of law on all claims, we affirm the
and Procedural History
2010, Forsyth Memorial Hospital purchased Dr. Richard Alan
Brodkin's oncology practice. As part of the purchase, Dr.
Brodkin became an employee of the hospital. When he began
employment, he signed a contract entitled "Physician
Employment Agreement." The contract contained various
terms of the parties' employment relationship. The
contract was terminable without cause by either party and had
no definite term.
of his employment duties as an oncologist, Dr. Brodkin
attended collaborative meetings with other hospital
physicians who treat cancer patients. Together, these
physicians would review patients' case files to ensure
that the hospital's patients were receiving the best
treatment possible. The meetings were referred to as
"Tumor Board" meetings.
case arose out of a disagreement among physicians attending
these Tumor Board meetings. Some of Dr. Brodkin's fellow
oncologists, including Dr. Volker Stieber, were concerned
that Dr. Brodkin's use of a treatment known as
"induction chemotherapy" was inconsistent with
National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines-a set of
guidelines that reflected recommended treatment approaches
from experts around the country-and that these induction
chemotherapy treatments were not the appropriate course of
treatment for Dr. Brodkin's patients.
Dr. Stieber complained to Dr. Susan Hines, the head of
medical oncologists at the hospital. Dr. Hines asked Dr.
Stieber to provide a list of patients who were impacted, and
a description of Dr. Stieber's concerns with those
patients' treatment. In response, Dr. Stieber prepared an
email that summarized Dr. Brodkin's care of ten patients
and explained why Dr. Stieber and some of his colleagues
disagreed with those treatment decisions. Dr. Stieber's
email did not reference Dr. Brodkin by name but it described
the induction chemotherapy treatments provided to ten of Dr.
Brodkin's patients and explained that Dr. Stieber and his
"group" of physicians had concerns about whether
this was the appropriate course of treatment. Dr. Stieber
sent the email directly to Dr. Hines, copying Dr. Dawn Moose,
but the record indicates that the email eventually circulated
to other employees of the hospital.
November 2014, Dr. Timothy Collins, the hospital's
oncology service line lead, and Dr. Thomas Grote, the
hospital's oncology practice lead, met with Dr. Brodkin
to discuss Dr. Stieber's email. According to Dr. Brodkin,
he was unaware of Dr. Stieber's email until this November
meeting. Dr. Collins gave Dr. Brodkin one week to respond to
the issues identified in Dr. Stieber's email and told him
that Dr. Grote would later evaluate the situation and make a
recommendation. Dr. Brodkin spent days reviewing his
patients' records and preparing a response, which he then
submitted to Dr. Grote.
at the request of Dr. Collins and other supervisory staff at
the hospital, Dr. Grote began a further review of Dr.
Brodkin's patient care by forming a committee that
consisted of oncologists from various specializations. The
committee prepared a report with a ...