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Doctor who spoke out on hospital issue is a public figure

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Doctor who spoke out on hospital issue is a public figure 11/16/98 NEW MEXICO--A prominent doctor is a limited-purpose public…

Doctor who spoke out on hospital issue is a public figure


NEW MEXICO–A prominent doctor is a limited-purpose public figure because he voluntarily injected himself into a national debate regarding emergency medicine, a federal district judge in Albuquerque found in early October.

In dismissing the doctor’s defamation suit over an article that appeared in an American Medical Association publication, Judge James Parker also concluded that the article contained substantially true information about a separate lawsuit that involved him.

The AMA article, published in American Medical News in September 1994, stated that Dr. George Schwartz was “being sued for stock fraud.” The actual complaint filed by a hospital management company against Schwartz in state court in North Carolina, about which the AMA was reporting, alleged that a 1993 editorial written by Schwartz was deceptive and had devalued its stock.

Schwartz’s editorial essay was critical of the trend of hospital emergency rooms being taken over by multi-hospital contract management companies, and the hospital management company sued Schwartz after the editorial was published.

Parker concluded that the reported allegations and the allegations that appeared in the complaint against Schwartz were substantially similar, which made the AMA article substantially true.

Parker also found Schwartz was a limited-purpose public figure, who would have to prove that the article was both false and published with actual malice — knowledge of that falsity or reckless disregard for the truth — to recover for defamation under New Mexico law.

The judge subsequently found that the nationally-recognized doctor had injected himself into a public controversy over emergency medical care, which was receiving national media attention, by writing the editorial and speaking about it in a television interview.

Parker then determined that Schwartz, as a limited-purpose public figure, had failed to establish the requisite element of falsity because the AMA report was substantially true.

The judge did note that it was possible, although doubtful, that Schwartz could prove the additional element of actual malice. However, because Schwartz could not establish the necessary element of falsity, his defamation claim was dismissed. Schwartz has appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeal in Santa Fe (10th Cir.). (Schwartz v. American Medical Association; Media Counsel: Martin R. Esquivel, Albuquerque)