CLEARFIELD – A decision wasn’t made on a preliminary injunction in a doctor controversy before Clearfield County President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman on Thursday in Clearfield County Court.
Dr. Kelly Duckett has pursued opening Life’s Journey, an OB/GYN practice in the Parkview Professional Center in DuBois. In December of 2012, she left the practice of Dr. Gary Ott of Women’s Care of Western Pennsylvania, located at 145 Hospital Ave., in DuBois. Ott has filed a lawsuit against Duckett, who had worked for him since July of 2009 until approximately two months ago.
In court, Ott’s attorney Gregory H. Teufel of Eckert Seamans in Pittsburgh sought a preliminary injunction. A preliminary injunction would prevent Duckett from opening her practice in DuBois until the judge has decided the case.
Teufel argued that Duckett signed an employee agreement with Ott, and it included a non-compete clause. He said the non-compete clause prohibited Duckett from working within a 65-mile radius of Ott for two years after leaving employment at his practice.
Despite the non-compete clause in Duckett’s employee contract, Ammerman can permit Duckett to open Life’s Journey in DuBois if he finds a need exists for an OB/GYN practice in the surrounding area.
During his argument, Teufel claimed the area has “plenty” of OB/GYN practices. In addition, he claimed that Ott could serve the entire 65-mile radius and get emergency patients scheduled the same or the next day. Teufel claimed Ott could get non-emergency patients scheduled within a matter of weeks. Teufel’s claims were met with a burst of laughter from the approximately 80 patients who were in attendance to support Duckett.
Ott currently serves as the medical director of his practice at Women’s Care of Western Pennsylvania, which is the largest women’s health practice in the area. His practice also consists of Heather L. Sholtis, DO, and Joseph W. Meyn, MD. Both Sholtis and Meyn are associate physicians, according to the Web site for Ott’s practice.
Duckett’s attorney Joel Sansone of Pittsburgh argued Ott had promised Duckett that she’d become partner with him at Women’s Care of Western Pennsylvania at some point during her three-year contract. He said Ott never presented Duckett with the opportunity to partner with him.
Sansone said that the Central Pennsylvania Physicians Risk Retention Group conducted a study, which found there was a need for OB/GYN practices in the surrounding area. In fact, he said it found that there were unattended births under the care of nurses who didn’t have adequate training.
Ammerman said he couldn’t make a determination based solely on listening to two attorneys arguing. He said, “This is just one big mess.” Ammerman felt if he granted the preliminary injunction he would be putting Ott “in the driver’s seat.” On the other hand, he felt if he didn’t and Duckett lost the case later, she would lose a lot more in the end.
Ammerman directed counsel to meet with him privately in his chambers, so that he could rearrange his schedule to hear the case again at a later date. When court reconvened, Ammerman said he wouldn’t be making a decision on the preliminary injunction. He rescheduled the hearing for 9 a.m. April 2-3 in Courtroom 1.
“The judge decided he wasn’t entering into a preliminary injunction before hearing some evidence first,” said Sansone when addressing the media afterward. Duckett isn’t permitted to comment on the case.
For now, Duckett is permitted to open her Life’s Journey OB/GYN practice and see patients. Sansone addressed patients in the courtroom after the hearing. He advised them that to protect Duckett, she’s been advised not to reach out to them. Sansone told them that they must initiate all contact with Duckett.
Sansone encouraged the patients to contact hospital administrators in DuBois to support Duckett. He also encouraged them to write “Letters to the Editor” and to rally community support for her.
Teufel didn’t address the media after court adjourned.