Monday, September 17, 2018
Court of Appeal:
Medical Board Had Standing to Appeal Lifting of Malpractice Judgment Against Ex-Doctor
Justice Rubin Says Board Was ‘Aggrieved’ by Order Granting Coram Nobis Petition, Upsetting Findings of Negligence in Action Resolved Six Years Earlier
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has held that the California Medical Board has standing to appeal the vacating of a medical malpractice judgment entered six years earlier against a man who was then a neurosurgeon, but whose license has since been revoked.
The board in 2016 yanked the physician and surgeon certificate held by Hrayr Shahinian, and while its action was being challenged later that year in a Sacramento Superior Court writ proceeding, the former doctor brought a petition for writ of error coram nobis in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The effort was aimed at upsetting findings that were made in a 2010 malpractice judgment against him and his businesses, Skull Base Institute and Skull Base Medical Group, Inc.
The findings, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, were used against Shahinian in the administrative proceeding.
Although the coram nobis petition satisfied the requisite of setting forth a post-judgment discovery—it claimed that a report favorable to the doctor had just surfaced at the administrative hearing—Shahinian’s attorney, Richard D. Carroll, admitted to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian at a Feb. 7, 2017, hearing on the petition that he did know of that report at the time of trial.
Acting Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin of Div. Eight wrote the unpublished opinion, filed Thursday, agreeing with the board that Keosian’s order by granting the petition and vacating the 2010 malpractice judgment must be reversed.
“There was no newly discovered evidence here,” Rubin said.
The report in question was, in fact, admitted into evidence at trial in 2010, and a doctor’s fresh interpretation of that report, he said, “is not ‘newly discovered’ evidence for the purposes of a writ of error coram nobis.”
With respect to the board’s standing, Rubin noted that the plaintiffs in the malpractice action had no incentive to appeal Keosian’s order. He pointed out that the petition said:
“Dr. Shahinian is not seeking to reverse the monetary award as that has been issued and that part of the matter is closed.”
Effort to Participate
Although the board was not a party below, Rubin said, it attempted to intervene. The board asked to be allowed to file opposition to the petition, he recited, and Keosian did not consent.
After judgment was entered in favor of Shahinian on May 4, 2017, Rubin recited, the board sought an order vacating the judgment, but Keosian responded that the board should have filed opposition to the petition—which, the justice noted, Keosian had “denied the Medical Board leave to do.”
He declared that the “motion to set aside the judgment vested the Medical Board with appellate standing,” elaborating:
“We conclude the Medical Board was sufficiently aggrieved by the trial court’s judgment. Ironically, in light of Shahinian’s express concession that by the coram nobis petition he was ‘not seeking to reverse the monetary award’ to the Rallis, the Medical Board appears to have been the only party aggrieved by the petition.”
“[T]he new judgment vacating the malpractice findings against Shahinian was secured for the purpose of (1) undoing the labors of the Medical Board, namely a nine-day trial leading to the revocation of Shahinian’s medical license, and (2) affecting the pending mandamus proceeding in which the Medical Board was a party. We find the Medical Board is sufficiently aggrieved and has standing to challenge the new…judgment.”
With respect to the 2017 judgment, he pointed out that Keosian “did not address” Czuleger’s findings “that Shahinian had engaged in ‘extreme and outrageous conduct,’ fraud, and ‘malice and oppression,’ but simply vacated the entire judgment on the ground Shahinian had not been negligent.”
In a footnote, Rubin remarked:
“We also doubt that the trial court is authorized to simply enter a new judgment in a petitioner’s favor after granting a writ of error coram nobis, but may only recall the original judgment.”
In the 2010 malpractice case, Czuleger awarded George Ralli $500,600 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages, as well as $150,000 to Ralli’s wife for loss of consortium. As a result of surgery performed by Shahinian, Ralli eventually suffered a complete loss of hearing.
Czuleger charged that Shahinian was “more interested in marketing than he was in medicine” and indicated a belief that either the doctor someone acting at his behest had whited out a portion of a pathology report.
Rubin noted that when the coram nobis petition was sent to Czuleger, he recused himself to “further the interests of justice” and because a “person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial.”
The case is Ralli v. Shahinian, B284153.
Deputy Attorney General Rebecca L. Smith in Los Angeles represented the medical board. Counsel for Shahinian were Phillip A. Baker and Christopher K. Mosqueda of the downtown Los Angeles law firm of Baker, Keener & Nahra; Thomas V. Girardi and James G. O’Callahan of Girardi Keese in Los Angeles; and Richard D. Carroll of Carroll, Kelly, Trotter, Franzen, McKenna & Peabody in Long Beach.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company