Ballad Health filed a motion Monday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville to dismiss a lawsuit filed in April that claims there is a conflict of interest between governing boards of Ballad Health and East Tennessee Physicians and Associates that could inhibit health care market competition.
Ballad Health issued a statement Monday in connection to the motion to dismiss the civil action naming the health care organization and its volunteer board members.
“Not only have Ballad Health’s board members acted with total integrity at all times, they are each owed our gratitude for the hundreds of hours they spend, without pay, committed to our community, our education and health care systems. The motion to dismiss clearly demonstrates that the claims made by the plaintiffs are without merit,” it said.
The antitrust lawsuit was filed April 12 in federal court by Greeneville lawyer Francis X. Santore Jr. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of nine plaintiff-citizens from Sullivan and Washington counties.
The legal action claims the current makeup of the boards amounts to “interlocking directorates” with clear conflicts of interest and asks the court to change the makeup of the Ballad Health Board of Directors.
Defendants include Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger and other members of the Ballad Health Board: Brian Noland, Barbara Allen, Julie Bennett, David Golden, David Lester, Alan Levine, David May, Gary Peacock, Doug Springer and Keith Wilson.
The Medical Education Assistance Corporation, doing business as East Tennessee Physicians and Associates and University Physicians Practice Group, is also a defendant.
East Tennessee Physicians is described in the lawsuit as “a captive corporate unit of East Tennessee State University.”
Niswonger and Golden also serve on the ETSU Board of Trustees. Noland is ETSU president.
ETSU Physicians and Ballad Health are economic competitors in providing medical services and in employing medical professionals, the lawsuit states. Niswonger, Noland and Golden serving on both boards create conflicts of interest that the court needs to address, the lawsuit claims.
“In the extreme,” the lawsuit states, Niswonger and Golden have the authority with other trustees to “dissolve” ETSU Physicians “and thus completely stifle its status as a market competitor with Ballad.”
Ballad’s own code of ethics states that the “interlocking governance relationships” of Niswonger, Golden and Noland “prohibits these three distinguished gentlemen from serving two masters,” according to the lawsuit.
The civil action states the Ballad Health Certificate of Public Advantage, the legal agreement governing the formation of Ballad Health from predecessor health care systems, does not provide for active state supervision of the composition of Ballad’s board of directors.
The lawsuit asks the court to consider “the relevant volumes of the competitive healthcare market affected by the challenged interlocking directorates.”
It asks the court to reconfigure the Ballad board.
In response, Ballad Health cites legal grounds on several points in asking the court to dismiss the case. The motion states that plaintiffs “lack standing to bring their claims in federal court and plaintiffs fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted.”
Plaintiffs “have failed to allege a case or controversy.” The U.S. Constitution requires dismissal of the complaint under a rule governing “lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” the motion states.
The motion also states the lawsuit should be dismissed “for failing to state a claim for which relief can be granted because plaintiffs have failed to allege antitrust injury and failed to plead the requisite elements of (one section) of the Clayton Act.”
The Clayton Antitrust Act was passed in 1914 to regulate U.S. business practices. The legislation prohibits anti-competitive mergers, predatory and discriminatory pricing, and other types of unethical corporate behavior.
Ballad Health has immunity under the federal antitrust laws, “which is an additional ground for dismissal,” the motion states.
Ballad Health has no parent corporation or publicly held corporation owning 10 percent or more of its stock, according to a certificate of corporate interest filed by Jimmie Miller, of the Kingsport-based law firm of Hunter, Smith & Davis that represents Ballad Health.
The federal court “does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this case, and (plaintiffs) have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” according to the Ballad Health motion.
Santore declined to discuss the case Monday, in accordance with what he said is a local federal district court rule prohibiting comment on the pending legal matter. Santore did say that Ballad Health violated the rule by releasing the statement, a matter he intends to take up with the court.
“Ballad Health, we think and believe most respectfully, has violated (the rule) because Ballad Health has made a comment on the merits of this lawsuit through the very language of this press release (Monday), and as a result we will ask the federal district court to deal appropriately with such sanctions as it may feel that it may want to enter against Ballad Health,” Santore said. “They shouldn’t have done that and that’s in violation of (the rule).”
Jeffrey W. Brennan of the Washington law firm of McDermott, Will & Emory LLP, filed documents Monday with the court to be allowed to practice in Tennessee to participate specifically in the Ballad Health case.
Brennan will assist in representing Ballad Health and other defendants.
The Tennessee Department of Health approved a Certificate of Public Advantage in January 2018 that paved the way for the merger of Mountain States Health System and Wellmont Health Systems into the healthcare system known as Ballad Health.
The lawsuit states that the Ballad COPA “does not provide for active state supervision” of the Ballad board. It also states that the Ballad board COPA “does not satisfy the state action immunity doctrine.”
Ballad Health issued a first statement in April after the lawsuit was filed.
“Ballad Health’s board members are community leaders of the highest integrity with a collective history of years of selfless service. They were carefully selected in accordance with the law and with the consent of our regulators in Tennessee and Virginia. Ballad Health will respond through the appropriate legal process after the lawsuit is served and thoroughly reviewed,” it said.
Plaintiffs in the case include Christine Bearden, David Bearden, Terri Cook, Elmer Derrell Freer, Carolyn Gibbons, Ladonna F. Greer, Mark Hutchins, Kevin Mitchell, Jamie Strange Pierson and Crystal Gail Regan.
There are currently no hearing dates set for the case.
Many Camp Creek residents either held a yard sale or went to one — or more — over the weekend.
It was the 22nd year that the Camp Creek community has had its annual yard sales, which the Camp Creek Ruritan Club sponsored.
Besides yard sales at individual homes, the Ruritan club hosted at its pavilion several sellers with a variety of goods, from pocket knives to beach bags.
On Saturday morning, the club’s pavilion hummed with activity as sunny weather brought out bargain hunters.
Minnie Banks joked that she visited Camp Creek Ruritan Memorial Park to “see if I can buy a yard.” She was there with her husband and grandson.
Banks perused crocheted rag rugs that Rose Gess had on display.
Jennifer Reaves sold earrings, and was joined at the pavilion by her daughter, Whitney, and niece, Juliette Johnson.
Six-year-old Kaitlyn Coakley stood behind a table full of bows, bookmarks and key rings for sale. Her parents said it was a fundraiser for Girl Scouts Troop 235 in Camp Creek.
David Gess displayed several pocket knives for sale, only part of his vast collection, he said. Gess talked about his lengthy job history, saying he worked on the first space shuttle in Florida as an inspector. He and his wife, Rose, are Camp Creek residents.
Kimberly Shelton sold earrings, necklaces, magnets and framed photographs. She crocheted unique beach bags made of different colored plastic bags.
Ruritan volunteers sold biscuits and gravy, hot dogs, hamburgers, warm, homemade sugar-coated doughnuts, and “walking tacos” — bags of tortilla chips filled with taco ingredients, ready to be eaten “on the go.”
After the yard sale, Bob Johnson, club treasurer, said the community service organization sold “a lot” of grilled hamburgers to sellers and buyers alike. “We did pretty well on food,” he said.
Although the community yard sale was officially held Friday and Saturday, David and Mary Pabst sold goods out of their garage on Thursday, as well.
Sales were “real good” at their Ricker Road residence each of the three days, David Pabst said. He said sales on Friday were “pretty good, considering all the rain.”
“My wife’s the brains of the (yard sale) operation,” said David within earshot of his wife.
The Pabsts sold clothes, food, toiletries, power tools, books, books on tape, and more.
The Camp Creek Ruritan Club has planned more summer activities. The club will again host free family-oriented movies at its pavilion, 2999 Camp Creek Road, on Friday nights.
The movie nights start at 7 p.m with games and other activities for kids, followed by the movie. Free popcorn and a drink, plus another refreshment, will be offered to attendees. The pavilion is enclosed so it can keep the sun and wind out of their events, if needed.
Movies being shown are “A Dog’s Way Home” on Friday, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” on June 21, “The Game Plan” on June 28, “Firehouse Dog” on July12, a “mystery movie” on July 19, and “Mary Poppins Returns” on July 26.
There will be no movie on Friday during the Fourth of July weekend.
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is planning a program in observance of Flag Day on Friday.
The program starts at 6 p.m. at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, 121 Monument Ave.
“This program will serve as an excellent opportunity for visitors of all ages to witness a patriotic and emotionally moving ceremony normally conducted within the confines of Scouting and veterans organizations,” a news release from the National Park Service said.
Visitors are invited to learn more about the origins, history and etiquette of the U.S. flag and will be able to take part in a flag retirement ceremony, in accordance with U.S. Flag Code.
The code states, “When a flag is worn beyond repair, it shall be retired in a dignified manner, the preferred method is by burning.” The ceremony will fulfill that requirement, the release said.
“Upon his death in 1875, it was President Andrew Johnson’s final wish that his body be wrapped in one of the most sacred of our national symbols, the United States Flag,” the release said, adding that the program is designed “in keeping with this deep reverence for our country’s flag.”
For more information, contact the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Visitor Center at 638-3551.
Music, photography, painting and pottery: Each of these trades, and more, are represented at the Greene County Makers social gatherings every other Thursday at Firehouse Glass Studio.
The “makers,” as they call themselves, have a vision to provide a space for local artisans to come and create whatever it is they want.
“I’m all about hearing organic ideas,” said Ferris Ellis, president of the organization. “Let’s hear what your ideas are, and then let’s see how we can make it happen.”
The end-goal for the makers is to buy or rent a building and fully equip it with the tools and spaces needed to create different mediums of art.
So far, the makers want to see a recording studio, pottery space, commercial kitchen, space for robotics and painting and pottery studios in the building.
“We want to take all of our skills and put them in a cauldron,” said Vice President Pete Higgins. “We want to bridge art with electronics and construction and anything else that people want to do.”
According to Ellis, the two core tenants of the organization are space and community. The makers have accomplished the community aspect by hosting biweekly social gatherings at Firehouse Glass Studio, owned by Mark Russell.
The largest gathering was the “Throw and Blow and Roll” event on May 11, where over 30 people gathered to watch and learn the art of glassblowing, pottery turning and print rolling.
“What was great about that event was that the artists let you see how to do it and even try it out,” said Higgins.
While the makers have appreciated meeting at Firehouse Glass Studio, they long to have a space of their own.
“So far it’s been an informal gathering of makers,” said Higgins. “We really need a home.”
Once the Greene County Makers have a building, they hope to involve local schools in order to teach students about the possibilities of creating.
“I haven’t really seen anything where people can be together and create,” said Ellis. “We want it to be a space for everyone, and we want people to know there is a creative group out there. I’m hopeful that people will see the potential and find interest.”
The next makers’ social gathering will be in conjunction with the Greeneville Arts Council on Thursday at 6 p.m. The Firehall Glass Studio will be hosting the council’s FurnARTture Auction.
“We want to get the community interested in ‘making,’” said Higgins. “We want to involve the public at large, to teach and explain and share what we do.”
For more information on the Greene County Makers, visit facebook.com/greenecountymakers and join the mailing list.