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Tort/Negligence – Defamation – Labor & Employment – Letters to Patients

Toussaint v. Palmetto Health (Lawyers Weekly No. 002-136-17, 5 pp.) (Mary Geiger Lewis, J.) 3:15-cv-02778; D.S.C.

Holding: An untrue innuendo or inference drawn from a true statement may give rise to liability if the inference is reasonable. From a letter that defendant sent to plaintiff’s patients – which accurately told the patients that plaintiff was no longer practicing at Palmetto Health – five of plaintiff’s patients inferred that plaintiff had abandoned them. This inference was objectively unreasonable.

The court grants defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff’s defamation claim. Defendants have not objected to the magistrate judge’s recommendation that their motion be denied as to plaintiff’s claim for violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

Plaintiff also maintains that defendants should have told his patients that he had gone to work for Lexington Medical Center and that, by failing to do so, defendants violated their duty to provide full and accurate information to patients regarding a physician’s departure from a practice. Plaintiff seeks to impose on defendants the responsibility to infer knowledge of his new employment from rumors in the workplace and an email asking Palmetto Health to release plaintiff’s personal belongings to an individual named John Moore. This scant evidence is insufficient to constitute notice to defendants that plaintiff was now employed by Lexington Medical Center. The actions taken by defendants were in line with their ethical duties, avoiding speculation and informing patients of what they knew to be true and nothing more: Plaintiff no longer worked at Palmetto Health.

Motion granted in part and denied in part.

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