Federal judge suspends action on West Penn-UPMC suit

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A federal judge today stayed the antitrust case filed by West Penn Allegheny Health Systems against UPMC, saying in a sharply worded order that West Penn has accused him of being biased.

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab today wrote in an order that his court cannot "properly function under such a threat" of accusations of bias by one of the parties in the highly publicized case. He was referring to a footnote in a motion filed by West Penn Allegheny on Friday, in which attorneys for the region's second-largest hospital system wrote that he "has made a worrisome practice of misstating and mischaracterizing" their positions in the case.

In that motion, West Penn Allegheny's lawyers said that Judge Schwab had mischaracterized their position in opposition to the release of the Affiliation Agreement between West Penn and insurer Highmark -- a document that the judge ordered to be filed publicly with only very limited redactions. West Penn Allegheny's attorneys also cited other writings by Judge Schwab and said their client "respectfully urges the Court to correct its misstatements to avoid any possible appearance of bias."

Judge Schwab wrote that he was being asked to "correct" his writings "by some undisclosed legal procedure." He denied a request by West Penn Allegheny that he reconsider an order allowing UPMC to seek some information from its rival, and invited the plaintiff to appeal.

Until that appeal is filed and decided, he will pause the case, he wrote.

"In conclusion," he added, "the Court believes that its three most recent opinions/orders ... were well-researched, fair, and consistent with applicable law, and do not demonstrate 'any possible appearance of bias.'"

West Penn Allegheny sued both UPMC and Highmark in 2009, saying they conspired to stifle competition. After Highmark offered to take over West Penn Allegheny, it dropped its accusations against he insurer, and sought Judge Schwab's approval to refocus the case entirely on UPMC. The judge has not ruled on that request.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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