Special master ordered to resolve UPMC, West Penn legal morass

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A federal judge today ordered that a special master work out the legal discovery disputes between southwestern Pennsylvania's two largest hospital systems in an effort to break the legal logjams that have developed over millions of documents and scores of depositions.

The order by U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti comes in the three-year-old antitrust case by West Penn Allegheny Health System against UPMC.

West Penn wants time to go through some 10 million pages of documents it received yesterday from UPMC before conducting depositions, while UPMC wants to start asking questions of former and current West Penn executives as soon as possible.

"While it would be good for the law firms and lawyers to wallow around in millions of documents until May," said Paul M. Pohl, one of UPMC's attorneys at a status hearing today, "we need to start depositions."

Judge Conti said that a special master -- an expert on electronic discovery -- could handle scheduling disputes and help craft a scheduled by mid-October. She said all factual discovery, including a total of 60 depositions, must be done by the end of 2013.

The legal tangle is complex.

West Penn initially sued UPMC and Highmark, saying they conspired to stifle competition. But Highmark is seeking regulatory approval to acquire West Penn, which has dropped it from the case.

UPMC has separately sued Highmark, calling the insurer the region's healthcare-market monopolist.

And private firm Royal Mile Co. has sued UPMC and Highmark, claiming they conspired to boost rates. Royal Mile is in the process of settling with Highmark, but not with UPMC.

Reschini Agency, an insurance broker in Indiana County and one of 26 businesses that got expansive subpoenas from UPMC, told Judge Conti that it would face a "Herculean" task in complying with the hospital system's demand for 17 years of records on its dealings with Highmark.

Judge Conti agreed that UPMC's subpoenas to outside firms have been too broad and ordered the hospital system to narrow its document demand to Reschini Agency.

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


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