U.S. District Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti said at a hearing today that she is likely to put a hold on a civil rights lawsuit filed by UPMC against the city of Pittsburgh, at least until she decides whether to dismiss it.
Judge Conti presided over a hearing on whether to dismiss or stay the lawsuit in which the region's largest health system claimed that the city violated its due process rights. UPMC claims that its rights were violated when the city announced and filed a lawsuit challenging its exemption from payroll taxes.
Representing UPMC, attorney James Kraus said that the city and an advocacy group tied to the Service Employees International Union "have misrepresented facts ... to damage UPMC's reputation and relations in the community."
He said the goal of the city's challenge to the exemption, of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's unveiling of findings from an "investigation," and advocacy group Fair Share Pittsburgh's subsequent media campaign was "to really make UPMC look bad, like a scofflaw ... like somebody who doesn't pay their fair share."
Leon Dayan, an attorney representing Fair Share Pittsburgh, said that's no basis for a civil rights lawsuit.
"Harm to reputation, no matter how severe, doesn't invoke any constitutional liberty and property interests," Mr. Dayan said.
After Judge Conti indicated that she was inclined to stay the case, attorney William Pietragallo, representing UPMC, said that might make discovery much more difficult.
"We have a mayor and an administration that are going to leave in January," he said. "Where are we going to find these people when they're gone?"
The judge said that she will decide "fairly promptly" how to proceed with the case.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord