Doctor waited too long to sue IL, Cook County officials he said wrongly yanked his license over patient death, judge says

By Dan Churney | Mar 28, 2016

A doctor’s federal lawsuit against Cook County and state medical authorities, which contends they conspired to wrongly yank his medical license almost 20 years ago for allegedly killing a terminally ill patient, has been dismissed, because it was filed years too late and some of its claims belong in state court.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer laid down the ruling March 18 in Chicago federal court against 60-year-old Dr. Robert Lance Wilson in Wilson’s action against the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR.)

The case stems from 1998, when a 69-year-old male patient of Wilson’s died at Olympia Fields Hospital in south suburban Olympia Fields. The Richton Park man had been in severe distress, suffering from end-stage renal disease and blockage of a major vein that caused his windpipe to swell, restricting his breathing. The man had a do-not-resuscitate order and had refused a breathing tube, according to court documents.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office determined the man died from an injection of potassium chloride. The IDFPR then concluded Wilson had made the injection to kill the patient, and suspended his medical license without Wilson having the benefit of a hearing. Police were contacted, but no criminal charge was ever filed. The dead man’s brother lodged a wrongful death lawsuit against Wilson, but dropped it in 1999 without a settlement.

Wilson said he administered the injection, which was of a less-than-lethal dose, not to kill the man, but to render the man unconscious as he “spiraled through the terrifying process of suffocating to death.”

Wilson fought the suspension during the course of the next 16 years, until a Cook County Circuit Court judge overturned the suspension in 2014, saying, among other things, the allegation the injection killed the patient was “against the manifest weight of the evidence.” Wilson's license was reinstated and he filed federal suit eight months later against the medical examiner's office, the IDFPR and various present and former employees of both agencies.

Wilson alleged his rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated as the result of a conspiracy, and citing state law, that he was the target of malicious prosecution and his license was incorrectly suspended. The Cook County defendants responded with a motion to dismiss, claiming the two-year statute of limitations had expired for the federal claims by the time Wilson filed suit Dec. 31, 2014. Wilson countered that the clock began running when his suspension was reversed in circuit court in April 2014.

Judge Pallmeyer determined none of the federal complaints occurred during the two-year period before he sued. Allegations over actions that may have been taken at points more distant in the past wouldn’t be allowed under the law. In fact, Pallmeyer noted Wilson had been aware of the alleged violations quite a few years before, in most cases as far back as 1998 when he was suspended.

However, Pallmeyer left the door open for Wilson to try again, saying he was free to file an amended complaint in which he may specify how and when any alleged constitutional violations occurred after Dec. 31, 2012.

Both county and state defendants also moved for dismissal of the state-law claims, on the grounds they were protected by the immunity of their offices. Pallmeyer agreed to dismiss those claims, but pointed out it would be more appropriate for those claims to be addressed in state court.

“Federal courts are loathe to fiddle around with state law,” said Pallmeyer, in quoting a 2000 decision from the Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pallmeyer did note Wilson’s state-based claims may affect his federal claims, because the Seventh Circuit said in a 2015 case that federal claims, such as Wilson’s, are “not actionable if there is an adequate state-law remedy.”

Wilson was first licensed to practice medicine in Illinois in 1988. He is represented by the Armstrong Law Firm, of Flossmoor. The county defendants are represented by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and state defendants by the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

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Organizations in this Story

Armstrong Law Firm Cook County Medical Examiner Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regualtion

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