The Philadelphia-area attorney hit with a nearly $1 million sanction that was later overturned has begun to move toward a cause of action against the attorneys who pursued the sanction.
Medical malpractice defense attorney Nancy Raynor filed a praecipe to issue a writ of summons earlier this week against three attorneys and two law firms involved in the case that led to the unusually large sanction. The filing indicates that Raynor is preserving claims regarding wrongful use of civil process, and she is seeking recovery of more than $50,000.
Attorney Clifford Haines of Haines & Associates is representing Raynor, according to court records. The praecipe, which Haines filed Jan. 3, lists as defendants attorneys Matthew D’Annunzio, William Hill and Joseph Messa, as well as firms Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg and Messa & Associates.
Raynor captured the attention of Pennsylvania lawyers after she was hit with a $946,197 sanction in 2014 for allegedly eliciting an improper reference to smoking in a lung-cancer-related case that caused a mistrial. Those sanctions were overturned by the state Superior Court over the summer, and last month the state Supreme Court ended a bid to have the sanctions reinstated.
Although the Supreme Court’s one-page order did not comment about the sanctions, Superior Court President Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, who wrote for the panel that overturned the penalty, said the amount was “gratuitous,” “unprecedented and punitive,” and that there was no basis for the claims that the actual cost of retrying the underlying medical malpractice case was so high.
“Each time plaintiff’s counsel brought the contempt issue before the court, they presumed what they were initially required to prove and presented their conclusions with transparent venom, bloom, innuendo and increased outrage, refreshed periodically with personal attacks on Ms. Raynor. Counsel’s crusade caused their proclaimed injustice to gather potency over time,” Gantman said. “Only after the jury rendered its verdict in the first trial did the court second-guess itself, with the ardent assistance of plaintiff’s counsel.”
The sanction stemmed from the case Sutch v. Roxborough Memorial Hospital, which involved allegations that doctors failed to tell a woman that a chest X-ray showed a suspicious nodule.
The sanction had been imposed after Raynor allegedly failed to instruct a medical expert not to mention the deceased plaintiff’s smoking history. That alleged mistake led to a new trial after the first trial resulted in a $190,000 verdict in 2012. The new trial ended with a nearly $2 million award.
Along with the nearly $1 million sanction, Raynor was also hit with a separate $45,000 sanction for allegedly attempting to pressure a witness in the same case. That sanction, however, was upheld by the Superior Court.
Messa, D’Annunzio and Hill had represented the plaintiff, Rosalind Sutch. D’Annunzio and Hill were with Klehr Harrison at the time, but D’Annunzio has since moved to Offit Kurman.
D’Annunzio, while at Klehr Harrison, played an active role in seeking to preserve the sanctions against Raynor, and had also sought to collect the nearly $1 million from her while her appeal of the penalty was ongoing.
The recent suit by Raynor will not mark the first time that D’Annunzio and Haines have been on opposite sides in a Raynor-related matter.
During a hearing over the $1 million sanction in 2015, Haines represented the employer of a trial technician who allegedly overheard Raynor instructing her medial expert not to mention smoking during the Sutch trial.
Haines, Messa, D’Annunzio, Hill and Klehr Harrison managing partner William Harvey each did not return a call seeking comment.
Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.