West Penn Allegheny accuses judge of bias in UPMC lawsuit

The lawsuit between Pennsylvania's West Penn Allegheny Health System and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has been put on hold, as West Penn accused the judge ruling on the case of potential bias.

West Penn Allegheny on Friday in a motion footnote accused U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab of "a worrisome practice of misstating and mischaracterizing" their positions, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. West Penn's attorneys also said their client "respectfully urges the Court to correct its misstatements to avoid any possible appearance of bias," according to another Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

However, the judge responded, saying the request is essentially a threat--if Schwab rules against the plaintiff, he will be accused of bias.

"It does not serve the public interest, nor the fairness of the judicial process, that every future decision made by the Court (including the decision herein) will be made under West Penn Allegheny's 'threat' that any adverse future decision is based upon bias or the appearance of bias - or that the Court must rule in West Penn Allegheny's favor in order to 'avoid any possible appearance of bias,' " Schwab said, Pittsburg Business Times reported.

Schwab on Tuesday, in a sharply worded order, told the second largest health system in the region to go to a higher court (United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit) to have him disqualified, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

In 2009, West Penn originally targeted both UPMC and Highmark of conspiring to stifle competition, but West Penn later dropped Highmark's name from the defendant list when the insurer acquired West Penn in June 2011. Schwab has thrown out the case once before.

The delay on the case could ultimately hurt West Penn, Pittsburg Business Times noted. Putting a hold on proceedings means documents could get lost or witnesses could become unavailable.

For more information:
- read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the suspended action and the article on judge's reponse
- check out the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article
- here's the Pittsburgh Business Times article

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