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Idaho Supreme Court Affirms Firing of PHS Medical Director

The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a prison doctor’s challenge to his job termination, stemming from his abusive treatment of a prisoner.

Dr. John F. Noak was the medical director for Prison Health Services (PHS), which provided medical care for the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC).

On January 30, 2004, Noak treated South Boise Women’s Correctional Center (SBWCC) prisoner Norma Hernandez. While leaving the examination room, Hernandez appeared as though she was about to faint and Certified Medical Specialist Jana Nicholson moved to help her.

Noak “came out of the exam room and ‘aggressively’ inserted himself between [Nicholson] and the patient,” according to Nicholson. “Noak forced Hernandez to ‘walk briskly’ down the hall.” Hernandez reported that Noak required her to walk on her “tippy toes,” while threatening to transfer her to a different prison if she did not “heal quickly.”

Hernandez filed a complaint against Noak, alleging that he battered her. IDOC Lieutenant Christie Presley then barred Noak from SBWCC.

On February 12, 2004, IDOC Director Tom Beauclair banned Noak from all IDOC facilities and PHS placed him on administrative leave pending an investigation into Hernandez’s complaint. IDOC officials referred the battery allegations to the county sheriff but prosecutors declined to prosecute Noak.

On March 9, 2004 the IDOC demanded that PHS replace Noak as medical director, and the company fired him the next day. IDOC officials then lodged a complaint against Noak with the Idaho Board of Medicine but no further action was taken.

On December 15, 2006, Noak sued the IDOC, PHS and individual defendants in state court, alleging breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation per se, tortuous interference with contract or prospective economic advantage, and conversion.

Noak’s conversion claim was dismissed after he conceded it was meritless. The court then granted summary judgment to the IDOC and IDOC employees on all of the remaining claims, and awarded attorney fees to the state. The court denied summary judgment to PHS and Noak later settled his claims against the company.

On appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the IDOC on Noak’s claim of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Noting that “Noak’s concession that he had no contract” with the IDOC was “indeed dispositive,” the Court explained that it “has said time and again that, to the extent the covenant exists, it is only breached when one party to a contract prevents another party to the contract from realizing a benefit of their mutual agreement.”

The Supreme Court also held that Noak’s remaining claims against the IDOC were time-barred. Under Idaho law, Noak had two years from his March 10, 2004 job termination to bring suit, but he did not file his complaint until December 15, 2006, “well beyond the two-year statute in I.C. § 6-911.”

The Court also rejected Noak’s contention that the statute of limitations was tolled by 23 U.S.C. § 1367(d), which grants federal courts supplemental jurisdiction over certain state law claims. Relying upon Raygor v. Regents of the University of Minnesota, 534 U.S. 533 (2002), the Court held “that 23 U.S.C. § 1367(d) did not toll the two-year limitations.”

Finally, the Idaho Supreme Court held that the lower court did not err in awarding $18,000 in attorney fees to the IDOC. The Court also awarded attorney fees on appeal, given the IDOC’s successful defense of the lower court’s sum-mary judgment order. See: Noak v. Idaho Department of Correction, 152 Idaho 305, 271 P.3d 703 (Idaho 2012), rehearing denied.

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Related legal case

Noak v. Idaho Department of Correction