A group of doctors in Columbia, S.C., is suing a Lancaster County hospital, saying they were blocked from building an outpatient surgery center.
The doctors, who are asking for more than $15 million from Springs Memorial Hospital and others, also are appealing a decision by state regulators rejecting their plan for SouthCross Surgery Center.
The lawsuit field in U.S. District Court in Columbia also asks for punitive damages.
The doctors say Springs hospital and its business partners manipulated the state's regulatory process to win approval for a competing outpatient surgery center, while the doctors' proposal was rejected by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. The agency permits medical facilities.
Springs Chief Executive Officer Daniel McKay said Tuesday that Springs did nothing improper. "We didn't break a single law," he said. "We're just hopeful that the delays caused by the lawsuit will be minimal."
SouthCross appealed the state health department's decision in February. A hearing on the case before a state administrative law judge has not been scheduled.
The agency said then that Springs' plan was "a more conservatively sized, less costly facility," and that's why it was chosen. Springs is the only hospital in Lancaster County.
In its lawsuit, the doctors' group said a doctor on the medical staff at Springs, Robert Tretola, M.D., violated his contract with SouthCross by helping Springs with its proposal.
Tretola on Tuesday refused to discuss the federal claim or a separate lawsuit he filed against SouthCross backers in state court.
"The truth is going to come out fairly soon," he said.
According to the doctors' lawsuit, they expected to their center to earn $15 million over five years.
"That, we feel, is probably conservative," said SouthCross attorney Lorin Patterson of Kansas City, Mo.