A judge refused to dismiss four counts in a lawsuit alleging that Phoebe Putney Health Systems, Albany, Ga., attempted to intimidate a critic, according to an attorney for the plaintiff, Charles Rehberg, who accused Phoebe Putney of wasteful executive spending. The hospital system sued Rehberg, who published a faxed newsletter called "Phoebe Factoids," but later dropped its complaint. Rehberg's counterclaim in Dougherty County (Ga.) Superior Court will continue on counts related to defamation, denial of free speech, false imprisonment and infliction of mental distress, said Rehberg's attorney, Ralph Scoccimaro of Brown and Scoccimaro. The judge dismissed an allegation of abusive litigation without prejudice and allowed an invasion of privacy count to be amended for more specificity, Scoccimaro said. The fight drew the interest of Oxford, Miss., attorney Richard Scruggs and helped launch nationwide litigation led by Scruggs over hospitals' billing of uninsured patients.
Separately, Dougherty County Superior Court is expected to rule shortly, perhaps within 10 days, on Phoebe Putney's request to dismiss Scruggs' suit and a separate, similar suit. Phoebe Putney spokeswoman Jackie Ryan said a dismissal seemed likely because the judge had asked that a dismissal order be drawn up. John Crongeyer, an attorney working with Scruggs, said the request was not unusual and indicated nothing about the possible outcome. -- by Paul Barr