Doctor’s true identity revealed in court, with judge citing the public’s right to know

A statue holds the scales of justice. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

A physician accused of shoving another doctor during an operating-room altercation cannot sue the state under an assumed name, an Iowa judge has ruled.

According to court records, Dr. Domenico Calcaterra, 52, is a vascular surgeon who worked at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics from 2008 to 2012.

In a sworn affidavit filed by Cynthia Geyer, the clinical staff office director at UIHC, Geyer states that during Calcaterra’s employment, “several disruptive behavior issues occurred.”  Specifically, she says that on Nov. 8, 2010, Calcaterra was put on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation “into events that occurred in the operating room earlier that day,” and that Calcaterra was asked to not report for work and to refrain from any clinical activities within the hospital.

Three months later, after Calcaterra successfully complied with the terms of an undisclosed agreement with UIHC, he “was allowed to return to operating in accordance with his clinical privileges,” Geyer states in the affidavit. The agreement, she states, entailed “a formal report to the Iowa Board of Medicine, which did occur.”

Two years after UIHC allowed Calcaterra to return to work, the Board of Medicine cited Calcaterra for unprofessional behavior, noting an “alleged incident” in a UIHC operating room. Calcaterra was fined $5,000. Board records indicate that during the operating-room incident, there was a “cardiac crisis” and Calcaterra physically shoved another physician. Calcaterra had previously been placed on probation and administrative leave due to other allegations of unprofessional conduct, according to board records.

By the time the board took action, Calcaterra was working in Indiana. Court records indicate that in 2019, he was hired by Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was to be paid more than $1,800 per day. The day before he was scheduled to begin work, he was informed that he was rejected for the position.

Several months later, Calcaterra was hired by another Florida hospital, but then was rejected at the last minute. The credentialing official reportedly indicate that a letter sent by UIHC led to the reversal.

The loss of those jobs led to the lawsuit, filed in August, in which Calcaterra, identifying himself only as “John Doe,” sued the UIHC, the Board of Regents and the State of Iowa, alleging their decision to share information about his behavior with prospective employers constituted a breach of contract and “the improper publication” of confidential information.

In response, UIHC has said it did nothing wrong in sharing the information, but that “enough time has passed” and the hospital has decided that it will no longer share the information with prospective employers seeking to verify Calcaterra’s credentials.

That has not appeased Calcaterra. His lawyer, Mike Sellers, is pursuing the case and arguing in court filings that UIHC’s  “miraculous reversal after a court action is filed” is likely to be reversed again unless the court agrees to “suspend dissemination” of the statement that references the November 2010 incident.

As part of the litigation, Johnson County District Court Judge Christopher Bruns has refused to let the lawsuit proceed with Calcaterra identified only as John Doe.

In his ruling, Bruns acknowledges that information in the case, which includes documents filed under seal, is potentially damaging to Calcaterra, but pointed out the defendants in the case “are the Iowa Board of Regents, the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and the State of Iowa. Thus, members of the public would have a heightened interest in this litigation because these are public institutions and the state itself.”

Bruns referenced the late Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady in his ruling, noting that Cady observed on more than one occasion that “the Iowa courts must be transparent. Court records are public records … The circumstances of the present case are not such that the court finds there is a basis to file this action under a pseudonym even if the court has discretion to allow a party to do so. The public interest in knowing who the plaintiff is outweighs the plaintiff’s interest in protecting his/her name from disclosure.”

Separate case proceeds with another doctor using assumed name

Calcaterra is not the only Iowa physician to sue the state under an assumed name. As the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported in August, another doctor identifying himself only as “John Doe” is currently suing the state in an effort to block a psycho-sexual evaluation ordered by the Board of Medicine.

That physician is accused of sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old patient. His refusal to undergo the evaluation has stalled the Board of Medicine’s investigation into the allegations.

In a May 28 motion filed by the physician’s attorneys, they inadvertently referenced the doctor’s actual last name: “Salaria.” On May 29, the attorneys sought to have the entire 28-page motion sealed from public view, and a judge agreed. The document, however, remained online and was publicly accessible throughout June and July when it was accessed by the Iowa Capital Dispatch. It has since been sealed by the clerk of court.

According to the Board of Medicine, the only Iowa-licensed physician with the last name of Salaria is Dr. Vikrant Salaria of the First Care Medical Center in Council Bluffs. When contacted by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Salaria said he knows nothing about any litigation, evaluation order or action taken by the Board of Medicine.

That case has proceeded without Doe’s identity revealed by the court. Polk County District Court Judge Jeanie Vaudt had affirmed the board’s order requiring the doctor to undergo the evaluation. In her ruling, Vaudt was critical of Doe’s claim that because office policies prohibited certain conduct with patients, he couldn’t have committed the alleged acts.

“Arguing it is impossible that Dr. Doe completed these acts because policies at his practice don’t allow such behavior is comparable to arguing that no alleged criminal burgles a home merely because it is against the law,” she ruled.

Vaudt also rejected Doe’s assertion that licensed physicians can decide whether they will submit to any kind of competency evaluation ordered by the board. “The wrong-headed nature of such a position is obvious and not what the Legislature intended when it created the Iowa Board of Medicine to regulate licensed medical professionals in this state,” Vaudt ruled.

That decision has since been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, with the physician still identified to the public only as “John Doe.”

 

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.