All patients of former gynecologist Dr. Nikita Levy must join a mandatory class action if they want to sue the Johns Hopkins Hospital, under an order filed Friday in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Levy was accused of secretly videotaping and taking photos of his patients. He committed suicide March 18 after allegations against him surfaced.
With a mandatory class action, prospective plaintiffs cannot opt out and sue on their own. The certification should make it much easier to settle with Hopkins, as the hospital will know that the resolution is final.
“We are very hopeful as we resume negotiations that we can now move forward to resolving all of these cases together,” said Jonathan Schochor of Schochor, Federico and Staton P.A. in Baltimore, who chairs the team of lawyers representing the class.
The motion for a mandatory class action was filed jointly by the plaintiffs and Johns Hopkins, with both parties hoping to reach a settlement, attorneys said.
“For them to file a joint motion with us at this state is a rare occurrence,” said Howard A. Janet of Janet, Jenner & Suggs LLC in Baltimore, who is vice chair of the legal team.
Vanderbilt Law School professor Brian T. Fitzpatrick, who researches class actions, said it is common for defendants and plaintiffs to file a joint motion to certify a class after the parties have settled, but is an uncommon move pre-settlement.
“I am not aware of it happening when there hasn’t been a settlement yet,” Fitzpatrick said. “That is a bit rare, but I can see why a defendant would want it because if they do the mandatory thing, that means everyone is in one pot. Then they don’t have to worry about all these lawsuits nickel and diming them.”
In a statement, the hospital noted that engaging in settlement discussions “is not an admission of wrongdoing by Johns Hopkins.”
“Because of the sensitive nature of the allegations, Johns Hopkins believes that attempting to resolve the claims without protracted litigation is in the best interests of those potentially affected by Dr. Levy’s conduct and will help to preserve the privacy of our patients,” the statement said.
Fitzpatrick said it was especially uncommon to see a mandatory class action in the case because the plaintiffs are seeking money damages, as opposed to injunctive relief.
To obtain a mandatory class action certification in Maryland, attorneys need to prove that there is a limited fund that will not be sufficient to settle all plaintiff claims, Schochor said.
“Otherwise, if you’re looking at a timely resolution that’s fair and adequate, appropriate compensation to a medical disaster, this is the way you have to be,” Schochor said.
Schochor said mandatory class action certifications in Maryland are not terribly common, but he had seen them before.
“It certainly fits the profile in what needs to be done in this case,” Schochor said. “It’s not the first time this has occurred, but when you come across a very unique situation like this, you look for a solution and sit down with the opposition.”
The order certifying the class action was approved Friday by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Sylvester B. Cox. Attorneys for the existing plaintiffs made the announcement that afternoon at a news conference downtown.
The order also approves a “Class Action Steering Committee” made up of attorneys from each of the eight firms representing victims in the case.
So far, about 3,800 of Levy’s victims have been identified, but attorneys said more than 9,000 women could have been victims of Levy, making it among the largest class actions in the country.
“They are women who feel betrayed, women who feel violated, women who feel humiliated,” Janet said.
Hopkins was alerted to Levy’s possible misconduct Feb. 4 this year. The hospital then alerted the Baltimore Police Department and terminated Levy’s employment Feb. 8. The hospital also sent a letter notifying his current patients of the situation.
Attorneys said police found 10 file servers’ worth of photos and video among his possessions.
“I think we all know what one laptop will hold,” Schochor said. “I cannot imagine what 10 file servers might hold.”
Two large groups of former patients — a collection of 1,700 victims represented by Schochor and a group of 850, represented by Janet — quickly filed multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits against the hospital.
The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit have asked to remain anonymous, named only as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Roe 1-3.
Attorneys at the news conference said the plaintiffs also suffered sexual boundary violations — which could include inappropriate touching and exams, too many exams or exams without a third party in the room. They also said victims have complained of inappropriate language used by Levy. Many of the women will no longer see doctors or allow their family to seek any sort of medical care, attorneys said.
The hospital will provide confidential materials like medical records, personal medical information and personnel files, which are for settlement purposes only, per a protective order also issued Friday.
The amended class action complaint was filed against the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins Community Physicians Inc. and Johns Hopkins Health System Corp. It alleges one count of medical negligence and negligent and grossly negligent hiring, retention, supervision, selection, qualification and credentialing, one count of invasion of privacy, one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery, one count of negligent entrustment and one count of lack of informed consent.
For each count, the complaint asks the judge to award each plaintiff compensatory damages of at least $75,000 plus costs.
Over the next 20 days, the parties will finalize a plan to notify prospective class members. They are also in the process of locating a mediator.
The settlement order requires attorneys to report on the settlement’s status in six months. Attorneys said they expect negotiations to begin before the end of the year.
“[Johns Hopkins’] effort coming forward with us to get clients certification and open meaningful mediation is to be complemented,” Schochor said.
If the parties fail to reach a settlement, the various plaintiffs can pursue the original lawsuits they filed.
The other attorneys on the steering committee are David E. Haynes of The Cochran Firm in Washington, D.C., Gary A. Wais of Wais, Vogelstein & Forman LLC in Baltimore, Andrew G. Slutkin of Silverman | Thompson | Slutkin | White LLC in Baltimore, Thomas C. Cardaro of The Law Offices of Cardaro & Peek LLC in Baltimore, Stephen L. Snyder of The Snyder Litigation Team in Baltimore, and A. Dwight Pettit of The Law Office of A. Dwight Pettit P.A. in Baltimore.