Judge throws out lawsuits to reopen UPMC Braddock

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Since UPMC never made any agreement to keep Braddock Hospital open, residents opposed to its closing have no grounds to reverse the health care provider's Jan. 31 decision to shut it down.

That was the conclusion of Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Gene Strassburger in a court order dismissing an appeal brought by borough residents and a group called Save Our Community Hospitals.

In his ruling, Judge Strassburger upheld UPMC's preliminary objections to the lawsuit seeking to force the reopening of the hospital. He also found that the residents had no standing to challenge UPMC's tax-exempt status.

He issued a separate order dismissing a related lawsuit brought by Braddock residents challenging Allegheny County Council's approval of refinancing of low-interest bonds for UPMC.

He heard testimony on both appeals last Thursday and issued his rulings on Monday.

In the second case, Judge Strassburger ruled that the borough residents had not shown that they had a direct interest in council's action in approving the refinancing.

Protesters opposed to UPMC's plans to close Braddock had lobbied council without success to delay the matter. They told council members in December that they hoped that holding up the bonds might persuade UPMC to rethink shutting down Braddock.

The judge also found that council's decision was a legislative matter and not subject to judicial review.

David Hughes, who serves on Save Our Community Hospitals' steering committee, said he was not surprised by the decisions, but he was disappointed with at least one of the reasons given for dismissing the lawsuits. "The first-level remedy when someone disagrees with a legislative action is the county courts," he said.

The $1.2 billion in low-interest UPMC bonds were issued through the county-affiliated Hospital Development Authority, and the proceeds were not used to fund projects at Braddock Hospital. UPMC sought the refinancing to take advantage of lower interest rates.