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Tabe v. Texas Inpatient Consultants, LLP

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

March 27, 2018

JULIUS TABE, Appellant
v.
TEXAS INPATIENT CONSULTANTS, LLP, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 129th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2014-73381

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Higley and Bland.

          OPINION

          Jane Bland Justice

         This summary-judgment case involves a contract between a physician and a hospitalist partnership. After the physician agreed to work for the partnership, but before the partnership obtained his necessary credentials, the physician terminated the contract. The partnership sued the physician for breach of contract and sought summary judgment and liquidated damages.

         The trial court granted summary judgment to the partnership on liability and awarded liquidated damages. The partnership's claim for attorney's fees for prosecuting its case was tried to a jury. The final judgment awards the partnership $34, 000 in liquidated damages, plus $58, 775 in attorney's fees and prejudgment interest.

         On appeal, the physician challenges the summary judgment in favor of the partnership, contending that fact issues exist as to whether (1) the physician credentialing requirement, which he contends was a condition precedent to his employment, was complete before he gave notice, and (2) the parties lacked a meeting of minds on a starting date for employment. The physician also complains that the trial court erred in awarding prejudgment interest on attorney's fees. We hold that the partnership has failed to establish the physician's liability under their agreement and therefore reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         Texas Inpatient Consultants LLP is a partnership that provides hospitalist services through its employed physicians, who deliver medical care to hospitalized patients of other physicians. Texas Inpatient recruited Julius Tabe, M.D., to work for it as a hospitalist in May 2014. Tabe signed an "Employment Agreement, " in which he agreed to be employed by Texas Inpatient as a hospitalist physician and to provide medical services for patients at hospitals that had contracts with Texas Inpatient.

         The contract does not include a starting date for Tabe's employment. Rather, it provides that Texas Inpatient "will commence payment of salary/benefits only after the credentialing at all the facilities and orientation is completed and the supervising MDs believe that the employee is ready for commencement of duties." The agreement explained that

the credentialing and orientation process could take 90-120 days. Hence the contract date will be redacted to reflect the start date of duties, salary, benefits and the term.

         It further declared that Tabe's "term of employment will begin on the effective date and shall continue for a period of three (3) years ("Initial Term"), unless this Agreement is terminated in accordance with [its] terms. . . ."

         After signing the contract, a change in family circumstances led Tabe to decide that he could not work for Texas Inpatient. On August 11, 2014, Tabe wrote Anita Sreshta, Texas Inpatient's office manager, informing her that he was withdrawing his candidacy for the hospitalist position as of September 15th.

         On September 2nd, Dominic Shreshta, M.D., Texas Inpatient's managing partner, sent an email to Tabe notifying him that two of the four hospitals had successfully completed his credentialing and that Texas Inpatient expected him to start direct patient care on October 13th. Tabe reiterated his decision to withdraw in a September 15th email to Texas Inpatient, explaining that due ...


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