Sutter Health destroys evidence in antitrust case over inflated prices

Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health destroyed 192 boxes of documents requested by plaintiffs in an antitrust lawsuit, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow stated in a Nov. 13 ruling.

The lawsuit, filed by employers and labor unions in April 2014, accuses Sutter of abusing its market power to charge inflated prices. Judge Karnow said Sutter knew the documents it destroyed were "relevant to antitrust issues" when the system intentionally destroyed the evidence in 2015, according to Kaiser Health News.

According to a 2015 internal email cited by Judge Karnow, Melissa Brendt, Sutter's vice president and chief contracting officer in the managed care department, and an assistant general counsel authorized Sina Santagata, who served as Ms. Brendt's executive assistant, to destroy managed care documents dating back to 1995. The documents were scheduled to be destroyed 20 years later, in 2035.

In an email sent to Ms. Brendt July 30, 2015, Ms. Santagata stated, "I've pushed the button … if someone is in need of a box between 3/15/95 & 11/23/05 … I'm running and hiding."

A Sutter spokeswoman told Kaiser Health News the destruction of the documents was a mistake. "We regret that as part of a routine archiving process we failed to preserve some boxes of decades-old hard-copy documents," she said.

However, in his 12-page ruling, the judge disagreed. "The circumstances of the document destruction were, to put it as mildly as I can, decidedly odd, and Sutter has not explained them except to argue it was all a mistake," he said. "But the record shows that Sutter's conduct was more than just an inadvertent error."

The judge ordered Sutter to examine email backup tapes to look for documents covering some of the same issues as the destroyed records.

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