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Whistleblowers and the California Supreme Court’s Decision in Fahlen v. Sutter Central Valley - Toward a Workable Balance for Promoting Advocacy for Patient Care

by Richard "Rick" D. Barton
Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP - San Diego Office

March 7, 2014

Previously published on March 2014

On February 20, the California Supreme Court handed down its long awaited decision in Fahlen v. Sutter Central Valley Hospitals. In a lengthy opinion, the Court ruled that a physician is not required to exhaust administrative remedies in the hospital peer review process before proceeding with a civil complaint for retaliation under California’s “whistleblower” statute, Health & Safety Code Section 1278.5. In so holding, the Court rejected application of the long-standing exhaustion requirement established in 1976 in Westlake Community Hospital v. Superior Court, 17 Cal. 3rd 465. In Westlake, the Supreme Court held that a physician must exhaust all internal hospital procedures and prevail in an administrative mandamus action in Superior Court prior to bringing a civil action seeking damages arising from a hospital decision restricting or terminating medical staff privileges. In eliminating the exhaustion requirement for physicians claiming whistleblower status, the Fahlen Court opened a window that has significant implications for hospitals and medical staffs. Indeed, the Court in several passages acknowledged issues the decision creates for the peer review process, but declined to address those questions, stating that it would “await their development in future cases.”


The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.

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San Diego Office
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