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Judge denies hospital’s request for summary judgment in case against ophthalmologist


Special Superior Court Judge Mark A. Davis ruled that Michael Woodcock, MD’s failure to answer court filings did not mean he admitted his guilt in the allegations made by Cumberland County Hospital System.

a judge with a gavel in the courtroom. (Image Credit: AdobeStock/de Art)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/de Art)

Cumberland County Hospital System will have to do more to prove an ophthalmologist torpedoed its investment in a joint eye care practice, according to a North Carolina Superior Court decision.1

Special Superior Court Judge Mark A. Davis on June 27 ruled that Michael Woodcock, MD’s failure to answer court filings did not mean he admitted his guilt in the allegations made by the hospital.

Cumberland County Hospital System was seeking summary judgment, and Davis denied that request even though Woodcock did not respond to the hospital’s request for admissions, arguing that his lack of response was the result of some miscues that he maintains were in part the fault of the hospital.

According to court documents,1 Davis said in the ruling that there was indeed some confusion in serving the inquiries and the hospital failed to level a convincing argument that the case would be prejudiced by letting Woodcock respond.

"Without the admissions asserted by Plaintiff, [the hospital] clearly has not satisfied its burden on a motion for summary judgment," Davis wrote in his response, according to court documents.

Davis ruled that Woodcock would have until July 7, 2023, to serve responses to plaintiff’s requests for admissions directed to him, while denying the motion for summary judgment and declaratory judgment.

In filings made earlier this year, Woodcock told the court he failed to respond because the hospital failed to send the inquiries to his attorney through official court-serving process.

According to court records, the hospital messed up an email and sent requests for another defendant to Douglas S. Harris, the attorney representing Woodcock. The hospital also was legally required to inform the attorney Woodcock needed to respond to the inquiries or risk summary judgment.

The seeds of the court case were sown in 2018, when Woodcock and the hospital entered into a joint eye care practice, with the physician retaining majority ownership of the ophthalmology practice, according to Law 360.

By 2019, the partnership became troubled, according to court documents, when Woodcock allegedly started a scheme to devalue the practice so that he could buy out the hospital's ownership at a lower cost.

The hospital alleged that Woodcock ended $250,000 monthly payments to the practice and paid himself $600,000, and in 2021 allegedly gave himself $2 million of practice funds and gave the hospital $150,000 with no paper trail to show how the amounts were determined.

As a result of the allegations, the hospital leveled claims of breach of contract and other claims in a lawsuit filed in 2021.

However, according to court records, Woodcock maintained that his actions were in keeping with the initial 2018 agreement.

According to court documents, Nathan Huff, Anderson McCray Shackelford and Camryn Keeter of K&L Gates LLP are representing the hospital.

Woodcock responded by asserting that anything he did was within the bounds of the parties' 2018 agreement.

The case is Cumberland County Hospital System, Inc. v. Woodcock et al., case number 2022CVS5535 in the Superior Court of North Carolina, according to court documents.

  1. Cumberland Cnty. Hosp. Sys., Inc. v. Woodcock, 2023 NCBC 45 www.nccourts.gov/assets/documents/opinions/2023%20NCBC%2045.pdf?VersionId=AcXidKXFxD8o.sR4tmbfZu62tvFhkFH7
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