ABIM cleared of antitrust charges

October 4, 2019

A class-action lawsuit against the American Board of Internal Medicine has been dismissed in federal court

A class-action lawsuit against the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) over its maintenance of certification (MOC) program has been dismissed in federal court.

The lawsuit claimed that the ABIM’s authority to board-certify internists initially and its maintenance of certification program are separate “products;” and that ABIM illegally ties the two together, forcing internists to purchase MOC from ABIM or risk losing their board-certified status.

It also charged the ABIM with violating RICO laws and with “unjust enrichment.” The plaintiffs were four internists, all of whom encountered some problem while attempting to maintain their certification, and three or whom are currently listed as “not certified” on ABIM’s website. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In his September 26 ruling, Judge Robert S. Kelly found that “ABIM’s initial certification and MOC products are part of a single product,” and therefore “there can be no unlawful tying arrangement.” He also called the plaintiffs’ framing of the ABIM certification “flawed.

“In essence, plaintiffs are arguing that, in order to purchase ABIM’s initial certification, internists are forced to purchase MOC products as well,” Kelly wrote. That was not the case, he noted, since the physicians who brought the lawsuit “were all able to purchase ABIM’s initial certification without also buying MOC programs.”

Kelly also dismissed the RICO violation and unjust enrichment charges. For the former, he said the plaintiffs were not able to demonstrate any “relevant injuries” stemming from MOC, and for the latter, that the plaintiffs did not meet all the legal elements required to prove the charge. However, he gave the plaintiffs 14 days to file an amended complaint regarding the charges of monopolization and violations of the RICO Act.

In a statement posted on the board’s website following the ruling, ABIM President and CEO Richard Baron, MD, said “ABIM is pleased that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed in its entirety a lawsuit that alleged physicians were harmed by the requirements for maintaining ABIM board certification.”

In an e-mail statement, C. Phillip Curley, JD, the plaintiffs’ attorney said, “The four courageous internists who brought the lawsuit were invited to file amended claims, which is certainly being considered. If necessary, all available appeals will also be pursued to the fullest. No one was under the impression that the fight to bring MOC to an end would be quick or easy. The case is far from over.”