CHEYENNE – A group of local physicians is asking the Wyoming Supreme Court to decide if one of their former partners violated his duty to the company when he allegedly took around $1.2 million in business from the company to his own, separate company.
The high court heard oral arguments Thursday morning in the case of Anesthesiology Consultants of Cheyenne v. Ronald Stevens and High Plains Anesthesia, and its decision will largely hinge on how the justices interpret the meaning of a business opportunity.
Ronald Stevens, the doctor at the center of the case, joined the Anesthesiology Consultants of Cheyenne in the early 2000s. The group started providing anesthesiology services to the Cheyenne Eye Surgery Center around 2008, and soon after, Stevens suggested it would make higher profits if it hired his wife and registered nurse anesthetist, Cassandra Rivers, to deliver those services instead, according to court documents. The group agreed. Although Rivers’ contract was with the surgery center, she was still billing her services with ACC, which she had permission to do. That resulted in an estimated $90,000 to $100,000 in annual net revenue for the group.
That arrangement would become part of a larger dispute Stevens – who became financial manager of ACC in 2013 – had with the other members of the group that same year. For a number of reasons, they disagreed with Stevens providing chronic pain management in addition to anesthesiology services, so Stevens announced that he’d be carrying out his chronic pain practice through his own separate company, High Plains Anesthesia.
But, according to the other members of ACC, Stevens did not tell them that he was also redirecting the revenue stream Rivers was bringing in from the surgery center to his own company. Doing so brought High Plains Anesthesia $80,485 over a six-month period, until the ACC found out about what was happening, and expelled Stevens from the group in the summer of 2014. Over the next four years, Stevens’ corporation earned a total of about $1.2 million from Rivers’ services.
When ACC sued Stevens, alleging that Stevens’ diversion of that revenue stream denied the group a business opportunity, a jury in a lower court sided with Stevens in 2019. For that reason, ACC has appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
“The verdict is against the weight of the argument. This court has said for many years that a verdict that is against the weight of evidence cannot stand,” Henry Bailey, the lawyer representing ACC, told the justices Thursday. “Juries get it wrong sometimes. … Stevens either did it himself or allowed his employee wife to do it. That money went to a separate corporation.”
But J. Kent Rutledge, the lawyer representing Stevens and the company he owns, argued that “a corporate opportunity has to be one where a company has a reasonable expectation for that opportunity. … Rivers had a contract with the eye surgery center, not ACC.”
Justice Kate Fox, however, echoed some of the other justices when she said that because ACC was receiving such high revenues from Rivers’ business with the surgery center, she was “challenged to understand why that’s not a business opportunity.”
The court will weigh the case and deliver an opinion at a later date.