Ontario Dentist Magazine article: When Associates Leave
Here is my article entitled “When Your Associate Leaves…”, which will be published in next month’s edition of Ontario Dentist magazine:
Now, due to space restrictions, I wasn’t able to get into some additional and more recent cases involving associates leaving and the principal suing. So here they are:
In Dangstorp v. Lefebvre  S.J. No. 755, two dentist partners (Dr. Deryl Dangstorp and Dr. Hans Baumann) engaged Dr. Maureen Lefebvre as an associate/employee while negotiating her joining their partnership. No written associate agreement had been drawn up. When negotiations failed, the partners terminated the associateship. Dr. Lefebrve subsequently took steps to set up her own practice in the same building as one of the partners’ practices. The partners sued, alleging that she had used patient lists to contact their patients and solicit them. They also alleged that she had the receptionist contact patients on her behalf to solicit them. They sought to prevent Dr. Lefebvre from contacting any of their patients on the basis that she had breached a fiduciary duty she owed them. The Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the claims. The Court accepted the finding in the Bacher v. Obar that, while there was no such fiduciary duty, a senior dentist and an associate had a duty to act reasonably toward one another in the conduct of their affairs. The Court also reiterated that professionals do not have a proprietary right in their patients and that patient information can be removed from the office to facilitate proper treatment of patients.
In Lodwig v. Mather,  A.J. No. 382, Dr. William Mather, an established dentist with his own practice, engaged a recent graduate, Dr. Gordon Lodwig to associate. They had an oral agreement. Dr. Lodwig stayed on for almost two years before Dr. Mather terminated the relationship. Dr. Lodwig immediately proceeded to open up his own clinic and hired a dental assistant who had been employed with Dr. Mather for the past 12 years. When he left, Dr. Lodwig took the names of the patients he had treated while at Dr. Mather’s clinic and advised these patients orally or by letter or newspaper notice of his new location and his preparedness to continue to serve them. Dr. Mather sued on the basis that Dr. Lodwig had breached a fiduciary duty. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench rejected this claim. The Court cited Goodman v. Newman, Bacher v. Obar, Kronick v. Lamarche, and Dangstorp v. Lefebrve as examples showing that no fiduciary relationship had been found to exist between an associated dentist and an owner dentist; the Court found no basis for the creation of a fiduciary duty on the part of Dr. Lodwig to Dr. Mather. The Court further found that Dr. Lodwig was entitled to take the patient list and had not improperly solicited those patients he personally treated: “A dentist who practises as an associate or even as an employee of another dentist, has the right to have access to or retain the names of the patients with whom he or she has had an exclusive or primary dentist-patient relationship and to advise those patients of the change of location of his or her practice.” Dr. Lodwig had also obtained proper consent and authorization for the patients who came to see him to obtain a copy of their records from Dr. Mather’s clinic. Finally, Dr. Lodwig had hired an employee who had requested employment with him and who had given proper notice.