Former medical examiner Levy sues ex-employer for $5M

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 1:19pm

Former state and Davidson County medical examiner Dr. Bruce Levy is suing his former employer for breach of contract, claiming he was not properly paid for his share of the company and work performed.

In the suit filed Tuesday in Davidson County Chancery Court, Levy claims his former company and its president used the negative publicity of his arrest for marijuana possession earlier this year in Mississippi to not pay him for his membership share of the company as well as for benefits and payment for service rendered.

The suit names as defendants Dr. Ben W. Davis and Nashville-based Forensic Medical Management Services PLC, which contracts with state and local governments, including those in Davidson County, Tennessee and Mississippi. Davis is the president of Associated Pathologists, which is the majority interest owner of FMMS.

Levy seeks $1.6 million for fair value of his membership interest, $250,000 for his share of FMMS 2010 income and punitive damages against FMMS and Davis of up to $3.2 million.

“There’s a dispute about whether he voluntarily withdrew or, [as] they claim, they expelled him before he withdrew,” said Ken Jones, Levy’s attorney. “And that affects his right to the value of his interest under the operating agreement.”

John Voigt, Davis’ attorney, declined to comment.

While working in Mississippi, Levy was arrested on March 16 for receiving a package of marijuana and for possessing another small bag of marijuana that authorities believed came from the medical examiner’s property room in Nashville.

Levy claims he was recruited to reorganize Nashville’s system of death investigation and touts his work in turning around the state’s medical examiner system as well as greatly increasing FMMS profits during the 13 years he worked there.

Levy’s suit claim that Associated Pathologists and Davis benefited from Levy’s work for FMMS, and therefore, the refusal to pay him a fair value amount of his membership interest (somewhere between $1.25 million and $1.5 million) “is nothing more than an unjust and inequitable attempt to exploit the unfortunate circumstances” of his arrest.

In the filing, Levy blames the emotionally stressful nature of his work — which sometimes involved autopsies of infants or victims of “horrific homicides” — led to his marijuana use to help him sleep at night. On March 22, Levy checked in for a 90-day stint at an Atlanta rehabilitation facility for treatment of that addiction.

Levy worked at FMMS from 1997 to 2010. He was appointed president in 1999, according to court filings. Davis took over Levy’s position as FMMS president after Levy resigned.

Davis asked Levy to stop working for FMMS, according to the lawsuit, to salvage business relationships with Tennessee and Mississippi. Levy would be placed on administrative leave and paid his regular salary through the end of April, and his employment status would be reviewed month to month after that.

Jones sent a letter dated March 30 withdrawing Levy’s membership to FMMS, which Jones said would entitle Levy to his approximately 14 percent share in the business.

At a March 31 meeting, FMMS members voted to terminate remaining associations with Levy, including his membership interest.

In a letter to Jones, Voigt stated that the FMMS members considered an agreement by Davis and Levy regarding Levy’s compensation as well as a “number of subsequently-discovered times of financial transactions … that caused them to determine to terminate all of Dr. Levy’s involvement … at once.”

Levy reached agreements with prosecutors in both Tennessee and Mississippi in which he will serve three years of probation. If he avoids further legal trouble, his record could be expunged after that period.

A board of physicians recommended the appointment of Dr. Amy McMaster to replace Levy as Davidson County’s medical examiner. Mayor Karl Dean accepted the recommendation earlier this month. The Metro Council approved that recommendation Tuesday night.