Horizon, Nicole Ruest want publication ban to continue in oxytocin class action lawsuit

·4 min read
Nicole Ruest was an obstetrics nurse at the Moncton Hospital. Horizon Health Network announced in March 2019 it fired an unnamed nurse following an internal investigation.  (CBC - image credit)
Nicole Ruest was an obstetrics nurse at the Moncton Hospital. Horizon Health Network announced in March 2019 it fired an unnamed nurse following an internal investigation. (CBC - image credit)

Lawyers for Horizon Health Network and Nicole Ruest urged a judge to keep a publication ban in place on some information in a proposed class action lawsuit against the nurse and health authority.

The lawsuit was filed in 2019 on behalf of mothers who believe they were improperly administered the labour-inducing drug oxytocin. It alleges Ruest administered the drug to potentially "hundreds" of pregnant women at the Moncton Hospital without their consent.

Both Ruest and Horizon are named as defendants in the proposed class action case. Both deny wrongdoing. The lawsuit's claims have not been proven in court.

A certification hearing began last fall to determine if the case can proceed as a class action, a required step before it can continue to trial. The hearing was delayed when new information emerged.

Details remain under a court-ordered publication ban imposed by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Denise LeBlanc.

Lawyer says information 'multi-level hearsay'

LeBlanc has issued a ruling related to the admissibility of the new information, determining at least some is inadmissible.

On Friday, Horizon and Ruest's lawyers appeared in court by video asking the judge to keep the publication ban in place. It would cover affidavits, portions of legal filings and a portion of the judge's ruling referring to the information.

Andrew Faith, a lawyer for Ruest, argued that public dissemination of the information would harm his client's ability to fairly defend herself. He described the information as "multi-level hearsay."

"Here we have evidence that's too unreliable to be admissible in a court proceeding," Faith said.

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He said publication could make it harder for Ruest to find expert witnesses or other witnesses to testify as part of her defence. He said there's been no proceeding that's found Ruest guilty of misconduct.

Lawyer John McKiggin, representing the mothers, argued the publication ban shouldn't continue.

He said Ruest's interests have been protected by the court as some of the information has been ruled inadmissible and won't be considered by the judge.

McKiggin also indicated much of what's covered by the publication ban is already in the public domain through Horizon's own news conference, news release and previous news stories.

Horizon's lawyer largely echoed Faith's position.

LeBlanc told the lawyers it will take her at least a month to write her decision on the publication ban issue.

"I will file a decision as soon as I possibly can," LeBlanc said.

A certification decision has yet to be made by the judge. It's unclear when that may take place.

Horizon itself announced at a news conference in March 2019 it fired an unnamed nurse following an internal investigation. The health authority said RCMP were investigating.

The New Brunswick Nurses Association said in April 2019 it had suspended the nurse's licence. Later that year, it named Ruest on its website and said her registration was suspended pending the outcome of a discipline committee hearing.

It's not clear whether that hearing has taken place. The association did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

In April 2019, the proposed class action was filed naming Ruest.

The statement of claim says the women believe they received oxytocin between September 2010 and March 2019, as a result of Ruest's actions, and suffered harm as a result.

The oxytocin was allegedly administered in at least one case via small punctures in an IV saline bag, according to the statement of claim.

That time frame is when Ruest worked in the labour and delivery unit, according to Horizon's statement of defence.

Horizon has filed a cross claim against Ruest.

Ruest hasn't been charged

Horizon's court filing says obstetricians at the hospital were concerned about the increasing number of emergency caesarean sections requiring general anesthetic and were trying to determine the reason for it.

"The defendant hospital states that if the defendant Ruest was administering oxytocin to mothers who were in labour at the Moncton Hospital without a physician's orders, she did so without the knowledge and consent of the defendant hospital and physicians, and was acting outside of her duties as an obstetrical nurse and outside the scope of her professional practice and was on a frolic of her own," a court filing by Horizon states.

In 2020, CBC reported Ruest wouldn't face criminal charges after Crown prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges.

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