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Federal judge issues injunction against Sanford, Mid Dakota merger

David Samson / The Forum

BISMARCK — The proposed Sanford Health and Mid Dakota Clinic merger has been forced to pause until there is an official Federal Trade Commission decision on its legality.

The U.S. District Court judge, Magistrate Alice Senechal, issued a preliminary injunction blocking the proposed merger between Sanford Health and Mid Dakota Clinic until a FTC administrative hearing scheduled in January.

The North Dakota Attorney General's office and the FTC allege the merger would violate antitrust law by substantially lessening competition for adult primary care, pediatric, obstetrics, and gynecology and general surgical services in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

"Competition in the marketplace benefits consumers, including when that competition is for medical care," Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement. "I am very pleased with the court's decision and feel confident that the court recognized the potential negative consequences for patients in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Today's decision is in the best interests of the community."

Sanford and Mid Dakota expressed disappointment.

"With all due respect, we believe that the court is wrong on the law and wrong on the facts. Put simply, the government's case rests on theories that are at odds with reality here in North Dakota. Sanford and Mid Dakota Clinic are committed to letting Mid Dakota Clinic follow the course that it has selected for maintaining and building on the care it provides to its patients," Sanford spokesman Jon Berg said in a statement.

While the preliminary injunction only halts the merger process while waiting for an FTC determination, lawyers for Sanford Health stressed, during the four-day court hearing held in Bismarck at the end of October, that the granting of preliminary injunctions in merger cases often has bearing on the federal government's final decision.

"The court's decision will delay the realization of improved access and the introduction of new services we can achieve together, but this is not the end of the road. We are committed to fighting for the communities we serve and look forward to bringing this case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit as quickly as possible," Berg said.