A set of flags wave in the breeze outside the offices of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi in Flowood, Miss., Wednesday, May 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi dropped its defamation lawsuit against the University of Mississippi Medical Center, one day after the two parties signed a contract agreement to bring the hospital back in network with the state’s largest insurer.

James McCullough II, an attorney representing the insurance company, dismissed the lawsuit Friday with prejudice — meaning these complaints cannot be refiled again in court — and asked that no answer or motion for summary judgment be filed in court. 

In the July lawsuit filed in Rankin County Circuit Court, Blue Cross alleged that UMMC’s public relations campaign was “designed to disseminate false and defamatory statements about Blue Cross to the public.”

The company took issue with the campaign’s advertisements and public statements made by UMMC employees that allege Blue Cross ended its contract with the hospital and the insurer “excluded” UMMC from the network of providers as a result. The insurer claimed the campaign was defamatory and harmed its reputation and business. 

In response to the July filing, Blue Cross filed for a subpoena of UMMC’s communications with news outlets Mississippi Today and SuperTalk Radio, which both closely covered the contract dispute between the private insurer and the state’s largest hospital. 

The subpoena also specifically asked for communications between UMMC officials and Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor who worked as a writer/editor at UMMC between stints at the news organization. 

Neither Mississippi Today nor any of its employees has been subpoenaed or been named as a party in any lawsuit related to the contract dispute.

UMMC had received deadline extensions for their response to the lawsuit, according to court documents. 

The lawsuit was against UMMC employees Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. LouAnn Woodward, Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones,  Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Marc Rolph, and other unnamed UMMC employees.

UMMC itself was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit because state law grants UMMC immunity for defamation committed by its employees.

Editor’s note: Editor’s note: UMMC, through an ad agency, has placed paid advertisements about the BCBS dispute on Mississippi Today’s website. Advertisers have no input in the editorial process. Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor since January 2022, worked as a writer/editor for UMMC’s Office of Communications from November 2018 through August 2020.

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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.