Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review related to the boundaries of the corporate attorney-client privilege and how it operated when in conflict with a plaintiff’s physician-patient privilege. In 2015, Doug Hermanson sideswiped an unoccupied vehicle and crashed into a utility pole. Hermanson was transported to Tacoma General Hospital, which was owned by MultiCare Health System Inc. Hermanson was treated by several MultiCare employees, including two nurses and a crisis intervention social worker. However, the physician who treated Hermanson, Dr. Patterson, was an independent contractor of MultiCare pursuant to a signed agreement between MultiCare and Trauma Trust, his employer. Trauma Trust was created by MultiCare; Dr. Patterson had his own office at Tacoma General Hospital and was expected to abide by MultiCare’s policies and procedures. During Hermanson’s treatment, an unidentified person at Tacoma General Hospital conducted a blood test on Hermanson that showed a high blood alcohol level. As a result, someone reported this information to the police, and the police charged Hermanson with first degree negligent driving and hit and run of an unattended vehicle. Based on this disclosure of his blood alcohol results, Hermanson sued MultiCare and multiple unidentified parties for negligence, defamation/false light, false imprisonment, violation of Hermanson’s physician-patient privilege, and unauthorized disclosure of Hermanson's confidential health information. MultiCare retained counsel to jointly represent MultiCare, Dr. Patterson, and Trauma Trust, reasoning that while Dr. Patterson and Trauma Trust were not identified parties, Hermanson’s initial demand letter implicated both parties. Hermanson objected to this joint representation and argued that MultiCare’s ex parte communications with Dr. Patterson violated Hermanson’s physician-patient privilege. The Supreme Court determined that Dr. Patterson still maintained a principal-agent relationship with MultiCare, and served as the "functional equivalent" of a MultiCare employee; therefore MultiCare could have ex parte communications with the doctor. The nurse and social worker privilege were "essentially identical in purpose" to the physician-patient privilege, making ex parte communications permissible between MultiCare and the nurse and social worker. View "Hermanson v. Multicare Health Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court extended an August 27, 2020 order for first circuit criminal matters, which was extended pursuant to a September 11, 2020 order, until November 16, 2020, determining that changing conditions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic required flexibility and vigilance regarding the need to protect the health and safety of court users and Judiciary personnel.In July 2020, there was a surge of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii, included cases in community correctional centers and facilities, particularly at the O'ahu Community Correctional Center. As a result, the time requirements for preliminary hearings under Haw. R. Pen. P. (HRPP) 5(c)(3) was impacted. In August 2020, the Supreme Court entered an order providing that the first circuit may temporarily extend the time requirements for preliminary hearings no longer than reasonably necessary to protect public health and safety. In September, the order was extended. Because the transports of custody defendants from all O'ahu correctional facilities remained suspended and the exponential number of citations issued for Haw. Rev. Stat. ch. 127A violations remained high, the Supreme Court extended the August order for first circuit criminal matters until November 16, 2020. View "In re Judiciary’s Response to COVID-19 Outbreak" on Justia Law

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QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise ("QHG"), appealed a circuit court's judgment awarding Amy Pertuit ("Amy") $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages. Leif Pertuit ("Leif") had been married to Deanna Mortensen; they had one child, Logan. Leif and Mortensen divorced in 2007. At some point, Mortensen was awarded sole physical custody of Logan, and Leif was awarded visitation. Leif later married Amy, a nurse. At the time of their marriage, Leif and Amy resided in Mobile, Alabama, and Mortensen resided in Enterprise. Eventually, tensions arose between Leif and Mortensen regarding the issue of visitation. In March 2014, Mortensen began sending text messages to Leif accusing Amy of being addicted to drugs. Around that time, Mortensen visited the attorney who had represented her in divorce from Leif. Mortensen expressed concern that Logan was in danger as a result of the visitation arrangement and asked her attorney to assist with obtaining a modification of Leif's visitation. In April 2014, Mortensen contacted Dr. Kathlyn Diefenderfer, a physician whom QHG employed as a hospitalist at Medical Center Enterprise. Mortensen had been Dr. Diefenderfer's patient, and Dr. Diefenderfer's son played sports with Logan. Mortensen informed Dr. Diefenderfer that Logan was scheduled to ride in an automobile with Amy from Enterprise to Mobile for Leif's visitation and expressed concern regarding Amy's ability to drive, given her belief that Amy was using drugs and had lost her nursing license. Dr. Diefenderfer used a hospital computer to check on Amy's drug prescriptions. After reviewing that information,Dr. Diefenderfer told Mortensen: "All I can tell you is I would not put my son in the car." Mortensen went back to her attorney, informing him that Dr. Diefenderfer had acquired the necessary proof of Amy's drug use. Amy received a copy of the modification petition, and was convinced her private health information had been obtained in violation of HIPAA, and filed complaints to the Enterprise Police Department, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Alabama Bar Association, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. A grand jury indicted Mortensen and Dr. Diefenderfer, which were later recalled, but the two entered diversion agreements with the district attorney's office. Amy then filed suit alleging negligence and wantonness, violation of her right to privacy, the tort of outrage and conspiracy. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying QHG's motion for a judgment as a matter of law with respect to Amy's asserted theories of respondeat superior; ratification; and negligent and wanton training, supervision, and retention because there was not substantial evidence indicating that QHG was liable to Amy as a consequence of Dr. Diefenderfer's conduct under any of those theories. The trial court's judgment awarding Amy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of QHG. View "QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise v. Pertuit" on Justia Law

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Cottingham sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-10, alleging that a Gardasil® vaccination received by her minor daughter, K.C., in 2012, for the prevention of HPV, caused K.C. injuries. The claim was filed immediately before the limitations period ran out.The government stated argued that a "reasonable basis for bringing the case may not be present.” Cottingham’s counsel was granted additional time but was unable to submit an expert opinion supporting her claim. The Special Master denied compensation. Cottingham sought attorneys’ fees and litigation costs ($11,468.77), 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1). The Master found no evidence to support the "vaguely asserted claims" that the vaccination caused K.C.’s headaches, fainting, or menstrual problems." While remand was pending the Federal Circuit held (Simmons) that although a looming statute of limitations deadline may impact the question of whether good faith existed to bring a claim, that deadline does not provide a reasonable basis for asserting a claim. The Master decided that Simmons did not impact his analysis, applied a “totality of the circumstances” standard, and awarded attorneys’ fees. The Claims Court vacated and affirmed the Special Master’s third decision, finding no reasonable basis for Cottingham’s claim.The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that there is no dispute that Cottingham filed her claim in good faith. Simmons did not abrogate the “totality of the circumstances inquiry.” K.C.’s medical records paired with the Gardasil® package insert constitute circumstantial, objective evidence supporting causation. View "Cottingham v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court finding attorney Jonathan Streit in contempt of court and assessing a $100 fine, holding that substantial evidence supported the court's decision that Streit's actions displayed a lack of regard for the court's integrity and demonstrated disrespect.Streit appeared before the circuit court on a petition for permanent guardianship. At the hearing, the circuit court noted several deficiencies in the case file. The circuit court was unwilling to let the matter to proceed without compliance with the statutory requirements, and Streit argued that the circuit court took issue with him because he successfully reversed the circuit court in a separate case. The circuit court then found Streit in contempt of court and assessed a fine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that substantial evidence supported the court's decision to hold Streit in contempt. View "Streit v. State" on Justia Law

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In this guardianship proceeding, the Supreme Court denied mandamus relief, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to disqualify counsel for the guardianship applicant due to a purported conflict of interest.Jamie Rogers, represented by Alfred Allen, filed an application for temporary guardianship of Verna Thetford's person and a management trust for her estate. Verna moved to disqualify Allen as Jamie's counsel, asserting that Allen had represented Verna and that she objected to his representation of Jamie in violation of his fiduciary duties to her. The trial court denied the motion to disqualify and appointed Jamie as temporary guardian for Verna. Verna argued before the Supreme Court that the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct required that Allen be disqualified. The Supreme Court held (1) the Rules permit such representation in limited circumstances and that a trial court's decision regarding disqualification, based on a careful, thorough consideration of the evidence, is entitled to great deference by an appellate court; and (2) there was no reason to disturb the trial court's discretion in this case. View "In re Thetford" on Justia Law

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Al-Shaikh, an orthopedic surgeon, moved his Fremont practice and sought approval by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), under Medi-Cal regulations. He had been an approved Medi-Cal provider in Fremont for six years. DHCS denied his application, claiming that Al-Shaikh’s fee arrangement with his billing service was unlawful. Al-Shaikh appealed. DHCS agreed the provisions it had cited were inapplicable but cited another state law, incorporating a federal Medicaid regulation. Al-Shaikh filed suit, then relocated his Auburn practice, for which he used the same billing service; the relocation was approved by a different DHCS regional office. Al-Shaikh cited an Office of the Inspector General publication that expressly states his fee arrangement does not violate federal law. DHCS approved the Fremont office after three years. The court dismissed the case as moot. Al-Shaikh moved for fees under Code of Civil Procedure 1028.5, which allows a small business or a licensee that prevails in an action against a state regulatory agency to recover a maximum of $7,500 in fees if the agency acted without substantial justification. The court of appeal directed the superior court to award Al-Shaikh the full amount recoverable under section 1028.5. DHCS has an obligation to be knowledgeable about the law it is charged with implementing and was unable to cite a case or regulatory decision supporting its position; it acted without substantial justification. View "Al-Shaikh v. State Department of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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Defendants sought ex parte interviews with a number of non-party medical providers in this medical malpractice action. Because of this, an issue arose regarding the scope of the physician–patient privilege in medical-malpractice actions. Section 13-90-107(1)(d), C.R.S. (2017), prohibited certain medical providers from revealing, in testimony or otherwise, information about a patient gathered in the course of treating that patient. That prohibition, however, was not unlimited. The dispute, as presented to the Colorado Supreme Court, did not implicate the physician–patient relationship between Kelley Bailey (“Bailey”) and Defendants, meaning section 107(1)(d)(I) was inapplicable. Instead, the issue here was whether the non-party medical providers were “in consultation with” Defendants such that section 107(1)(d)(II) removed that typically privileged information from the protection of the physician–patient privilege. The Supreme Court held the non-party medical providers were not in consultation with Defendants for the purposes of section 107(1)(d)(II). However, the Court remanded this case to the trial court for consideration of whether the Baileys impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege for the non-party medical providers. On remand, if the trial court concluded that the Baileys did waive that privilege, it should reconsider whether there is any risk that: (1) ex parte interviews with the non-party medical providers would inadvertently reveal residually privileged information; or (2) Defendants would exert undue influence on the non-party medical providers in the course of any ex parte interviews. View "In re Bailey v. Hermacinski" on Justia Law

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There is no hospital in Valencia County. People in Valencia County who are faced with a medical emergency must deal with the emergency itself, and find a way to travel twenty to thirty-five miles to an Albuquerque hospital. Ambulances coming from Valencia County can take two hours or longer to transport a patient to the nearest hospital, process the patient, and return. The long turnaround times mean that ambulance companies sometimes run at full capacity, or “zero status,” and cannot respond to calls from new patients because all available ambulances are in use. Since 1987, appellant Living Cross Ambulance Service has been the only ambulance company in Valencia County operating under a permanent certificate from the Public Regulation Commission (PRC). Living Cross has been at zero status and unavailable to transport patients for less than one percent of ambulance service requests. When Living Cross is at zero status, dispatch requests mutual aid from a nearby ambulance company, and if those mutual aid ambulances are also unavailable, the municipality whose EMTs first responded to the scene must transport the patients at the municipality’s expense. This case was a direct appeal from a final order of the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) granting a permanent certificate to American Medical Response Ambulance Service, Inc. d/b/a American Medical Response, Emergicare (AMR) for both emergency and nonemergency ambulance service in Valencia County. Living Cross petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to vacate the final order of the PRC, claiming that the PRC acted arbitrarily and capriciously by granting AMR’s certificate because there was no evidence of need for non-emergency ambulance service in Valencia County, and because there was insufficient evidence of need for additional emergency ambulance service. Living Cross also claimed that the PRC abused its discretion by allowing Living Cross’s former attorney to represent AMR in an initial hearing before ruling on its motion to disqualify the attorney. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the PRC decision to allow the former Living Cross attorney to appear for AMR during the hearing for the temporary permit was contrary to law, and that the wholesale admission of the record from that hearing as evidence in the hearing for the permanent certificate was plain error, requiring reversal. Because the Court determined that the attorney disqualification issue is dispositive, it did not reach the other issues in this case. View "Living Cross Ambulance Serv. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In 1979, Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, on behalf of present and future recipients, alleging that Tennessee’s Medicaid program violated federal requirements, 42 U.S.C. 1396, and the Due Process Clause. The decades that followed involved intervenors, consent orders, revisions, and creation of a subclass. In 1994, Tennessee converted to a managed care program, TennCare. In 1995, five class members filed motions alleging that TennCare was being administered inconsistent with a 1992 decree and federal law. In 2009, the district court awarded plaintiffs more than$2.57 million for fees and expenses leading up to a 2005 Revised Consent Decree. Plaintiffs had originally requested a lodestar amount of $3,313,458.00, but the court reduced the award by 20 percent on account of plaintiffs’ “limited” success relative to the breadth of defendants’ requests and the scope of the litigation. The court noted that there was “no dispute that Plaintiffs in this case are the prevailing party, and thus entitled to attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988.” The Sixth Circuit vacated parts of the award, noting that section 1988 “is not for the purpose of aiding lawyers and that the original petition for fees included requests for dry cleaning bills, mini blinds, and health insurance. View "Binta B. v. Gordon" on Justia Law