Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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The Alaska Supreme Court granted this petition for review to consider how the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) affected Alaska personal injury case law allowing a defendant ex parte contact with a plaintiff’s doctors as a method of informal discovery. The issue the Court requested the parties specifically brief was whether the federal law preempted Alaska case law, or, if not, whether federal law otherwise required us to overrule or modify our case law. After review, the Court concluded the federal law did not preempt existing Alaska case law. But the Court also concluded it should overrule the case law because its foundations "have been eroded by a cultural shift in views on medical privacy and new federal procedural requirements undermining the use of ex parte contact as an informal discovery measure." The Court therefore held that - absent voluntary agreement - a defendant may not make ex parte contact with a plaintiff’s treating physicians without a court order, which generally should not be issued absent extraordinary circumstances. "We believe that formal discovery methods are more likely to comply with the federal law and promote justice and that such court orders rarely, if ever, will be necessary." View "Jones v. Drury" on Justia Law

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An association representing naturopathic physicians challenged a new Alaska regulation that effectively forbade naturopaths from using and prescribing injectable vitamins and minerals. The association argued the statutory definition of naturopathy included the use of dietetics, that dietetics included injectable vitamins and minerals obtained by pharmaceutical prescription, and that the statutory restrictions on the practice of naturopathy prohibited the use of only prescription drugs, not all prescription medicines. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory text, the larger statutory context, and the legislative history together suggest that the legislature did not intend to grant prescriptive authority to naturopaths. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to grant summary judgment against the association on this issue. View "Alaska Association of Naturopathic Physicians v. Alaska Division of Corporations, Business & Professional Licensing" on Justia Law

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through the hospital's hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner thereafter took his cause to court, seeking reinstatement and damages for the alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court found no such violations and that he was not entitled to reinstatement. Brandner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Brandner was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. However, the doctor's due process rights were violated when he was not given a hearing following termination of his hospital privileges. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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A woman was admitted to a hospital emergency room with pregnancy-related complications. The attending physician recommended that she be transported by medivac to a different facility. The woman and her husband informed the physician that they needed their insurer’s preauthorization for that course of action or they could be personally liable for the costs. The physician allegedly promised to call the insurer and, if it would not approve the medivac, have the hospital bear the costs itself. But the physician failed to contact the insurer until much later, and the insurer declined coverage. The couple sued the physician and the hospital, alleging that the physician breached her fiduciary duty by failing to obtain preauthorization as promised; that her promise created an enforceable contract, which was breached; and that if there was no contract the physician’s promise should be enforced through the doctrine of promissory estoppel. The superior court granted summary judgment to the physician and hospital. The couple appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court held that the superior court did not err when it ruled in favor of the physician and hospital on the claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract, but that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on the claim for promissory estoppel. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. Archer" on Justia Law

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In a 2007 ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court recognized that the State had "compelling interests" in aiding parents to help their minor children make informed and mature pregnancy-related decisions, and at that time, the Court indicated that a parental notification law might be implemented without unduly interfering with minors’ fundamental privacy rights. The 2010 voter-enacted Parental Notification Law revived an exception in the existing medical emancipation statute, creating considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State could advance its compelling interests. By this 2016 opinion, the Alaska Court concluded that the Notification Law violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced. "But the decision we reach today is narrow in light of the limited State interests offered to justify the Notification Law. The State expressly disclaims any interest in how a minor exercises her fundamental privacy right of reproductive choice, and it does not suggest that it has an interest in limiting abortions generally or with respect to minors specifically. And as a court we are not concerned with whether abortion is right, wrong, moral, or immoral, or with whether abortions should be available to minors without restriction. We are concerned only with whether, given its stated underlying justifications, the current Notification Law complies with the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee — and it does not." View "Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. Alaska" on Justia Law