Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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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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Regina Hannah appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Michael Naughton, M.D.; Michael Naughton, M.D., Ph.D., LLC; Terisa Thomas, M.D., and and Terisa A. Thomas, M.D., P.C. (collectively, "the defendants"), on Hannah's claims alleging medical malpractice. In 2005, Hannah was seen by Dr. Thomas, a board-certified general surgeon, for a female health-care examination. Hannah was 32 years old at the time, and complained of fatigue, weight gain, heavy menstrual cycles, cramping, and painful sexual relations. Hannah also reported a significant family medical history of cervical cancer and stated that she was fearful of getting cancer. Hannah stated that her mother, grandmother, and sister had suffered from cervical cancer. Dr. Thomas ordered a number of tests, including a pelvic ultrasound and a Pap smear. Dr. Thomas received the results of Hannah's Pap smear, which indicated an "abnormal" result: "Epithelial Cell Abnormality. Atypical Squamous Cells Cannot Exclude High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (HSIL)." Dr. Thomas stated that this was not a diagnosis of cancer but, rather, that she considered it an abnormal finding indicative of an "increased risk" of cancer. Dr. Thomas related to Dr. Naughton that she had a patient she wanted to refer to him for a second opinion following an abnormal Pap smear. Dr. Naughton testified that Hannah chose the most aggressive option for treatment, specifically stating that she wanted "it all out:" a hysterectomy, including her ovaries. Dr. Naughton had Hannah execute a "surgical-awareness" form indicating that she accepted full responsibility for her decision to have the surgery. Hannah underwent surgery; there was no indication of any diagnosis of cervical cancer mentioned in the surgical record. Hannah's surgery was completed without complication. Hannah would have one more follow up appointment with Dr. Naughton; she also met with Dr. Thomas. Frustrated with a lack of response from additional calls to Dr. Naughton's office, Hannah consulted with Dr. Max Austin, a gynecologic oncologist. After review of her medical records, Dr. Austin told Hannah she "never had nor did she have cervical cancer." Hannah then filed suit against Drs. Thomas and Naughton, alleging they breached their standard of care by falsely informing her she had cervical cancer based on the abnormal Pap-smear, and by advising her to undergo a hysterectomy. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed it. View "Hannah v. Naughton, M.D., et al." on Justia Law

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Deborah Faison ("Deborah") died from cardiac arrest while she was a patient at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope, Alabama. Her husband Larry Faison ("Faison") then sued Gulf Health Hospitals, Inc. ("Gulf Health"), which owned and operated the hospital. Over a year after filing suit, Faison was allowed to amend his complaint by making additional factual allegations to support his claims. Gulf Health petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to strike the amended complaint. Gulf Health argued the the amendment was untimely and without good cause. The Supreme Court determined Gulf Health did not meet its burden of showing that a postjudgment appeal was an inadequate remedy. Therefore, petition was denied. View "Ex parte Gulf Health Hospitals, Inc., d/b/a Thomas Hospital." on Justia Law

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After her claim for coverage under the Public Education Employees' Health Insurance Plan ("PEEHIP") was denied, Marilyn Player sued Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama ("BCBS") at the Macon Circuit Court ("the trial court") asserting claims of breach of contract and bad faith. BCBS sought a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to transfer Player's case to the Montgomery Circuit Court pursuant to section 16-25A-7(e), Ala. Code 1975. A complaint seeking judicial review of a decision of a PEEHIP claims administrator could be heard only by the Montgomery Circuit Court. Player argued that 16-25A-7(e) did not apply to her complaint because her claims, she contended, did not constitute an action for a dispute over the denial of benefits and her complaint could not be characterized as an appeal of any administrative action. Rather, the breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims, Player argued, were regular tort claims recognized by the common law of Alabama and therefore did not fall within the purview of 16-25A-7(e). The Alabama Supreme Court was not persuaded: "Player cannot avoid the legislature's exclusive-venue provision by recasting her claims using artful labels." The trial court exceeded its discretion in denying BCBS's motion for a change of venue from Macon County to Montgomery County. Despite Player's attempt to cast the issues in her complaint as regular tort claims, Player's breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims are, in essence, disputes over a final decision allegedly made by BCBS regarding Player's insulin medication. Section 16-25A-7(e) controlled in this action; therefore, venue was proper in Montgomery County. The Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. The trial court was ordered to transfer the action to the Montgomery Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama." on Justia Law

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BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center ("Brookwood") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order compelling Brookwood to respond to certain interrogatories and requests for production. Donna Gaston arrived at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center ("the medical center") to participate in a voluntary psychiatric outpatient-treatment program. At approximately 8:40 a.m., Donna registered for the 9:00 a.m. outpatient group-therapy session in which she had enrolled. She then left the therapy area, accessed a parking deck on the premises of the medical center, and leaped to her death. Charles Gaston, Donna's husband, filed a wrongful-death action seeking to hold Brookwood liable for Donna's suicide. Specifically, he alleged the conduct of Brookwood's nurses and security fell below the applicable standard of care. The Supreme Court determined that although Gaston could discover information concerning those acts or omissions by those employees whose conduct was detailed specifically and factually described in the complaint as rendering Brookwood liable for Donna's death, Gaston was not entitled to discovery regarding acts or omissions by Brookwood related to other incidents. Therefore, because the requested discovery sought evidence of other acts or omissions of Brookwood and its employees beyond the alleged standard of care owed to Donna, Brookwood had shown a clear legal right to have the trial court's discovery order vacated. View "Ex parte BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center." on Justia Law

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Mandamus petitions before the Alabama Supreme Court presented a question of whether the Cherokee Circuit Court and the Etowah Circuit Court (collectively, "the trial courts") could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over the petitioners, out-of-state companies (collectively, the defendants) in actions filed against them by the Water Works and Sewer Board of the Town of Centre ("Centre Water") and the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden ("Gadsden Water"). Centre Water and Gadsden Water alleged the defendants discharged toxic chemicals into industrial wastewater from their plants in Georgia, which subsequently contaminated Centre Water's and Gadsden Water's downstream water sources in Alabama. After moving unsuccessfully in the trial courts to have the actions against them dismissed, the defendants filed petitions for writs of mandamus seeking orders from the Alabama Supreme Court directing the trial courts to dismiss the actions against them based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court consolidated all the petitions for the purpose of issuing one opinion. Because Indian Summer, Kaleen, and Milliken made a prima facie showing that the trial courts lacked specific personal jurisdiction and Centre Water and Gadsden Water failed to produce any evidence to contradict that showing, the trial courts should have granted their motions to dismiss. Indian Summer, Kaleen, and Milliken have, therefore, demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief sought –- dismissal of Gadsden Water's and Centre Water's complaints against them –- and the petitions for a writ of mandamus in case nos. 1170887, 1171197, and 1171199 were granted. The Supreme Court concluded the trial courts could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the remaining defendants, and that the remaining defendants did not demonstrated a clear legal right to relief at this stage. View "Ex parte Kaleen Rugs, Inc." on Justia Law

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Forest Laboratories, LLC ("Forest"), filed a permissive appeal pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., of an Alabama circuit court's order denying it summary judgment. Forest manufactured and marketed Lexapro, a drug prescribed for depression, and Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ("FPI") sold and distributed Lexapro. In 2015, Elias Joubran's physician prescribed Lexapro for Elias's depression. Elias's prescription was filled with generic escitalopram that was manufactured and sold by a company other than Forest. On December 30, 2015, Elias entered the house belonging to him and his wife, Sheila Joubran; he shot and killed Sheila, then shot and killed himself. Kevin Feheley, Sr., serving as personal representative of Shiela's estate, sued Mary Jourbran in her capacity as the personal representative of Elias's estate. Forest, FPI and several fictitiously named defendants were included in the suit. The complaint alleged that, at the time of the murder/suicide, Elias was under prescription for pharmaceuticals manufactured by defendants, including Forest and FPI, and that "Forest's Lexapro[] enhanced, enabled and aggravated [Elias's] depression and violent behaviors." The Alabama Legislature enacted section 6-5-530, Ala. Code 1975, "on the heels" of the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Wyeth, Inc. v. Weeks, 159 So. 3d 649 (2014). In addressing the Weeks decision, section 6-5-530 specifically provided that a plaintiff who is suing based on personal injury, death, or property damage caused by a product "must prove ... that the defendant designed, manufactured, sold, or leased the particular product the use of which is alleged to have caused the injury on which the claim is based" regardless of the type of claims or theory of liability the plaintiff asserts. Because this case was a permissive appeal, the questions before the Supreme Court were limited to whether 6-5-530 effectively overruled Weeks, and whether a manufacturer could be held liable for an injury caused by a product it did not manufacture. The Court determined Section 6-5-530 abrogated Weeks: a pharmaceutical manufacturer cannot be held liable for injury caused by a product it did not manufacture. Based on the Court's answer to the trial court's certified question in the permissive appeal, it reversed the trial court's order denying Forest's motion for a summary judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Forest Laboratories, LLC v. Feheley, Sr." on Justia Law

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In July 2012, Dr. William Sullivan prescribed Remicade, a medication manufactured by Janssen Biotech, Inc. ("JBI"), to Tim McKenzie as a treatment for Tim's psoriatic arthritis. Tim thereafter received Remicade intravenously every two weeks until November 2014, when he developed severe neuropathy causing significant weakness, the inability to walk without assistance, and the loss of feeling in, and use of, his hands and arms. Although Tim stopped receiving Remicade at that time, he and his wife, Sherrie, alleged they were not told that Remicade was responsible for his injuries. In December 2015, Tim traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to receive treatment for his neuropathy. The McKenzies stated that while at the Mayo Clinic, Tim was eventually diagnosed with demyelinating polyneuropathy, and doctors told them that it was likely caused by the Remicade. In 2016, the McKenzies sued JBI and Dr. Sullivan in Alabama Circuit Court, asserting failure-to-warn, negligence, breach-of-warranty, fraud, and loss-of-consortium claims. The complaint filed by the McKenzies was not signed, but it indicated it had been prepared by Sherrie, who was not only a named plaintiff, but also an attorney and active member of the Alabama State Bar. Keith Altman, an attorney from California admitted pro hac vice in November 2017, assisted with the preparation of the complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court found it apparent from even a cursory review of the complaint, that it was copied from a complaint filed in another action. The complaint included numerous factual and legal errors, including an assertion that Tim was dead even though he was alive, and claims invoking the laws of Indiana even though that state had no apparent connection to this litigation. The trial court struck the McKenzies' initial complaint because it was not signed as required by Rule 11(a) and because it contained substantial errors and misstatements of fact and law. The trial court later dismissed the failure-to-warn and negligence claims asserted by the McKenzies in a subsequent amended complaint because that amended complaint was not filed until after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations applicable to those claims. Because the trial court acted within the discretion granted it by Rule 11(a) when it struck the McKenzies' initial complaint and because the McKenzies did not establish that the applicable statute of limitations should have been tolled, the trial court's order dismissing the McKenzies' claims as untimely was properly entered. View "McKenzie v. Janssen Biotech, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health Systems ("the Authority"), and Simeon Penton (collectively, "Baptist Health") appealed a circuit court judgment compelling Baptist Health to disclose certain documents to Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC ("CARO"), under the auspices of the Alabama Open Records Act. CARO was a Montgomery-area radiation-oncology practice; CARO provided radiation and oncology services at the Montgomery Cancer Center ("MCC"), a facility owned and operated by the Authority. The Authority and CARO executed a noncompetition agreement in May 2012. In 2017, the Authority submitted a letter of intent to file a certificate-of-need ("CON") application with the State Health Planning and Development Agency ("SHPDA"). The letter of intent indicated that the Authority sought to offer radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO alleged it then attempted to persuade the Authority to use CARO physicians for radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC but that the Authority rebuffed CARO's overtures. In February 2018, the Authority filed its CON. Then in March 2018, the Authority notified CARO of the termination of the noncompetition agreement. A dispute arose and ended up in court. Counsel for the Authority sent CARO a letter requesting that CARO dismiss its action because, the Authority asserted, CARO's review of Board minutes confirmed that the Authority had not breached the noncompetition agreement by recruiting or employing radiation oncologists to work at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO asserted that redactions in the minutes included information relating to arrangements with medical oncologists, the Medicare 340B program, and the Authority's other proposed projects in the Prattville area. Counsel for the Authority contended that the remainder of the Board minutes and other documents CARO requested were "confidential and privileged and/or not subject to production under [the ORA]." The circuit court ultimately ordered unredacted minutes to be produced. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that although the Authority allowed CARO's counsel to review the unredacted Board minutes, it steadfastly refused to provide a copy of those unredacted minutes to CARO. Thus, the Authority plainly did not sufficiently comply with the ORA with respect to the Board minutes, and the circuit court did not exceed the scope of the ORA in ordering the records disclosed. View "Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC" on Justia Law

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Greenway Health, LLC, and Greenway EHS, Inc. (formerly EHS, Inc.) (collectively, "the Greenway defendants"), and Sunrise Technology Consultants, LLC, and Lee Investment Consultants, LLC (collectively, "the Sunrise defendants"), appealed separately a circuit court order denying their motion to compel the arbitration of certain claims asserted against them by Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates ("SARHA"). Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined the Greenway defendants failed to establish the existence of a contract containing an arbitration provision, the Sunrise defendants' argument based on an intertwining-claims theory also failed. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court's denial of the Greenway defendants' and the Sunrise defendants' motions to stay proceedings and to compel arbitration. View "Greenway Health, LLC, and Greenway EHS, Inc. v. Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates" on Justia Law