Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System ("HCA"), and The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System d/b/a Prattville Baptist Hospital (collectively, "the HCA entities"), appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by Leonidas Dickson, II. In 2015, Dickson sustained injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Dickson was taken to Prattville Baptist Hospital ("PBH"), where he was treated and discharged. Dickson was partially covered by a health-insurance policy issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc. ("BCBS"). PBH was a party to a "Preferred Outpatient Facility Contract" ("the provider agreement") with BCBS, under which the medical care rendered to Dickson in the emergency department at PBH was reimbursable. In 2017, Dickson filed a complaint to challenge a reimbursement that PBH had received in exchange for Dickson's medical treatment. Dickson's complaint also sought to certify a class of people who were insured by BCBS and who had received care at any hospital operated by HCA's predecessor, Baptist Health, Inc. ("BHI"). After the HCA entities' motion to dismiss was denied, the HCA entities filed an answer to the lawsuit, but the answer did not raise arbitration as a defense. After a year of extensive discovery (including class certification and class-related discovery), the HCA entities moved to compel arbitration on grounds that Dickson's health-insurance policy with BCBS required all claims related to the policy to be arbitrated and that the provider agreement also provided for arbitration, contingent upon the arbitration requirements of the BCBS policy. The trial court denied the motion to compel without providing a reason for the denial. After a request for reconsideration was also denied, the HCA entities appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the HCA entities waived their right to arbitration, thus affirming the trial court order. View "The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical defendants sought mandamus relief from an Alabama circuit court order that refused to transfer venue of the underlying lawsuit to the Jefferson County, Alabama circuit court, on grounds that venue in Conecuh County was not proper as to all plaintiffs, or alternatively, on the basis that convenience of the parties and/or the interest of justice required it. In 2019, the plaintiffs filed a complaint at the Conecuh Circuit Court against numerous defendants that, they averred, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and/or dispensed opioid medications throughout Alabama in a manner that was misleading, unsafe, and resulted in drug addiction, injury, and/or death to Alabama citizens. The complaint asserted claims of negligence, nuisance, unjust enrichment, fraud and deceit, wantonness, and civil conspiracy. The manufacturer defendants moved to transfer the case to Jefferson County, reasoning that because 8 of the 17 plaintiffs either had a place of business in Jefferson County or operated hospitals in Jefferson County or adjacent counties, logic dictated that a large percentage of the witnesses for those plaintiffs (i.e., prescribing doctors, hospital administrators, etc.) and their evidence were located in or around Jefferson County. After a review of the circuit court record, the Alabama Supreme Court determined defendants did not demonstrate a clear, legal right to transfer the underlying case from Conecuh to Jefferson County. Therefore, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Johnson & Johnson et al." on Justia Law

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Dennis Borden, individually and as father and next friend of his son J.B. (minor), appealed the dismissal of his defamation, negligence, wantonness and wilfulness claims against Bobby Malone and Malone's counseling clinic, B.L. Malone and Associates, Inc. Borden and his then-wife, Kathy Smith, received marriage counseling from Malone at the clinic. Borden filed for divorce in 2010. The complaint here alleged that in the divorce proceedings Malone "served in the role of custody evaluator" and recommended to the court that Smith be given sole custody of J.B. Instead of following Malone's recommendation, the court awarded Borden and Smith joint custody. The divorce was finalized in 2012. In 2019, Smith petitioned for modification of custody, seeking sole custody of the child. Borden opposed the petition, alleging that "during the pendency of an adversarial custody dispute involving litigation," Malone began seeing J.B. for counseling at Smith's behest without Borden's consent. J.B. allegedly related to Malone in counseling sessions many deeply personal statements concerning the child's relationship with Borden. Borden's complaint alleged that Malone made numerous defamatory statements in a letter to Smith's custody attorney, that was eventually presented as evidence in the custody hearing (the letter was stricken from evidence because that court ruled the counselor-patient privilege applied). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of defamation claims to the extent it precluded Borden from maintaining his claim that Malone and the clinic bore some culpability for the dissemination of the letter beyond those who had a direct or close relationship to the custody-modification proceeding. Furthermore, the trial court's dismissal of the count alleging negligence/wantonness/wilfulness was reversed to the extent that it precluded claims based on a breach of confidentiality on behalf of J.B., which were not foreclosed by the litigation privilege. The trial court's dismissal of the claims asserted in that count as to Borden was affirmed. View "Borden v. Malone" on Justia Law

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Ryan Magers appealed the dismissal of his wrongful-death claim against Alabama Women's Center Reproductive Alternatives, LLC ("the AWC"), for its role in the abortion of Baby Roe. In 2017, Baby Roe was aborted at approximately six weeks of gestation after the AWC provided Baby Roe's mother with an abortifacient pill to end her pregnancy. Magers, Baby Roe's father, then petitioned the Probate Court to be appointed personal representative of Baby Roe's estate. Magers' argument consisted of one conclusory statement followed by a string citation. The brief did not discuss how the cited authority was relevant to his argment. Because Mager's brief failed to conform to Rule 28, Ala. R. App. P., the Alabama Supreme Court determined it had nothing to review on appeal and affirmed dismissal. View "Magers v. Alabama Women's Center Reproductive Alternatives, LLC" 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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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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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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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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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