Justia Health Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Maas v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr.
A mental health patient lived in a forty-unit apartment building and repeatedly told his doctors and therapists he would kill an unnamed “neighbor.” He ultimately carried out his threat, killing an individual who lived in his building, a few doors away from his own apartment. In subsequent wrongful death litigation filed by the victim’s mother, the providers argued they had no duty to warn anyone about their patient’s threats because he never expressly identified a specific victim. The trial court rejected this argument and denied the providers’ motion for summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed to trial. On appeal, the Superior Court agreed, and finding no reversible error, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. View "Maas v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr." on Justia Law
Wolf v. Scarnati
On March 6, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency (“Proclamation”) pursuant to 35 Pa.C.S. 7301(c), a provision of the Emergency Management Services Code. This Proclamation activated many emergency resources. Days later, the Governor issued an order closing businesses that were not considered life-sustaining. Four Pennsylvania businesses and one individual challenged the Governor's Order, alleging that it violated the Emergency Management Services Code and various constitutional provisions. On April 13, 2020, in an exercise of its King’s Bench jurisdiction, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Governor’s order complied with both the statute and Commonwealth Constitution. On June 3, 2020, the Governor renewed the Proclamation for an additional ninety days. June 9, 2020, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted a concurrent resolution to order the Governor to terminate the disaster emergency. The matter reached a loggerhead and went again before the Supreme Court. The Court issued an opinion stating "we find it necessary to make clear what this Court is, and is not, deciding in this case. We express no opinion as to whether the Governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes wise or sound policy. Similarly, we do not opine as to whether the General Assembly, in seeking to limit or terminate the Governor’s exercise of emergency authority, presents a superior approach for advancing the welfare of our Commonwealth’s residents." Instead, the Court decided here a narrow legal question: whether the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Emergency Services Management Code permitted the General Assembly to terminate the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency by passing a concurrent resolution, without presenting that resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto. To this, the Supreme Court responded "no": "because the General Assembly intended that H.R. 836 terminate the Governor’s declaration of disaster emergency without the necessity of presenting that resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto, we hold, pursuant to our power under the Declaratory Judgments Act, that H.R. 836 is a legal nullity." View "Wolf v. Scarnati" on Justia Law
Gass et al. v. 52nd Judicial District
At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was a challenge to a local judicial district’s policy prohibiting the use of medical marijuana by individuals under court supervision, such as probationers. Relevant here, the applicable statutory authority, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act, contained an immunity provision protecting patients from government sanctions. In September 2019, the 52nd Judicial District -- comprised of the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas (the “District”) -- announced a “Medical Marijuana Policy” under the issuing authority of the president judge. The Policy prohibited “the active use of medical marijuana, regardless of whether the defendant has a medical marijuana card, while the defendant is under supervision by the Lebanon County Probation Services Department.” Petitioners were individuals under the supervision of the Lebanon County probation agency who filed suit in the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction to challenge the validity of the Policy in light of the MMA's immunity provision. Separately, Petitioners filed an application for special relief in the nature of a preliminary injunction. Soon thereafter, the Commonwealth Court proceeded, sua sponte, to transfer the case to this Court, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. The District then filed its response in this Court opposing preliminary injunctive relief. It claimed, among other things, that Petitioners were unlikely to prevail on the merits, arguing, inter alia, that the General Assembly didn’t intend the MMA to override the courts’ ability to supervise probationers and parolees. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Petitioners' request for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Policy was deemed to be contrary to the immunity accorded by the MMA, and as such, should not be enforced. "[N]othing impedes a revocation hearing or other lawful form of redress, where there is reasonable cause to believe that a probationer or other person under court supervision has possessed or used marijuana in a manner that has not been made lawful by the enactment." View "Gass et al. v. 52nd Judicial District" on Justia Law
Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co.
This matter came from two separate lawsuits commenced in the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas which were subsequently removed to federal district courts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and thereafter consolidated for disposition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Appellee William Scott was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Appellant Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Appellee Samantha Sayles was covered by an automobile policy issued by Appellant Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate’s policy contained a clause, similar to the one in Scott’s policy, providing that, in order to receive first-party medical benefits, the insured had to submit to mental and physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurance company at the company’s behest before medical benefits were paid. Both appellees were injured in separate car accidents, and their respective insurance companies refused to pay their medical bills. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Does an automobile insurance policy provision, which required an insured seeking first-party medical benefits under the policy to submit to an independent medical exam whenever the insurer requires and with a doctor selected by the insurer, conflict with 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1796(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), such that the requirement was void as against public policy? After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the provision indeed conflicted with Section 1796(a), and was void as against public policy. View "Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co." on Justia Law
In Re: Risperdal Litig.
Appellants Jonathan Saksek and Joshua Winter challenged a superior court decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of Appellees Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Johnson & Johnson Company, and Janssen Research and Development, LLC (collectively, “Janssen”). Saksek and Winter were two of a large number of men who filed suit against Janssen, alleging that they developed gynecomastia as a result of their ingestion of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug manufactured by Janssen. In 2014, Janssen filed two motions for summary judgment, which were nominally directed at Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, but had language affecting all Risperdal plaintiffs: the companies sought a global ruling that all claims accrued for statute of limitations purposes no later than October 31, 2006, when Janssen changed the Risperdal label to reflect a greater association between gynecomastia and Risperdal. The trial court ruled that all Risperdal-gynecomastia claims accrued no later June 31, 2009. The superior court disagreed, ruling that all such claims accrued no later than Janssen’s preferred date (October 31, 2006). Concluding that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment at all in Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated its decision and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Risperdal Litig." on Justia Law
In Re: J.M.Y.
In 2012, Appellee attended a fraternity party and consumed alcohol. Sometime thereafter, he encountered University of Pittsburgh police officers answering a call from dispatch that there was an intoxicated individual attempting to harm himself outside of one of the residence halls of the university. Officers observed though Appellee appeared to be intoxicated, he had sustained superficial cuts to his arm and wrist area, and that other officers found a small knife attached to a money clip on the ground near where Appellee was found. Appellee was transferred to a nearby psychiatric treatment facility wherein Appellee's attending psychiatrist applied to extend Appellee's stay for 20 days. Section 303 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) required the holding of a hearing on the application before a mental health review officer or a judge at the facility in which the involuntarily committed person was being housed, and also directed that counsel be appointed to represent the person at that hearing. At the 2015 expungement hearing, Appellee averred he was not advised of any hearing prior to involuntary commitment, nor was he appointed counsel. Over two years later, Appellee filed his expungement petition, broadly alleging there was no lawful basis for his commitment." The State Police argued to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the lower courts ruling on this petition lacked jurisdiction to order expungement. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed a superior court order that reversed a common pleas court's order dismissing Appellee's petition. View "In Re: J.M.Y." on Justia Law
Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, et al.
Appellees Augustus Feleccia and Justin Resch were student athletes who played football at Lackawanna Junior College (Lackawanna), a nonprofit junior college. Lackawanna had customarily employed two athletic trainers to support the football program. The Athletic Director, Kim Mecca, had to fill two trainer vacancies in the summer of 2009. She received applications from Kaitlin Coyne, and Alexis Bonisese. At the time she applied and interviewed for the Lackawanna position, Coyne had not yet passed the athletic trainer certification exam, and was therefore not licensed by the Board. Bonisese was also not licensed, having failed the exam on her first attempt, and still awaiting the results of her second attempt when she applied and interviewed for the Lackawanna position. Nevertheless, Lackawanna hired both Coyne and Bonisese in August 2009 with the expectation they would serve as athletic trainers, pending receipt of their exam results, and both women signed “athletic trainer” job descriptions. After starting their employment at Lackawanna, Coyne and Bonisese both learned they did not pass the athletic trainer certification exam. Mecca retitled the positions held by Coyne and Bonisese from “athletic trainers” to “first responders.” However, neither Coyne nor Bonisese executed new job descriptions, despite never achieving the credentials included in the athletic trainer job descriptions they did sign. Appellants were also aware the qualifications of their new hires was called into question by their college professors and clinic supervisors. In 2010, appellees participated in the first day of spring contact football practice, engaging in a variation of the tackling drill known as the “Oklahoma Drill.” While participating in the drill, both Resch and Feleccia suffered injuries. Resch attempted to make a tackle and suffered a T-7 vertebral fracture. Resch was unable to get up off the ground and Coyne attended to him before he was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Later that same day, Feleccia was injured while attempting to make his first tackle, experiencing a “stinger” in his right shoulder, i.e., experiencing numbness, tingling and a loss of mobility in his right shoulder. Bonisese attended Feleccia and cleared him to continue practice “if he was feeling better.” In this discretionary appeal arising from the dismissal of appellees’ personal injury claims on summary judgment, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the superior court erred in: (1) finding a duty of care; and (2) holding a pre-injury waiver signed by student athletes injured while playing football was not enforceable against claims of negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness. After careful review, the Court affirmed the superior court’s order only to the extent it reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on the claims of gross negligence and recklessness. The Case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: Enforcement of Subpoenas b/f the Bd of Med.
Sarah DeMichele, M.D., was a board-certified psychiatrist licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania. From August 2011 through February 2013, Dr. DeMichele provided psychiatric care to M.R. M.R. struggled with suicidal ideations and engaged in a pattern of self-harming behavior, which she discussed regularly with Dr. DeMichele. In December 2012, M.R.’s self-inflicted injuries necessitated emergency medical treatment. M.R. ultimately was transferred to a Trauma Disorders Program in Maryland. In the program, M.R. was treated by psychiatrist Richard Loewenstein, M.D., and psychologist Catherine Fine, Ph.D. During the course of his treatment of M.R., Dr. Loewenstein obtained M.R.’s medical records from Dr. DeMichele. In 2014, Dr. Loewenstein submitted a complaint to the Professional Compliance Office of Pennsylvania’s State Board of Medicine (“Board”), in which he alleged that Dr. DeMichele’s care of M.R. was professionally deficient. Dr. Loewenstein’s complaint prompted an investigation and, ultimately, the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against Dr. DeMichele. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (“Bureau”) filed an order directing Dr. DeMichele to show cause as to why the Board should not suspend, revoke, or restrict her medical license, or impose a civil penalty or the costs of investigation. In advance of the hearing, Dr. DeMichele requested that the hearing examiner issue subpoenas for the testimony of M.R. and the medical records of Dr. Loewenstein, Dr. Fine, the program, and M.R.’s former treating psychologist, April Westfall, Ph.D. Relying upon the authority provided under 63 P.S. 2203(c), the hearing examiner issued the requested subpoenas. However, when served with the subpoenas, all of M.R.’s treatment providers refused to release their records absent a court order or M.R.’s authorization. M.R. subsequently refused to authorize the release of her records. In this direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to consider the enforceability of the subpoenas, as well as related questions regarding the scope and applicability of numerous statutes that protect a patient’s medical information. The Commonwealth Court granted the physician’s petition to enforce the subpoenas. Because the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to decide the issue, it vacated that court’s order. View "In Re: Enforcement of Subpoenas b/f the Bd of Med." on Justia Law
BouSamra v. Excela Health
George BouSamra, M.D., along with his colleague, Ehab Morcos, M.D., were members of Westmoreland County Cardiology (WCC), a private cardiology practice. BouSamra and Morcos were interventional cardiologists. Westmoreland Regional Hospital was operated by Excela Health (Excela). As of 2006, approximately 90% of the interventional cardiology procedures at Westmoreland Regional Hospital were performed by WCC. As a result, most of the income Excela realized from interventional cardiology procedures at Westmoreland Regional Hospital stemmed from WCC’s procedures. In 2007, Excela acquired Latrobe Cardiology (Latrobe). Although Latrobe was a cardiology practice, it did not employ interventional cardiologists. Instead, Latrobe referred its patients requiring interventional cardiac procedures to other cardiologist groups, including WCC. Because WCC and Latrobe competed for patients, some animosity existed between the practices. In February 2010, Robert Rogalski (Rogalski) was appointed CEO of Excela, at which point he became aware of the acrimonious relationship between WCC and Latrobe. Seeking to control the market for interventional cardiology in Westmoreland County, Rogalski began negotiating with WCC intending to bring WCC into Excela’s network. The negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful, and in April 2010, WCC rejected any further negotiations. In June 2010, Excela engaged Mercer Health & Benefits, LLC (Mercer) to review whether physicians at Westmoreland Regional Hospital, including BouSamra, were performing medically unnecessary stenting. The results of the study were critical of BouSamra’s work, and concluded that he had performed medically unnecessary interventional cardiology procedures. While Mercer was completing its peer review but prior to another peer review, Excela contracted with an outside public relations consultant to assist Excela in managing the anticipated publicity stemming from the results of the peer review studies. BouSamra initiated this action seeking damages for, among other things, defamation and interference with prospective and actual contractual relations. As the matter continued through the phases of litigation, the parties disagreed as to the scope of discoverable materials. The issue raised before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether Excela Health waived the attorney work product doctrine or the attorney-client privilege by forwarding an email from outside counsel to its public relations and crisis management consultant. The Court concluded the work product doctrine was not waived by disclosure unless the alleged work product was disclosed to an adversary or disclosed in a manner which significantly increased the likelihood an adversary or anticipated adversary would obtain it. This matter was remanded back to the trial court for fact finding and application of the newly articulated work product waiver analysis. View "BouSamra v. Excela Health" on Justia Law
Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al.
The longstanding dispute between UPMC; UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, “Highmark”); and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) is again before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This time, the issue centered on the parties’ rights and obligations under a pair of Consent Decrees that, since 2014, governed the relationship between UPMC and Highmark with regard to the provision and financing of certain healthcare services to their respective insurance subscribers. The Consent Decrees were scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2019. Following the Supreme Court's decision in "Shapiro I," on February 7, 2019, OAG filed a four-count petition at Commonwealth Court to Modify Consent Decrees (“Petition”), thus commencing the underlying litigation. OAG argued the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Shapiro I controlled this case, and in so doing, misapplied the applicable principles of contract law. Highmark argued the Commonwealth Court erred in imposing a “materiality” limitation upon the Modification Provision, observing that nothing therein precluded modification of “unambiguous” and “material” terms of the Consent Decrees, as the Supreme Court characterized the termination date in Shapiro I. UPMC counters that OAG’s proposed use of the Modification Provision is contrary to the parties’ intent, in that the intent of the Consent Decrees, UPMC contends, was to establish a five-year transition period for UPMC and Highmark to wind down their contractual relationships, and thereby to minimize disturbance to the health care industry and to avoid sudden disruption of health care consumers’ expectations. The Supreme Court agreed with OAG and Highmark that the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding this case was controlled by Shapiro I. Further, the Court determined OAG and Highmark have set forth a plausible construction of the Modification Provision. The Court remanded this matter back to the Commonwealth Court to interpret the contested provision, and to reconsider the question of extension of the Consent Decrees. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al." on Justia Law