Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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This case arose due to the failure of a New Jersey couple to pay for their adult son’s stay at a Pennsylvania nonprofit residential facility. It primarily raised a choice-of-law issue in relation to the two states’ filial-support statutes. Alexander Schutt (“Alex”), born in 1986, had severe mental and physical disabilities, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Alex's parents lived in New Jersey. In 2001, Alex was placed at Melmark, a non-profit residential care facility for intellectually and physically disabled persons, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Once Alex turned 21, the Princeton Regional School District stopped paying for his care at Melmark; at that point, payment for his care shifted to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (NJ-DDD). In July 2011, NJ-DDD informed the Parents Alex would have to be relocated because the agency disapproved Melmark’s rates. NJ-DDD stated that the Parents, as guardians, should pick Alex up at Melmark and NJ-DDD would provide him with an emergency placement pursuant to New Jersey law. Parents did not retrieve Alex from Melmark. In December 2011, NJ-DDD wrote to Parents, stating it would fund Alex’s residence on a permanent basis at an identified facility in New Jersey beginning in January 2012. Unsatisfied, the Parents asked NJ-DDD instead to continue paying for Alex’s care at Melmark. NJ-DDD denied the request and advised the Parents it would stop paying Melmark as of December 31, 2011. Parents filed an administrative appeal in New Jersey in an effort to keep Alex at Melmark. NJ-DDD granted extensions of time to allow for Alex’s transfer to a New Jersey facility, but the agency ultimately informed Parents it would make no further payments to Melmark after March 31, 2012. When that date arrived, neither Parents nor NJ-DDD accepted custody of Alex, leaving Melmark to care for him uncompensated. Nevertheless, Parents continued to pay for off-campus speech classes, art classes, and equestrian therapy for Alex, all of which took place in Pennsylvania. In addition, Parents continued to visit Alex at Melmark almost every weekend even after NJ-DDD’s payments ceased. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's resolution of the choice-of-law issue vitiated the trial court's basis for concluding the parents did not, in the individual capacity, appreciate Melmark's services. "[I]n weighing the equities, we conclude that it would be inequitable for Parents to retain the benefits they received from Melmark without paying for them. Thus, Melmark has established all three prerequisites for its equitable claims." As such, the Court held the Superior Court erred in finding the trial court properly denied relief on Melmark's equitable claims. View "Melmark, Inc. v. Schutt" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General (OAG), on behalf of the Commonwealth, filed suit against more than two dozen nursing homes and their parent companies (collectively, “Appellees”), alleging violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, (“UTPCPL”), and unjust enrichment. After consideration of Appellees’ preliminary objections, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the claims and this appealed followed. After its review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the dismissal of the UTPCPL claims was improper, but the dismissal of the unjust enrichment claim was proper because the claim was filed prematurely. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Commonwealth, AG Shapiro v. GGNSC LLC, et al" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the "breadth of gubernatorial power" concerning home health care services, and whether Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf's executive order (2015-05) was an impermissible exercise of his authority. The Order focused on the in-home personal (non-medical) services provided by direct care workers (“DCW”) to elderly and disabled residents who receive benefits in the form of DCW services in their home rather than institutional settings (“participants”), pursuant to the Attendant Care Services Act (“Act 150”). After careful consideration of the Order, the Supreme Court concluded Governor Wolf did not exceed his constitutional powers. Thus, the Court vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order, and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Markham, et al v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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This case was one in a longstanding dispute between major health services providers operating in Western Pennsylvania: UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, Highmark) and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Highmark and UPMC separately entered into Consent Decrees with the Commonwealth's Office of Attorney General (OAG). In this case, an issue arose concerning the obligations imposed by the Consent Decrees relative to UMPC's attempt to terminate ten hospital Medicare Acute Care Provider Agreements it had with Highmark. Pertinent here, UPMC's Consent Decree required it to treat Highmark's Medicare Advantage Plan consumers as in-network through the end date of the Consent Decree. UPMC allowed Provider Agreements with Highmark to renew annually in satisfaction of its in-network obligation. UPMC informed Highmark in accordance with the notice provisions, it would terminate the Provider Agreements on December 31, 2018, but would nonetheless continue to comply with all terms and obligations of those agreements through June 30, 2019, pursuant to the Decree runout provision. Highmark filed for an injunction and to hold UPMC in contempt. The Commonwealth granted OAG's petition to enforce, rejecting UPMC's contention that the six-month runout provision of the Provider Agreements satisfied its obligation to remain in "contract" with Highmark. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the runout provision of the Provider Agreement satisfied UPMC's obligation to contract for in-network access to its facilities for Highmark's MA Plan subscribers through June 30, 2019. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether and to what extent a hospital and a health care staffing agency have a legal duty to prevent a terminated employee from causing harm to patients at another health care facility. Plaintiffs claimed David Kwiatkowski, a radiology technician formerly employed at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital (“UPMC”), who was placed there by staffing agency Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. (“Maxim”), engaged in the diversion and substitution of intravenous fentanyl. Specifically, Kwiatkowski injected himself with fentanyl from a preloaded syringe, refilled the syringe with saline or another substance, and then replaced the now-contaminated syringe where it could be used by others to inject patients. In doing so years later at a Kansas hospital, Kwiatkowski allegedly communicated hepatitis C to Plaintiffs, who were patients at that hospital. Pursuant to federal regulation, UPMC (but not Maxim) indisputably had a legal obligation to report the diversion of controlled substances to the United States Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”). UPMC failed to do so. The Superior Court determined that Plaintiffs established that both UPMC and Maxim (collectively, “Defendants”) had a duty to report Kwiatkowski’s misconduct to the DEA and to “law enforcement,” and that Defendants’ failure to do so could have provided a basis for negligence claims. The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling with respect to UPMC, and reversed the Superior Court’s ruling to the extent it imposed the same duty upon Maxim. View "Walters v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr." on Justia Law