Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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An inmate, Timothy Finley, who suffers from severe psychiatric disorders, was placed in a heavily restrictive cell in administrative segregation for approximately three months by prison officials. Finley brought a case against the deputy wardens, Erica Huss and Sarah Schroeder, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment and his right to procedural due process, as well as disability-discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.The district court granted summary judgment to Huss and Schroeder on all claims. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision on Finley’s procedural due process and statutory discrimination claims. However, the court reversed the lower court's decision on Finley’s Eighth Amendment claim, finding that he presented sufficient evidence to find that the deputy wardens violated his clearly established rights. The court remanded the case for further proceedings on the Eighth Amendment claim. View "Finley v. Huss" on Justia Law

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The case involves the family of Todd Kerchen, who died from a lethal dose of fentanyl. The family filed a complaint against the University of Michigan and Dr. James Woods, alleging violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Michigan state law. The family claimed that the fentanyl that killed Todd originated from a University of Michigan pharmacology lab where Christian Raphalides, the person who allegedly provided the drug to Todd, worked. The lab was overseen by Dr. Woods. The family argued that the lab's lax policies surrounding the use of controlled substances led to Todd's death.The district court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss and ordered limited discovery on whether the action was barred by the statutes of limitations applicable to the plaintiffs' claims. The defendants appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court found that the University of Michigan and Dr. Woods in his official capacity were entitled to sovereign immunity, barring all claims against them. The court also found that Dr. Woods in his individual capacity was entitled to qualified immunity, barring the § 1983 claim against him. Furthermore, the court found that the wrongful death claim against Dr. Woods in his individual capacity should be dismissed as it was barred by governmental immunity. The court dismissed the remainder of the defendants' appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Kerchen v. University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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The case involves Terrence Jordan and Damara Sanders, who were pulled over by a state trooper for speeding. During the stop, the trooper noticed inconsistencies in their travel plans and observed Jordan's heavy breathing, which raised his suspicion. He called for a canine unit, which detected the presence of drugs. A subsequent search of the vehicle and the defendants revealed marijuana, pill presses, digital scales, plastic baggies, firearms, and a significant quantity of pills containing a fluorofentanyl-fentanyl mixture.The defendants were charged with possessing a firearm as a felon, possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, and possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking. They sought to suppress the evidence obtained from the traffic stop, arguing that the trooper lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the stop. The District Judge denied the motion. The defendants also proposed a lesser-included-offense instruction for simple possession of a controlled substance, which the court rejected, citing the quantity of drugs and distribution paraphernalia as evidence of intent to distribute.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the trooper had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop, based on the defendants' suspicious travel plans, Sanders's implausible explanations, and Jordan's heavy breathing. The court also agreed with the district court's decision not to give a lesser-included-offense instruction, given the substantial evidence of the defendants' intent to distribute drugs. However, the court vacated the defendants' convictions for possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking due to an error in the jury instructions. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court's opinion. View "United States v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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In a multi-district litigation involving diabetes drug saxagliptin, the plaintiffs claimed that the drug caused their heart failure. They presented a single expert to show the drug could cause heart failure. After a Daubert hearing and expert motions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the expert's testimony was unreliable due to methodological flaws and therefore excluded it. Subsequently, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that other evidence created a genuine issue of material fact. The court also refused the plaintiffs' request for ninety days to find a replacement expert. On appeal, the plaintiffs challenged the district court's exclusion of their expert, its grant of summary judgment, and its refusal to give them more time to find another expert witness. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decisions, stating that the plaintiffs' claims lacked merit. The court found that the expert's reliance on one study to the exclusion of all others was unreliable, that his use of animal data was unreliable due to his admitted lack of qualifications to analyze such studies, and that he did not reliably apply the Bradford Hill criteria - a scientific framework used to analyze whether an association between two variables is causal. The court also found that all jurisdictions require expert testimony to show general causation in complex medical cases such as this one. As the plaintiffs failed to identify a reliable general causation expert, the court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The court also found no good cause to grant the plaintiffs more time to find a replacement expert. View "In re Onglyza (Saxagliptin) and Kombiglyze (Saxagliptin and Metformin) Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the defendant, Thomas O’Lear, was convicted of healthcare fraud, making a false statement in connection with healthcare services, and aggravated identity theft. O’Lear ran a company that provided mobile x-ray services to residents in nursing homes. However, he used the company to defraud Medicare and Medicaid programs by billing for fictitious x-rays using the identities of nursing-home residents. When an audit revealed the fraud, O’Lear attempted to conceal it by forging staff names and duplicating x-rays in the patient files.On appeal, O’Lear raised several questions. Firstly, he questioned whether his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury was violated by excluding individuals who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 from the jury pool. The court ruled that the unvaccinated do not qualify as a “distinctive group” that can trigger Sixth Amendment concerns. Secondly, O’Lear questioned whether the nursing-home residents were “victims” of his fraud under a “vulnerable victims” sentencing enhancement, even though the monetary losses were suffered by Medicare and Medicaid. The court ruled that the residents were indeed victims, as O’Lear had used their identities and health records without their permission, which constituted taking advantage of them.O’Lear also challenged his two aggravated-identity-theft convictions and objected to his 180-month sentence on various grounds, but these arguments were also dismissed by the court. Ultimately, the court affirmed O’Lear's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. O'Lear" on Justia Law

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Adams, born in 1960, smoked about a pack a day starting at age 18 and worked in coal mines at times between 1979-1995, mostly underground using a “cutting machine” in the “dustiest” areas. Adams struggled to breathe after his retirement. Adams’s 1998 application under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901(b), was denied because he failed to prove that he had pneumoconiosis. In 2008, Adams sought benefits from Wilgar. His treating physician, Dr. Alam, identified the causes of his 2013 death as cardiopulmonary arrest, emphysema, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, throat cancer, and aspiration pneumonia.A 2019 notice in the case stated “the Court may look to the preamble to the revised” regulations in weighing conflicting medical opinions. Wilgar unsuccessfully requested discovery concerning the preamble and the scientific studies that supported its conclusions. The ALJ awarded benefits, finding that Adams had “legal pneumoconiosis” and giving Dr. Alam’s opinion that Adam’s coal mine work had substantially aggravated his disease “controlling weight.” All things being equal, a treating physician’s opinion is “entitled to more weight,” 30 C.F.R. 718.104(d)(1). Wilgar's three experts had opined that Adams’s smoking exclusively caused his disease The ALJ gave “little weight” to these opinions, believing that they conflicted with the preamble to the 2001 regulation.The Benefits Review Board and Sixth Circuit affirmed. The preamble interpreted the then-existing scientific studies to establish that coal mine work can cause obstructive diseases, either alone or in combination with smoking. The ALJ simply found the preamble more persuasive than the experts. View "Wilgar Land Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter broadened its definition of censorable, harmful information to include “content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information.” Twitter began permanently suspending any user who received five or more infractions for violating its COVID-19 policy. The plaintiffs,Twitter users who used their accounts to question responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered multiple temporary suspensions. They claim the Biden administration became involved, announcing that “[t]he President’s view is that the major [social-media] platforms have a responsibility ... to stop amplifying untrustworthy content, disinformation, and misinformation, especially related to COVID-19 vaccinations.” Later, the Surgeon General released an advisory statement related to COVID-19 misinformation and (according to Plaintiffs) “command[ed] technology platforms” to take several steps. President Biden stated that social media platforms are “killing people” with COVID-19 misinformation. Days later, USA Today reported that the “[t]he White House is assessing whether social media platforms are legally liable for misinformation.”Plaintiffs sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asserting claims under the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Administrative Procedure Act, citing HHS’s unlawful efforts to “instrumentalize[] Twitter” to “silenc[e] opinions that diverge from the White House’s messaging on COVID-19.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The plaintiffs have not adequately pleaded that HHS compelled Twitter’s chosen course of conduct, leaving a “highly attenuated chain of possibilities” that is too speculative to establish a traceable harm View "Changizi v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Waters was born with homocystinuria and diagnosed with that condition at the age of six. Homocystinuria is a genetic attribute that causes metabolic issues that prevent Waters’s liver from metabolizing methionine, an amino acid, that produces L-cysteine, another amino acid. Her physician prescribed HCU coolers–a medical food containing a methionine-free protein formula. Waters ingests HCU coolers orally; she has a fully functioning gastrointestinal tract. Waters sought reimbursement for HCU coolers purchased during 2018-2019, under the prosthetic-device benefit of Medicare Part B, 42 U.S.C. 1395k(a)(2)(I); 1395x(s)(8). The National Coverage Determinations Manual explains that, as part of the prosthetic-device benefit, enteral nutrition is considered reasonable and necessary when a patient “cannot maintain weight and strength commensurate with his” “general condition” because food does not reach the digestive tract and specifies that “[e]nteral therapy may be given by nasogastric [nose], jejunostomy [small intestine], or gastrostomy [stomach] tubes.” The NCD acknowledges “[s]ome patients require supplementation of their daily protein and caloric intake,” but “[n]utritional supplementation is not covered under Medicare Part B.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed several levels of denial of Waters’s claim, acknowledging the difficult circumstances of Waters and her family. An HCU cooler is not a stand-alone prosthetic device based on the plain meaning of prosthetic “device” and because an HCU cooler is a medical food according to the FDA. View "Waters v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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The district court preliminarily enjoined Kentucky’s ban on sex-transition care for minors. The court later stayed its injunction in light of a recent Sixth Circuit decision in which the court balanced the likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, the balance of harms, and the public interest and held that those factors favored allowing Tennessee to enforce its law. Kentucky bans the same conduct as in that case; the plaintiffs bring the same Equal Protection and Due Process claims that the Sixth Circuit held were unlikely to succeed. The Sixth Circuit declined to lift the stay. As a sovereign state, Kentucky has an interest in creating and enforcing its own laws. The people of Kentucky enacted the ban through their legislature. View "Doe v. Thornbury" on Justia Law

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Tennessee enacted the Prohibition on Medical Procedures Performed on Minors Related to Sexual Identity, citing concerns that gender dysphoria treatments “can lead to the minor becoming irreversibly sterile, having increased risk of disease and illness, or suffering adverse and sometimes fatal psychological consequences” while less risky, non-irreversible treatments remain available. Prohibited procedures include surgically removing, modifying, or entering into tissues, cavities, or organs and prescribing or dispensing any puberty blocker or hormone with exceptions for treating congenital defects, precocious puberty, disease, physical injury, and continuation of ongoing treatment. It provides for professional discipline of healthcare providers and creates a private right of action.The district court entered a preliminary injunction, finding that the challengers lacked standing to contest the surgery ban but that the ban on hormones and puberty blockers infringes the parents’ “fundamental right” to direct their children’s medical care, improperly discriminates on the basis of sex, that transgender persons constitute a quasi-suspect class, and that the state could not satisfy the necessary justifications.The Sixth Circuit stayed the injunction, finding that Tennessee is likely to succeed on appeal. The district court erred in its facial invalidation of the law, as opposed to an as-applied invalidation. “Life-tenured federal judges should be wary of removing a vexing and novel topic of medical debate from the ebbs and flows of democracy by construing a largely unamendable federal constitution to occupy the field.” A right to new medical treatments is not “deeply rooted" in history and traditions. Tennessee could rationally exercise caution before permitting irreversible medical treatments of children. View "L. W. v. Skrmetti" on Justia Law