Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Defendants Michael Touchette and Centurion Healthcare brought an interlocutory appeal of a trial court's certification of a class of plaintiffs in a Vermont Rule 75 action. The certified class was comprised of people in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC), each of whom suffered from opioid-use disorder, and alleged defendants’ medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program did not meet prevailing medical standards of care as required by Vermont law. Defendants, the former Commissioner of the DOC and its contract healthcare provider, argued the trial court erred both in finding that plaintiff Patrick Mullinnex exhausted his administrative remedies before filing suit, and in adopting the vicarious-exhaustion doctrine favored by several federal circuits in order to conclude that Mullinnex’s grievances satisfied the exhaustion requirement on behalf of the entire class. Defendants also contended the trial court’s decision to certify the class was made in error because plaintiffs did not meet Rule 23’s numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy-of- representation requirements. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed, concluding that - even if the vicarious-exhaustion doctrine was appropriately applied in Vermont - it could not apply in this case because, on the record before the trial court, no member of the putative class succeeded in exhausting his administrative remedies. Because plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust left the courts without subject-matter jurisdiction, the Supreme Court did not reach defendants’ challenges to the merits of the class-certification decision. View "Mullinnex et al . v. Menard et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Elizabeth Lawson alleged she incurred damages as the result of an emergency room nurse informing a police officer that she was intoxicated, had driven to the hospital, and was intending to drive home. The trial court granted defendant Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) summary judgment based on its determination that nothing in the record supported an inference that the nurse’s disclosure of the information was for any reason other than her good-faith concern for plaintiff’s and the public’s safety. In this opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court recognized a common-law private right of action for damages based on a medical provider’s unjustified disclosure to third persons of information obtained during treatment. Like the trial court, however, the Supreme Court concluded CVMC was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, viewing the material facts most favorably to plaintiff and applying the relevant law adopted here, no reasonable factfinder could have determined the disclosure was for any purpose other than to mitigate the threat of imminent and serious harm to plaintiff and the public. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Lawson v. Central Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, an executor of an estate sued the clinic and physician's assistant who treated the decedent for wrongful death. The trial court dismissed the case because plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit, as was required by statute. The refiled case was dismissed as untimely. The executor appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which reviewed the trial court's dismissals and found that dismissal was proper in both cases. View "Quinlan v. Five-Town Health Alliance, Inc., dba Mountain Health Center" on Justia Law

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The State appealed the Human Services Board’s decision reversing a determination by the Economic Services Division of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that J.H. could not be considered for a subsidized qualified healthcare plan on the Vermont Health Connect exchange because she had health insurance available to her through her husband’s employer. The appeal turned on whether, under controlling federal law, healthcare insurance had to be considered available to J.H. through her husband’s employer even though her husband elected not to enroll in his employer’s plan and she herself could not enroll in the plan unless he did. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s ruling that J.H. could be considered for a subsidized healthcare plan through Vermont Health Connect, but the Court based its decision on a different rationale than that given by the Board. "The focus of the Affordable Care Act, however, is not to bolster the employer-based healthcare system. As the United States Supreme Court has stated, the principal purpose of the Act is 'to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care.'” View "In re J.H." on Justia Law

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In involuntarily hospitalized patient diagnosed with schizophrenia appealed a trial court’s order allowing for his involuntary medication. Patient argued that the court erred by: (1) incorrectly applying the competency standard under 18 V.S.A. 7625; and (2) failing to address whether a previously prepared document reflecting his desire not to be given psychiatric medication was a “competently expressed written . . . preference[] regarding medication” under 18 V.S.A. 7627(b). After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court’s findings supported its conclusion under section 7625, but agreed that the trial court did not squarely address patient’s argument under section 7627 in its findings. Accordingly, the Court reversed on that issue and remanded for the trial court to issue findings addressing the applicability of section 7627(b). View "In re I.G." on Justia Law