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McCullar v. Alliance Health Partners, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

July 25, 2017

ALLIANCE HEALTH PARTNERS, LLC d/b/a Merit Health Batesville f/k/a Tri-Lakes Medical Center DEFENDANT


         Presently before the Court is Defendant Alliance Health Partners, LLC's motion for summary judgment [20]. Upon due consideration, the Court finds the motion should be denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On February 1, 2016, Plaintiff Hannah McCullar ("Plaintiff') filed this diversity/personal injury action against Defendant Alliance Health Partners, LLC ("Defendant") in the Circuit Court of Clay County. On April 22, 2016, Defendant timely removed the action to this Court. Subsequently, on April 27, 2016, Defendant filed its answer to the complaint. On February 22, 2017, Defendant filed the present motion for summary judgment [20]. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition. Defendant has not filed a reply, and the time for doing so has now passed. The matter is now ripe for review.

         Plaintiff asserts causes of action against Defendant for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a claim under Mississippi statutory law for the improper disclosure of Plaintiffs medical records. Plaintiff also asserts that she is entitled to punitive damages for "Defendant's actions, [which Plaintiff claims] are so malicious, intentional, willful, wanton, and outrageous, with no legitimate purpose except to harm Plaintiff...." Pl.'s State-Ct. Compl. [2] ¶ 8.

         The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff gave birth to a child and then placed her child for adoption at New Beginnings International Children and Family Services, Inc. (the "adoption agency"). The biological father of the child is Markevius Frost. Mr. Frost asserted his paternity, and the adoption agency instituted a legal action against Mr. Frost to terminate his parental rights in the Chancery Court of Lee County in a case styled New Beginnings International Children's and Family Services, Inc. v. Markevius Frost, No. 2012-1071-41-MM. Attorney Christinia Townsend[1] represented Mr. Frost in that proceeding. During her legal representation of Mr. Frost, Ms. Townsend issued a subpoena duces tecum to Defendant for the medical records of the minor child and of Plaintiff for a hearing on February 6, 2015. Defendant furnished a certified copy of the medical records to Ms. Townsend. Plaintiff was not a party to the chancery court proceeding. The chancery court hearing was continued; the medical records were not entered into evidence.

         Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Townsend subpoenaed Plaintiffs medical records from Defendant without providing a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") authorization and without notice to Plaintiff of the same. Pl.'s State-Ct. Compl. [2] ¶ 4. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant "is required to obtain a [HIPAA] authorization before disclosing the private, confidential records of a patient, " but that instead of doing so, Defendant published Plaintiffs private, confidential medical records to Ms. Townsend via United States mail instead of forwarding them sealed to the court listed on the subpoena duces tecum. Id. ¶¶ 5-7. Plaintiff further asserts that Ms. Townsend improperly showed the medical records to at least four individuals during the chancery court proceeding (apparently, Dan Davis, the attorney for the adoption agency; Brian Starling, the guardian ad litem for the minor child; and legal staff in Mr. Davis' office); Plaintiff maintains that Ms. Townsend "intentionally published [Plaintiffs] medical records during a television press conference." Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n to Def.'s Mot Summ. J. [29] at 3, 5.[2] Defendant contends that Mr. Frost gave an interview to a local television station and showed the interviewer a copy of his DNA results establishing the paternity of the minor child. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. [20] ¶ 10. Both parties agree that during the broadcast, there was a brief display of a portion of a document; Plaintiff contends that the document was her own medical record. Id; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. [29] at 5. Plaintiff contends that she "never knew about the disclosure of her medical records until one of the attorneys in the [c]hancery [c]ourt matter informed her, after the disclosures occurred." Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. [29] at 3 n.3. Plaintiff argues that "[n]one of [Ms.] Townsend's actions of publishing [Plaintiffs] medical records would have been possible had [Defendant] not wrongfully produced the records to [Ms, ] Townsend." Id. at 5.

         In Defendant's motion for summary judgment, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs claims must be dismissed as a matter of law.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         This Court grants summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2008). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56(a), the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by .. . affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). Where, as here, the parties dispute the facts, the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "However, a nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations, unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 F.App'x 666, 667 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         III. Analysis and Discussion

         Defendant argues in its motion for summary judgment that Plaintiffs claims must be dismissed for the following reasons: (1) HIPAA does not create a private action; (2) Plaintiff does not have a separate cause of action under Mississippi Code §§ 41-9-103 and 41-9-105, as any liability imposed on Defendant would be for an alleged invasion of privacy for failure to comply with Mississippi statutory law on the subpoena duces tecum; (3) Plaintiff has failed to present proof on the elements of her invasion of privacy claim; and (4) Plaintiff has no grounds for recovery under other Mississippi statutes, such as Mississippi Code § 13-1-21, concerning liability for communicating privileged communication, as there is no evidence of willful, reckless, or wanton acts or omissions as are required to sustain such a cause of action.

         Plaintiff concedes she has no cause of action under HIPAA and does not present any argument in support of a separate claim under Mississippi Code §§ 41-9-103 and 41-9-105. However, she contends that she has causes of action for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and improper release of records in violation of Mississippi Code § 13-1-21. Plaintiff further maintains that Defendant violated HIPAA regulations by submitting the requested medical records without notice to the patient of the request for records and an opportunity for the patient to object. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.512. The Court looks to the elements of each cause of action in turn.

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