Articles Posted in Health Law

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through the hospital's hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner thereafter took his cause to court, seeking reinstatement and damages for the alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court found no such violations and that he was not entitled to reinstatement. Brandner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Brandner was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. However, the doctor's due process rights were violated when he was not given a hearing following termination of his hospital privileges. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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A woman was admitted to a hospital emergency room with pregnancy-related complications. The attending physician recommended that she be transported by medivac to a different facility. The woman and her husband informed the physician that they needed their insurer’s preauthorization for that course of action or they could be personally liable for the costs. The physician allegedly promised to call the insurer and, if it would not approve the medivac, have the hospital bear the costs itself. But the physician failed to contact the insurer until much later, and the insurer declined coverage. The couple sued the physician and the hospital, alleging that the physician breached her fiduciary duty by failing to obtain preauthorization as promised; that her promise created an enforceable contract, which was breached; and that if there was no contract the physician’s promise should be enforced through the doctrine of promissory estoppel. The superior court granted summary judgment to the physician and hospital. The couple appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court held that the superior court did not err when it ruled in favor of the physician and hospital on the claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract, but that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on the claim for promissory estoppel. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. Archer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Health Law

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In a 2007 ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court recognized that the State had "compelling interests" in aiding parents to help their minor children make informed and mature pregnancy-related decisions, and at that time, the Court indicated that a parental notification law might be implemented without unduly interfering with minors’ fundamental privacy rights. The 2010 voter-enacted Parental Notification Law revived an exception in the existing medical emancipation statute, creating considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State could advance its compelling interests. By this 2016 opinion, the Alaska Court concluded that the Notification Law violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced. "But the decision we reach today is narrow in light of the limited State interests offered to justify the Notification Law. The State expressly disclaims any interest in how a minor exercises her fundamental privacy right of reproductive choice, and it does not suggest that it has an interest in limiting abortions generally or with respect to minors specifically. And as a court we are not concerned with whether abortion is right, wrong, moral, or immoral, or with whether abortions should be available to minors without restriction. We are concerned only with whether, given its stated underlying justifications, the current Notification Law complies with the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee — and it does not." View "Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges at Providence Alaska Medical Center were revoked after he violated hospital policy by failing to disclose an order from the Alaska State Medical Board that he undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner appealed to the hospital’s Fair Hearing Panel and Appellate Review Committee, but the termination was upheld. Brandner filed suit against the hospital and several doctors involved in the termination proceedings, alleging breach of contract and denial of due process. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the individual doctors because they were immune from suit. Finding that the executive committee and hearing panel reasonably interpreted the policy, the Supreme Court found Brandner did not raise any material evidence tending to show that the executive committee and hearing panel were motivated by malice. As such, the Court affirmed the superior court's order dismissing Brandner's claims against the individual doctors. View "Brandner v. Bateman" on Justia Law

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A patient at a health clinic learned that a clinic employee, who was not authorized to access the patient’s medical record, had discussed the patient’s pregnancy with a clerical worker at the clinic. The patient complained to a supervisor, accusing the clinic employee of breaching medical confidentiality. Shortly afterward, the clinic operator fired the employee, citing a breach of confidentiality. The employee then sued the patient for defamation. The patient counterclaimed for invasion of privacy and abuse of process, the latter claim being based on the employee’s filing and withdrawing an earlier petition for a protective order. At some point the clinic investigated the patient’s complaint and determined that it was unsubstantiated. It was later revealed that the patient herself was the source of the employee’s knowledge about the patient’s pregnancy. At trial the patient claimed that she had an absolute privilege to accuse the employee of breaching medical confidentiality. The superior court rejected that argument and determined that the patient had only a conditional privilege. The superior court also denied the patient’s motion for summary judgment and made several challenged evidentiary rulings. After a three-day jury trial, the superior court granted a directed verdict on the patient’s abuse-of-process counterclaim. The jury returned a verdict for the employee on her defamation claim, awarding one dollar in nominal damages; the jury rejected the patient’s counterclaim of invasion of privacy. Finding the employee to be the prevailing party, the superior court awarded her partial attorney’s fees. The patient appealed the superior court’s ruling on conditional privilege, its denial of her motion for summary judgment, and its evidentiary rulings. She also argued the trial court erred in giving jury instructions, in its decision to grant a directed verdict on her abuse-of-process counterclaim, and in its award of attorney’s fees to the employee. She claimed various violations of her state and federal constitutional rights. The Supreme Court concluded that the superior court did not err in any of its legal or evidentiary rulings or in its instructions to the jury, and it therefore affirmed the superior court in all respects. View "Greene v. Tinker" on Justia Law