Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
by
The case involves two petitioners, Daniel Dilly, Superintendent of the Rubenstein Juvenile Center (RJC), and Nancy Oldaker, Health Services Administrator at RJC, who were held in contempt of court by Judge Kurt Hall of the Circuit Court of Lewis County, West Virginia. The contempt charges arose from an incident involving a resident of RJC, identified as D.P., who suffered a broken jaw during a fight with other residents. The court had ordered that D.P. be taken off RJC grounds for an X-ray and that his mother be notified of his medical appointments. The court found that these orders were not adequately followed by the petitioners.The Circuit Court of Lewis County held a hearing to review D.P.'s placement and medical care, resulting in a "Medical Care Order" that directed RJC to schedule an appointment for D.P. with his oral surgeon and to allow D.P.'s mother to attend the appointment. The court also ordered RJC to provide a report concerning the incident that led to D.P.'s injury. When these orders were not fully complied with, the court held a "show cause" hearing and found both Superintendent Dilly and Ms. Oldaker in contempt of court, fining each of them $250.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia found that procedural errors in the lower court's contempt proceedings deprived the court of jurisdiction to impose such sanctions. The court noted that the lower court failed to provide the petitioners with adequate notice that they were facing indirect criminal contempt proceedings and did not afford them jury trials before imposing the fines. The court concluded that the contempt orders were void and granted the petitioners' requested writs of prohibition, thereby preventing the lower court from enforcing the contempt orders. View "State ex rel. Dilly v. Hall" on Justia Law

by
Barbara Harrison, a severely disabled individual, challenged the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's (HHSC) decision to deny funding for medical services she claimed were necessary for her survival. Harrison lived in a group home and received nursing services funded by HHSC’s program for providing home and community-based care to people with disabilities. However, when her condition deteriorated to the point where she required 24/7 one-on-one nursing care, HHSC determined that the cost of providing Harrison’s necessary level of care exceeded the cost cap set by the program. Harrison was therefore denied program-funded nursing services, meaning her only option for receiving government-funded medical care was to move to an institutional setting.Harrison challenged HHSC’s determination in court, arguing that HHSC discriminated against her because of her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, by denying her program-funded nursing services. The district court granted a preliminary injunction requiring HHSC to fund 24/7 one-on-one care for Harrison until she received a hearing on her request for general revenue funds. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings, holding that Harrison was unlikely to succeed on her due process claim and had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the ADA/Rehabilitation Act claims.After the case was remanded to the district court, Harrison submitted a new application to HHSC for 24-hour nursing care under the Program, the cost of which again exceeded the Cost Cap. HHSC determined that Harrison did not require 24-hour nursing care and that 5.5 hours of nursing care per day would be sufficient to meet her medical needs. The district court found that Harrison’s change in status— from receiving no Program funding to receiving some Program funding— mooted Harrison’s ADA/Rehabilitation Act claims. The court therefore dismissed them and then granted summary judgment to HHSC on Harrison’s due process claim. Harrison appealed this decision.The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to HHSC on Harrison’s due process claim but reversed the district court’s dismissal of Harrison’s discrimination claims. The court found that the district court’s mootness determination was erroneous and that the factual record was still not sufficiently developed to support a judgment as to Harrison’s discrimination claims. The case was remanded for further factfinding and proceedings. View "Harrison v. Young" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), an advocacy organization for individuals with mental illness, and Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital (Houston Behavioral). DRTx sought to compel Houston Behavioral to disclose video footage related to the involuntary confinement of its client, G.S., who alleged abuse during his detention at the hospital. G.S. had signed a waiver allowing DRTx to access his records. Houston Behavioral initially cooperated with DRTx's requests for information but refused to provide the requested video footage, citing confidentiality regulations related to substance use disorder treatment.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted summary judgment in favor of DRTx and issued an injunction, compelling Houston Behavioral to disclose the video footage. Houston Behavioral appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (PAIMI Act) grants broad investigatory powers to organizations like DRTx, including access to "all records of any individual." The court held that the video footage requested by DRTx falls within the definition of "records" under the PAIMI Act. The court also found that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not bar the disclosure of such records, as the required-by-law exception in HIPAA permits disclosure when another law, such as the PAIMI Act, requires it. The court concluded that Houston Behavioral's refusal to provide the video footage violated the PAIMI Act. View "Disability Rights Texas v. Hollis" on Justia Law

by
A Rhode Island oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Stephen T. Skoly, refused to comply with a COVID-19 Emergency Regulation issued by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RI DOH) that required all healthcare workers and providers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Following his public declaration of noncompliance, the RI DOH issued a Notice of Violation and Compliance Order against him. Skoly then filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state and its officials, alleging violations of equal protection, due process, and First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed his complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).The district court's decision was based on the fact that the state officials were either entitled to absolute or qualified immunity for their actions. The court held that the RI DOH directors were exercising prosecutorial authority delegated to them by Rhode Island law, thus granting them absolute immunity. As for Governor McKee, the court found that he was protected by qualified immunity as Skoly had no clearly established right to continue practicing while violating the vaccine mandate. The court also rejected Skoly's First Amendment retaliation claim, stating that the posting of the Notice constituted government speech, which could not form the basis of a plausible First Amendment retaliation claim.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Skoly's complaint. The appellate court agreed with the lower court's findings that the state officials were entitled to either absolute or qualified immunity and that Skoly's constitutional claims were without merit. The court also upheld the dismissal of Skoly's First Amendment retaliation claim, stating that Skoly had not sufficiently alleged that he was targeted due to his opposition to the First Emergency Regulation. View "Skoly v. McKee" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around Morgan Morales, who appealed against an administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision that she was not disabled and hence, not entitled to Social Security disability benefits. Morales claimed to suffer from several conditions, including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and narcolepsy. After being treated at a mental health center and starting on prescription medications, Morales reported that her conditions were in remission. The ALJ, however, denied her application for benefits, finding that her mental impairments were mild and did not limit her ability to perform basic work activities, including her past job as a material handler.Morales challenged the ALJ's decision in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. She criticized the ALJ's decision about her functional capacity to work but failed to provide evidence compelling the conclusion that the adverse disability decision lacked substantial support in the record. The District Court upheld the ALJ's decision, stating that Morales had not carried her burden of proof and that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.The case was then brought to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The court affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Morales had misunderstood the burden she bore on appeal. The court noted that it was not enough to criticize the ALJ's decision; Morales needed to point to evidence compelling the conclusion that the adverse disability decision lacked substantial support in the record. The court also dismissed Morales's criticism of the District Court's decision, stating that the District Court had conducted an adequate review of the ALJ's determination and correctly applied the law. The court concluded that the ALJ's determination was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, affirmed the decision. View "Morales v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

by
Wade T. Hamilton, a pediatric cardiologist, recommended a patient for a cardiac MRI scan but warned her that due to her COVID-19 vaccination, which he claimed included "magnets and heavy metals", it would be unsafe for her to enter an MRI machine. The patient's mother reported Hamilton's statements to the nurse practitioner who had referred the patient to Hamilton, leading to a report being filed against Hamilton with the Board of Licensure in Medicine. The Board, in response, opened a complaint proceeding and demanded that Hamilton undergo a neuropsychological evaluation.Hamilton challenged the Board's order in the Superior Court, arguing that the Board had overstepped its authority and violated his rights to due process and free speech. However, the Superior Court denied his petition and ruled in favor of the Board. Shortly before this decision, Hamilton's medical license in Maine expired and he did not renew it.The Maine Supreme Judicial Court dismissed Hamilton's appeal as nonjusticiable, stating that there had been no final agency action and that the challenged order was moot because Hamilton had allowed his medical license to lapse. The court also noted that Hamilton's challenge to the order directing the evaluation was fully reviewable at the conclusion of the complaint proceedings, making his petition premature. Furthermore, since Hamilton was no longer licensed in Maine, the Board no longer had authority to pursue his evaluation. The court vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the Superior Court for dismissal of the petition for judicial review as nonjusticiable. View "Hamilton v. Board of Licensure in Medicine" on Justia Law

by
Seth Lookhart, a dentist, was convicted of numerous crimes related to a fraudulent scheme that endangered his patients' health and safety. The scheme involved unnecessary sedation of patients to fraudulently bill Alaska’s Medicaid program, overcharging it by more than $1.6 million. Lookhart also stole $412,500 from a business partner. His reckless sedation practices nearly resulted in the loss of two patients' lives. He was arrested in April 2017 and convicted on 46 charges in January 2020, leading to a sentence of 20 years in prison with eight years suspended.Following Lookhart's convictions, the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing sought to revoke his dental license. Lookhart agreed to the facts of the accusation but argued that revocation was not an appropriate sanction. The administrative law judge (ALJ) disagreed, stating that Lookhart's misconduct was more severe than any prior case and that revocation was the clear and obvious sanction. The Board of Dental Examiners adopted the ALJ's decision.Lookhart appealed to the superior court, arguing that the Board's decision was inconsistent with its prior decisions. The court disagreed, stating that the Board had wide discretion to determine appropriate sanctions and that no prior case was comparable to Lookhart's. The court affirmed the Board's decision. Lookhart then appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska.The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. It held that the Board of Dental Examiners did not abuse its discretion by revoking Lookhart's license. The court found that none of the Board's prior licensing cases involved misconduct of the scope and severity in this case, so there was no applicable precedent to limit the Board's exercise of its discretion. View "Lookhart v. State of Alaska, Board of Dental Examiners" on Justia Law

by
Michele Rawlins, a former school principal and member of the Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York (TRS), was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a series of incidents involving a disgruntled food-service worker. The worker's behavior left Rawlins feeling threatened and harassed, leading to her inability to perform her job responsibilities. The final incident occurred in April 2019, when the worker, who had been transferred to another location, entered the school and demanded to speak with Rawlins, insisting she had his "belt and wallet." Rawlins interpreted the worker's remarks as having "sexual overtones" and felt she was being stalked. She left the school building and never returned to work following the incident.Rawlins applied for accidental disability retirement benefits (ADR) from the TRS, but her application was denied. The TRS Medical Board determined that she did not sustain an accident in the work setting and that "purposeful conduct by coworkers giving rise to a disabling injury is not an accident within the meaning of the pension statute." Rawlins reapplied for ADR, but the Board maintained its previous determination. Rawlins then commenced a CPLR article 78 proceeding to annul the Board's determination. The Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, stating that the Board's determination had a rational basis. The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's decision, and Rawlins was granted leave to appeal.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that substantial evidence supported the Board's determination that Rawlins' injury was not caused by an "accident" within the meaning of the statutory scheme. The court declined to adopt a rule that "purposeful conduct by coworkers" can never be the basis for an award of ADR. Instead, the court stated that when a member's disability is alleged to have resulted from the intentional acts of any third party, the relevant question continues to be whether the injury-causing event was sudden, unexpected, and outside the risks inherent in the work performed. View "Matter of Rawlins v Teachers' Retirement Sys. of the City of N.Y." on Justia Law

by
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

by
The case involves the West Virginia Department of Health, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and Dr. Allen R. Mock (collectively "Petitioners") and Dr. Patsy Cipoletti, Jr., administrator of the estate of his deceased wife, June Cipoletti ("Respondent"). The Respondent filed a complaint against the Petitioners, alleging that they violated the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA) by negligently determining Mrs. Cipoletti’s cause of death. The Petitioners filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Respondent had not asserted a proper cause of action under the MPLA. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss, determining that the MPLA applied and that Petitioners were not entitled to qualified immunity.The Circuit Court of Kanawha County denied the Petitioners' motion to dismiss. The court determined that the MPLA applied and that Petitioners were not entitled to qualified immunity. The court found that Dr. Mock’s conduct fell under and was governed by the MPLA, thus depriving Petitioners of qualified immunity.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the circuit court's decision. The court found that the Petitioners' actions were discretionary and not in violation of any "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights or laws" and were not "otherwise fraudulent, malicious, or oppressive." Therefore, the court concluded that the Petitioners were entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit. The court also found that the Respondent had failed to plead a viable MPLA cause of action against the Petitioners. The court remanded the case to the circuit court with directions to grant the Petitioners' motion to dismiss. View "West Virginia Department of Health v. Cipoletti" on Justia Law