Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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Nicole Costin, individually and on behalf of her minor son, filed a lawsuit against Glens Falls Hospital and several of its staff members. Costin alleged that the hospital discriminated against her due to her substance-abuse disorder, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. She also raised state-law claims. Costin's allegations included the hospital conducting drug tests without informed consent, reporting her to the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register based on a false positive drug test, withholding pain relief, accelerating her labor without consent, and refusing to correct their actions.The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed Costin’s action, concluding that she failed to plausibly allege that she was discriminated against due to her disability. The district court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state-law claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court agreed with the lower court's dismissal of Costin’s claims related to the denial of an epidural, acceleration of labor, and treatment of her newborn. However, the court disagreed with the dismissal of Costin’s claims related to the hospital's instigation of a Child Protective Services investigation and its administration of a drug test. The court found that Costin had plausibly alleged that these actions were based on discriminatory policies, not medical decisions. The court also vacated the lower court's decision to decline supplemental jurisdiction over Costin’s state-law claims. View "Costin v. Glens Falls Hospital" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of plaintiffs, including the Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. and California Educators for Medical Freedom, who challenged the COVID-19 vaccination policy of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The policy, which was in effect for over two years, required employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination or lose their jobs. The plaintiffs argued that the policy interfered with their fundamental right to refuse medical treatment.The case was initially dismissed by the United States District Court for the Central District of California, which applied a rational basis review under Jacobson v. Massachusetts, concluding that the policy served a legitimate government purpose. The court held that even if the vaccine did not prevent transmission or contraction of COVID-19, it furthered the purpose of protecting LAUSD students and employees from COVID-19.The plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. During the appeal, LAUSD rescinded its vaccination policy. LAUSD then asked the court to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the case was now moot. The plaintiffs objected, arguing that LAUSD withdrew the policy because they feared an adverse ruling.The Ninth Circuit held that the case was not moot, applying the voluntary cessation exception to mootness. The court found that LAUSD's pattern of withdrawing and then reinstating its vaccination policies, particularly in response to litigation risk, was enough to keep the case alive.On the merits, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court misapplied the Supreme Court’s decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The court found that Jacobson did not apply because the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that the COVID-19 vaccine does not effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19. The court vacated the district court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings under the correct legal standard. View "HEALTH FREEDOM DEFENSE FUND, INC. V. ALBERTO CARVALHO" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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 Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and other entities, who provide medical insurance plans to their employees. They challenged a regulation by the Department of Financial Services, which requires New York employer health insurance policies that provide hospital, surgical, or medical expense coverage to include coverage for medically necessary abortion services. The plaintiffs argued that the exemption for "religious employers" was too narrow, violating the First Amendment rights of certain types of religiously affiliated employers who do not meet the terms of the exemption.The case began in 2016, raising a federal Free Exercise Claim that was similar to a previous case, Catholic Charities of Diocese of Albany v Serio. The lower courts dismissed the plaintiffs' complaints based on the principle of stare decisis, and the Appellate Division affirmed on the same ground. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which remanded the case to the Appellate Division to reconsider in light of a recent decision, Fulton v Philadelphia.On remand, the Appellate Division held that Serio was still good law and affirmed its previous decision that neither the medically necessary abortion regulation nor the "religious employer" exemption as defined violated the Free Exercise Clause. The Court of Appeals agreed, stating that under Fulton, both the regulation itself and the criteria delineating a "religious employer" for the purposes of the exemption are generally applicable and do not violate the Free Exercise Clause. The court concluded that the "religious employer" exemption survives the general applicability tests delineated in Fulton, and therefore, the Appellate Division order should be affirmed. View "Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany v Vullo" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Anna Lange, a transgender woman employed by the Houston County Sheriff's Office in Georgia. Lange was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2017 and her healthcare providers recommended a treatment plan that included hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery. In 2018, her healthcare providers determined that a vaginoplasty was medically necessary. However, Lange's request for coverage was denied based on the health insurance plan's exclusion of services and supplies for sex change and/or the reversal of a sex change. Lange filed claims against Houston County with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequently sued Houston County and the Sheriff of Houston County in the Middle District of Georgia.The district court granted summary judgment to Lange on the Title VII claim, finding the Exclusion facially discriminatory as a matter of law. The Title VII claim then proceeded to trial, and a jury awarded Lange $60,000 in damages. After trial, the district court entered an order declaring that the Exclusion violated Title VII and permanently enjoined the Sheriff and Houston County from any further enforcement or application of the Exclusion.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that a health insurance provider can be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for denying coverage for gender-affirming care to a transgender employee because the employee is transgender. The court also held that Houston County is liable under Title VII as an agent of the Sheriff's Office. The court affirmed the district court's order permanently enjoining Houston County and the Sheriff from further enforcement or application of the Exclusion. View "Lange v. Houston County, Georgia" 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 Adree Edmo, a transgender woman incarcerated in Idaho, who sued the State of Idaho, private prison company Corizon, and individual prison officials for failing to provide her with adequate medical care, including gender-confirmation surgery. Edmo alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the Affordable Care Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and negligence under Idaho law. The district court granted an injunction on Edmo’s Eighth Amendment claim and ordered the defendants to provide her with adequate medical care, including gender-confirmation surgery. The court denied preliminary injunctive relief on Edmo’s Fourteenth Amendment and ACA claims because the record had not been sufficiently developed.The district court's decision was appealed, and the injunction was stayed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision except as it applied to five defendants in their individual capacities. After the Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari, the parties engaged in settlement negotiations that led to Edmo voluntarily dismissing the remainder of her claims. The district court awarded Edmo $2,586,048.80 for attorneys’ fees incurred up until the injunction became permanent and all appeals were resolved.The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part, affirmed in part, and vacated in part the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees to Edmo. The court held that Edmo was entitled to fees incurred litigating her successful Eighth Amendment claim. However, the court found that the district court erred in calculating the lodestar amount to include fees incurred litigating unsuccessful claims advanced in the complaint, even if those claims were premised on the same facts that supported Edmo’s Eighth Amendment claim. The court also held that the district court did not err by applying an enhancement to the lodestar amount given that Edmo’s counsel operated under extraordinary time pressure and that the customary fee for counsel’s services is well above the PLRA cap. The case was remanded for recalculation of the lodestar amount to include only fees incurred litigating Edmo’s successful claim against the defendants who remained in the case. View "Edmo v. Corizon, Inc." on Justia Law