Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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A patient sued a hospital after learning that a hospital employee intentionally disclosed the patient’s health information in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The patient alleged the disclosure breached the hospital’s contractual obligations to him. The superior court instructed the jury to return a verdict for the hospital if the jury found that the employee was not acting in the course and scope of employment when she disclosed the patient’s information. The jury so found, leading to judgment in the hospital’s favor. The Alaska Supreme Court found the jury instruction erroneously applied the rule of vicarious liability to excuse liability for breach of contract. "A party that breaches its contractual obligations is liable for breach regardless of whether the breach is caused by an employee acting outside the scope of employment, unless the terms of the contract excuse liability for that reason." The Court therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings, in particular to determine whether a contract existed between the patient and hospital and, if so, the contract’s terms governing patient health information. View "Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington" on Justia Law

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The Acting Warden of the California Institute for Men petitioned a Superior Court for authorization to perform electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on inmate Rudy Terraza. Convicted of first-degree murder at age 17, Terraza was a 44-year-old with a history of mental illness. According to a prison psychiatrist, Terraza has a “schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type . . . characterized by auditory hallucinations, delusions, and impairment in thought processing, volition and motivation, and social functioning, as well as significant mood swings, depression, and mania.” Despite medication and psychiatric treatment, his mental health had grown worse over time, and he had resided in a psychiatric hospital since September 2019. He had been “consumed” by voices, with no desire to socialize or “practice self-care.” He occupied a single hospital room and was unable to function in standard prison housing. A psychiatrist averred that ECT was the “gold standard” treatment for patients like Terraza; seizures produced by the treatment would "help the brain return to normal functioning." The trial court authorized ECT after making several findings required by the Penal Code, including that ECT would be beneficial and that there was a compelling justification for it. In this habeas proceeding, the inmate argued the state constitutional right to privacy required the appointment of a surrogate to make a consent determination for him, beyond trial court findings of ECT’s suitability. Upon consideration of precedent, the Court of Appeal concluded the state constitutional right to refuse medical treatment did not require appointment of a surrogate decisionmaker. Nevertheless, the Court concluded that a court’s authorization of ECT therapy had to include a consideration of whether the inmate, when he or she was competent, expressed any preferences, views, or beliefs that would operate to preclude consent to the procedure. "By statute, such consideration is required for most medical procedures performed on incarcerated persons lacking capacity to consent." Because the statutory balancing test for ECT did not do so, the Court granted the writ to allow further consideration. View "In re Terraza" on Justia Law

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Joanne R., a conservatee subject to a conservatorship under the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, contends that the trial court provided her an inadequate jury trial waiver advisement and improperly induced her to waive her right to a jury trial by stating she could either have a court trial that day or a jury trial nine months later.The Court of Appeal concluded that, although it is concerned by the delay in providing conservatees jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no violation of Joanne's statutory right to a jury trial. However, the court cautioned the superior court that a nine-month delay for a conservatee to have a jury trial where the conservatorship would otherwise end in a year, absent a health emergency, raises serious constitutional concerns in light of the significant liberty interests at stake. The court urged the superior court to dedicate the necessary additional resources to LPS jury trials so that conservatees may exercise their right to a jury trial in a timely manner. The court noted that failure to do so likely violates a conservatee's constitutional right to due process. View "Stusser v. Joanne R." on Justia Law

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Texas Senate Bill 8, the 2021 Heartbeat Act, prohibits physicians from performing or inducing an abortion if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat. S.B. 8 does not allow state officials to enforce the law but directs enforcement through “private civil actions” seeking injunctions and damages awards against those who perform or assist with prohibited abortions. Abortion providers may defend themselves by showing that holding them liable would place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.Abortion providers (petitioners) sought pre-enforcement review of S.B. 8 and an injunction barring its enforcement. They sought to certify a class and request an order enjoining all state-court clerks from docketing S.B. 8 cases, and all state-court judges from hearing them. The district court denied motions to dismiss. The Fifth Circuit denied a request for an injunction barring enforcement pending appeal. The petitioners sought injunctive relief in the Supreme Court, which concluded that the filings failed to identify a basis for disturbing the Fifth Circuit’s decision.On certiorari, the Court held that a pre-enforcement challenge to S.B. 8 under the U.S. Constitution may proceed against certain defendants but not others, without addressing whether S.B. 8 is consistent with the Constitution.The Eleventh Amendment and sovereign immunity do not allow an action to prevent state-court clerks and judges from enforcing state laws that are contrary to federal law. No Article III “case or controversy” between “adverse litigants” exists between the petitioners and either the clerks or judges. Texas Attorney General Paxton should be dismissed as possessing no enforcement authority in connection with S.B. 8. Even if Paxton had enforcement power, a federal court cannot parlay that authority into an injunction against any unnamed private parties who might pursue S.B. 8 suits. No court may “enjoin the world at large” or purport to enjoin challenged “laws themselves.” Sovereign immunity does not shield executive licensing officials who may take action against the petitioners for violations of Texas’s Health and Safety Code, including S.B. 8. A single private party, Dickson, should be dismissed, given his sworn declarations that he has no intention to file an S.B. 8 suit. View "Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In November 2021, the Secretary of Health and Human Services issued an interim rule that requires facilities that provide health care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to ensure that their staff, unless exempt for medical or religious reasons, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 86 Fed. Reg. 61,555. Under the rule, covered staff must request an exemption or receive their first dose of a two-dose vaccine or a single-dose vaccine by December 6, 2021. Florida unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction to bar the interim rule’s enforcement.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the denial of the motion, first deciding not to apply the mootness doctrine and to exercise jurisdiction despite another district court’s issuance of a nationwide injunction. Florida failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood that it will prevail on the merits, that it will suffer irreparable injury absent an injunction, or that the balance of the equities favors an injunction. The Secretary has express statutory authority to require facilities voluntarily participating in the Medicare or Medicaid programs to meet health and safety standards to protect patients. The Secretary provided a detailed explanation for why there was good cause for dispensing with the notice-and-comment requirement. Ample evidence supports the Secretary’s determination that facility staff vaccination will provide important protection for patients. View "State of Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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A 16-year-old high school student and her parents filed an emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, seeking to enjoin the school district from requiring compliance with a student vaccination mandate. The Ninth Circuit granted plaintiffs' motion in part. The court ordered that an injunction shall be in effect only while a "per se" deferral of vaccination is available to pregnant students under the school district's student vaccination mandate, and that the injunction shall terminate upon removal of the per se deferral option for pregnant students. Defendants then filed a letter and supporting declaration explaining that the deferral option for pregnant students has been removed from the mandate. Given the removal of the per se deferral option for pregnant students, the injunction issued in the November 28, 2021 order has terminated under its own terms.The Ninth Circuit issued an order providing its reasoning for why an injunction pending appeal is not warranted as to the now-modified student vaccination mandate. The court concluded that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success in showing that the district court erred in applying rational basis review, as opposed to strict scrutiny, to the student vaccination mandate. The court explained that plaintiffs' emergency motion fails to raise a serious question as to whether the vaccination mandate is not neutral and generally applicable; plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success in showing that the district court erred by applying rational basis review; and plaintiffs do not argue that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their free exercise claim if rational basis review applies. The court also concluded that plaintiffs have not carried their burden of establishing that they will suffer irreparable harm if this court does not issue an injunction, or that the public interest weighs in their favor. View "Doe v. San Diego Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted the Texas Attorney General a stay pending appeal of the permanent injunction that bars him from enforcing Texas Governor Greg Abbott's Executive Order GA-38, which prohibits local governmental entities from imposing mask mandates.After determining that plaintiffs have likely failed to demonstrate standing, the court concluded that the Attorney General has demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits as a matter of law. In this case, the district court lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims where plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Furthermore, even if a failure to exhaust remedies does not bar plaintiffs' claims, plaintiffs likely failed to make out a prima facie case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act. The court explained that, given the availability of vaccines, voluntary masking, and other possible accommodations, the record before the court likely does not support the conclusion that a mask mandate would be both necessary and obvious under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The court also held that it was likely erroneous for the district court to hold that GA-38 was preempted by either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. To the extent that it is even properly before the court, the court did not read the American Rescue Plan Act to preempt GA-38's prohibition of local mask mandates, as the district court did. The court further concluded that, assuming plaintiffs' claims are otherwise viable, at a minimum, the district court's blanket injunction prohibiting the enforcement of GA-38 in all public schools across the State of Texas is overbroad. Finally, the court concluded that the Attorney General has demonstrated the prospect of irreparable injury absent a stay; has shown that maintaining the status quo ante pending appeal will not risk substantial injury to plaintiffs; and that the public interest favors a stay. View "E.T. v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Teachers and school administrators challenge the denial of motions to preliminarily enjoin the enforcement of an order issued by the New York City Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene mandating that individuals who work in New York City schools be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.The Second Circuit concluded that the Vaccine Mandate does not violate the First Amendment on its face. However, the court concluded that plaintiffs have established their entitlement to preliminary relief on the narrow ground that the procedures employed to assess their religious accommodation claims were likely constitutionally infirm as applied to them. The court explained that the Accommodation Standards as applied here were neither neutral nor generally applicable to plaintiffs, and thus the court applied a strict scrutiny analysis at this stage of the proceeding. The court concluded that these procedures cannot survive strict scrutiny because denying religious accommodations based on the criteria outlined in the Accommodation Standards, such as whether an applicant can produce a letter from a religious official, is not narrowly tailored to serve the government's interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's orders denying preliminary relief and concurred with and continued the interim relief granted by the motions panel as to these fifteen individual plaintiffs. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Kane v. De Blasio" on Justia Law

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In this vaccination dispute, the First Circuit denied the motion brought by Appellants seeking an injunction pending appeal, holding that Appellants were not entitled to the injunction.Appellants, eight employees of Mass General Brigham, Inc. (MGB), challenged MGB's application of its mandatory vaccination policy to them individually. The policy was issued in June 2021 requiring all MGB employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualified for a medical or religious exemption. After Appellants' requests for exemptions were denied and they still refused to get vaccinated, MGB placed them on unpaid leave. Appellants sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that MGB unlawfully denied their individual exemption requests. The district court denied Appellants' motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have required Appellants' reinstatement from unpaid leave status. The First Circuit denied Appellants' motion for injunction pending appeal, holding that adequate legal remedies foreclosed injunctive relief. View "Together Employees v. Mass General Brigham Inc." on Justia Law

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This case concerns OSHA's November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring employees of covered employers to undergo COVID-19 vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests and wear a mask.The Fifth Circuit granted petitioners' motion for a stay pending review, holding that the Nken factors favored a stay. The court concluded that petitioners' challenges to the Mandate are likely to succeed on the merits. The court stated that, on the dubious assumption that the Mandate does pass constitutional muster, it is nonetheless fatally flawed on its own terms. The court wrote that the Mandate's strained prescriptions combine to make it the rare government pronouncement that is both overinclusive (applying to employers and employees in virtually all industries and workplaces in America, with little attempt to account for the obvious differences between the risks facing, say, a security guard on a lonely night shift, and a meatpacker working shoulder to shoulder in a cramped warehouse) and underinclusive (purporting to save employees with 99 or more coworkers from a "grave danger" in the workplace, while making no attempt to shield employees with 98 or fewer coworkers from the very same. The court found that promulgation of the Mandate grossly exceeds OSHA's statutory authority and found arguments to the contrary unavailing.The court also concluded that it is clear that denial of petitioners' proposed stay would do them irreparable harm where the Mandate threatens to substantially burden the liberty interests of reluctant individuals, companies, and the States. In contrast, the court stated that a stay will do OSHA no harm whatsoever. Finally, the court concluded that a stay is firmly in the public interest. View "BST Holdings, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration" on Justia Law