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Ozdemir v. Somerset Medical Center

July 3, 2007

PHILLIP OZDEMIR, ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF BABY DOE, AN UNBORN BABY BETWEEN PHILLIP OZDEMIR AND MARY CATHERINE BARRY, AND PHILLIP OZDEMIR, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SOMERSET MEDICAL CENTER, SOMERSET HEALTH CARE CORPORATION, BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF SOMERSET HEALTH CARE CORPORATION, AND JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-100 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court are two motions: defendant's motion (Dkt. No. 68) for summary judgment dismissing the action, and plaintiff's cross motion (Dkt. No. 69) for leave to file and serve a second amended complaint.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and plaintiff's cross motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

In his amended complaint (Dkt. No. 23), plaintiff claims that decedent Mary Catherine Barry ("Barry") died at the age of 46 as a result of negligent medical care occurring while she was a patient at defendant Somerset Medical Center from November 1, 2000 until her death on January 4, 2001. Plaintiff asserts a bystander claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress under New Jersey law based his claim that he and Barry, although unmarried, shared an intimate familial relationship, see Dunphy v. Gregor, 642 A.2d 372, 377, 380 (N.J.Sup.Ct. 1994), and that he witnessed the negligent medical care, observed its effect on Barry, and immediately connected the negligent care with Barry's injury and ultimate death. See generally Gendek v. Poblete, 654 A.2d 970, 974-75 (N.J.Sup.Ct. 1995); Frame v. Kothari, 560 A.2d 675, 681 (N.J.Sup.Ct. 1989). Plaintiff sought court-ordered disclosure of Barry's medical records. By Memorandum- Decision and Order (Dkt. No. 55) dated May 31, 2006, this Court addressed plaintiff's request in light of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-1, et seq. ("HIPAA"). The Court noted that protection of the privacy of patients' medical information is a primary objective of HIPAA, see Citizens for Health v. Leavitt, 428 F.3d 167, 171 (3d Cir. 2005), and that HIPAA's privacy protections extend to the health information of a deceased person. The Court stated: [I]n view of the fact-specific nature of a Dunphy-type claim, HIPAA's goal of protecting the privacy of patients' medical information, and the potential for unwarranted invasions of privacy, the Court holds that, to obtain court-ordered access to decedent's protected medical records, plaintiff must first make a prima facie showing that he and decedent shared an intimate, familial relationship within the meaning of Dunphy. Plaintiff's own averments should be supported by other evidence. Thus, if plaintiff wishes to pursue this discovery request, he must do so by a new motion. If an executor, administrator, or other person has been authorized to act on behalf of decedent or decedent's estate, any new motion must be served on that person.

Thereafter, plaintiff moved (Dkt. No. 60) to compel defendant to produce the names and addresses of all medical testing laboratories that performed blood, urine, and sputum infection analysis for defendant Somerset Medical Center during the time that Barry was hospitalized there, as well as the certificate of incorporation, organizational charts, and other information concerning Somerset Medical Center. In his order (Dkt. No 67) addressing the motion, United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles stated:

During the course of oral argument in connection with plaintiff's motion it became clear that the issue of his standing to bring claims based on the death of Mary Catherine Barry, whose estate he has not been authorized to represent, is of paramount concern in the case. If the plaintiff is able to establish to Chief Judge Mordue's satisfaction that he has the requisite standing, or at a minimum an issue of fact exists as to whether or not he can satisfy the requirements of either New York or New Jersey law, whichever is deemed applicable, on the issue, plaintiff may convince the court that he is entitled to discovery of documents and information relevant to his claims and defenses, including, inter alia, the medical records to which he was previously denied access by Chief District Judge Mordue, without prejudice to his right to reapply for an order permitting disclosure of those documents.

In reviewing the matter, I am satisfied that in the event discovery is allowed to go forward addressing all of the claims and defenses currently interposed in the action, a great deal of time and effort will be expended by the parties, and discovery is likely to be a lengthy and contentious process, requiring considerable court oversight. Such efforts would be rendered unnecessary, however, in the event of a finding that plaintiff lacks the requisite standing to prove the pending claims. Accordingly, I find that the interests of justice and judicial economy favor a phased approach to discovery, with the parties first addressing the threshold issue of plaintiff's standing, and later, if the suit goes forward, the merits of plaintiff's claims.

Accordingly, Magistrate Judge Peebles stayed discovery until February 1, 2007 or, in the event that defendant moved for summary judgment prior to that date, the resolution of the summary judgment motion. The stay did not apply to discovery directed to the issue of plaintiff's standing. On January 31, 2007, defendant made the instant motion for summary judgment.

DISCUSSION

Generally

As discussed below, this Court grants summary judgment dismissing the action. The award of summary judgment is not based on any issue as to which the discovery sought by plaintiff in his motion to compel (Dkt. No. 60) could arguably be relevant. Thus, plaintiff cannot be prejudiced by this Court's ruling on summary judgment prior to this discovery. Nor is the award of summary judgment based on any issue as to which Barry's medical records could arguably have been relevant. Thus, it is not necessary to consider further whether and in what circumstances plaintiff may have been entitled to court-ordereddisclosure of Barry's protected records under HIPAA.*fn2

Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Beth Israel Med. Ctr. v. Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.J., Inc., 448 F.3d 573, 579 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a genuine issue of material fact occurs if the evidence is such that "a reasonable [factfinder] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact ...


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