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John Doe v. Guthrie Clinic

February 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Plaintiff John Doe, ("Doe") has been granted permission to proceed in this action under a fictitious name to protect his privacy interests. Doe brings this action against the defendants (collectively "Guthrie" or "the Guthrie defendants") claiming that they violated several common law and statutory duties when a nurse at a medical clinic where plaintiff was being treated revealed private personal health information to Doe's girlfriend regarding Doe's treatment for a sexually transmitted disease ("STD"). The nurse, who was related by marriage to Doe's girlfriend, sent several text messages to Doe's girlfriend when Doe was being treated for the STD at the Guthrie Clinic Steuben, a private medical clinic located in the city of Corning, New York, in Steuben County. Neither Guthrie Clinic Steuben nor the nurse who revealed plaintiff's information are defendants in this action.

In eight causes of action, Doe claims that the defendants: breached their duty of confidentiality to him; violated New York State Public Health and Civil Practice laws; engaged in negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligently hired or retained the nurse who wrongfully disclosed plaintiff's private health information.

Defendants deny Doe's charges, and move to dismiss his Complaint in its entirety. The defendants contend that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for any breach of confidentiality because Doe has failed to allege a knowing breach of confidentiality by any named defendant. While defendants concede for purposes of this motion that the nurse who disclosed Doe's condition may have violated a duty of confidentiality, they claim that the named defendants did not knowingly violate any duty they may have owed Doe. Defendants further argue that there is no private cause of action under the New York State statutes asserted by the plaintiff. Finally, defendants contend that plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, or negligent hiring.

Plaintiff opposes defendants' motion, and claims that he has stated valid causes of action with respect to all of his claims. For the reasons set forth below, however, I find that plaintiff has failed to state any valid cause of action against the named defendants, and therefore, I grant defendants' motion to dismiss.


The following facts are taken from the plaintiff's complaint, and are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion. In approximately February, 2010, plaintiff was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. He was referred to the Guthrie Clinic Steuben, a private medical practice located in Steuben County, New York, for specialized treatment of his condition.

On July 1, 2010, Doe arrived at the Guthrie Clinic Steuben for treatment of his STD. Magan Stalbird ("Stalbird"), a nurse employed at the clinic, recognized Doe as the boyfriend of her sister-in-law Jessica*fn1 ("Jessica"), and without authorization or any medical treatment purpose, accessed Doe's medical records for the purpose of determining the reason for his visit. Once Stalbird learned that Doe was being treated for an STD, and while Doe was still awaiting treatment in the office, she sent at least six text messages to Jessica informing Jessica of Doe's condition, and allegedly mocking and ridiculing Doe. Jessica forwarded Stalbird's messages to Doe while he waited for his treatment, and according to Doe, the messages suggested that Stalbird and other staff members were making fun of his medical condition.

According to the Complaint, on July 6, 2010, five days after his visit to the Clinic, Doe called "the Guthrie Defendants" to complain of Stalbird's behavior.*fn2 Based on Doe's allegations, an administrator named "Mike" set up a meeting with Doe to discuss the incident. Although Doe alleges that Mike "showed little interest in helping [him] resolve the problem of Guthrie Health's breach" (Complaint at ¶ 28) it is undisputed that within one day of Doe's meeting with Guthrie, Stalbird was fired from her employment. Thereafter, on July 12, 2010, Dr. Joseph A. Scopelliti, the President and CEO of Guthrie Clinic, Ltd., sent a letter to Doe explaining that there had been a breach of Doe's confidential health information, that appropriate disciplinary actions had been taken, and that steps had been taken to prevent such a breach from occurring in the future.

On July 9, 2010, approximately 2 days after Stalbird was fired, Jessica received a text from her brother Greg Space (Stalbird's husband) in which he allegedly threatened Doe's life, and warned the two of them to "Leave Magan the fuck alone." Complaint at ¶ 30. Based on the phone call, Doe filed a criminal complaint against Greg Space, and sought an order of protection against him.


I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must "accept...all factual allegations in the complaint and draw...all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." See Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir.2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). In order to withstand dismissal, the complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (disavowing the oft-quoted statement from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief").

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." See id. at 1965 (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, conclusory allegations are not entitled to any assumption of truth, and therefore, will not support a finding that the plaintiff has stated a valid claim. Hayden v. Patterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2nd Circ., 2010). Thus, "at a bare minimum, the operative standard requires the 'plaintiff [to] provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through ...

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