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Stewart v. Parkview Hospital

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 22, 2019

Tyquan Stewart, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Parkview Hospital, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted August 29, 2019 [*]

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:17-cv-346 - Theresa L. Springmann, Chief Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, Scudder, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.


         Tyquan Stewart sustained serious injuries upon crashing his car while driving under the influence. An emergency room doctor treated Stewart and in doing so ordered a blood draw, which confirmed that he had been drinking. The police requested and received the blood-test results from the hospital's medical staff. Stewart later sued both officers for violating the Fourth Amendment by obtaining his test results without a warrant and the hospital's medical staff for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act by disclosing the results. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. We affirm.


         Stewart does not remember the time he spent in the hospital and indeed says that he was unconscious. His treating physician, however, said that upon arriving in the emergency room, Stewart relayed that he had been drinking and lost control of his car. He also signed a form consenting to treatment. As part of determining the proper course of treatment, the doctor ordered a blood draw.

         Suspecting that alcohol contributed to the crash, the police asked the medical staff for Stewart's blood-test results. An Indiana statute requires medical staff who test a person's blood "for diagnostic purposes" to "disclose the results of the test to a law enforcement officer who requests the ... results as a part of a criminal investigation" regardless of whether the person has "consented to or otherwise authorized their release." Ind. Code § 9-30-6-6(a) (2016). The test results showed that Stewart was intoxicated, and the nurses shared that information with the police. The officers then arrested Stewart and Indiana prosecutors later charged him with the state-law misdemeanor of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Stewart pleaded guilty.

         Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Stewart sued the police officers, doctor, nurses, and their employers in federal court. He accused the hospital's medical staff of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, by disclosing medical information (his blood-test results) to the police without his consent. He also alleged that the police officers and their employer, the City of Fort Wayne, violated his Fourth Amendment rights by obtaining those results without a warrant. He added claims under Indiana law for negligence, infliction of emotional distress, battery, and invasion of privacy. In granting the defendants' motions for summary judgment, the district court concluded that Stewart's federal claims failed as a matter of law, and that he had not brought forth enough evidence to allow a jury to decide any state-law claim in his favor.

         Stewart now appeals.


         We begin with Stewart's statutory claim under HIPAA. The district court concluded that the statute provides no private right of action and accordingly entered judgment for the medical defendants on that basis. We agree.

         HIPAA prohibits the disclosure of medical records without the patient's consent. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1320d-1 to d-7. But nowhere does the statute expressly create a private right of action to enforce this substantive prohibition. So the question becomes whether Congress nonetheless intended to allow private enforcement and the award of a private remedy. See Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1855-56 (2017).

         Although we have not addressed the issue in a precedential decision, all other circuits to have considered the question have concluded that HIPAA does not confer individual enforcement rights-express or implied. See Acara v. Banks, 470 F.3d 569, 570-72 (5th Cir. 2006); Dodd v. Jones, 623 F.3d 563, 569 (8th Cir. 2010); Seaton v. Mayberg,610 F.3d 530, 533 (9th Cir. 2010); Wilkerson v. Shinseki,606 F.3d 1256, 1267 n.4 (10th Cir. 2010). Those courts have reasoned that Congress, by delegating enforcement authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, did not intend for HIPAA to include or create a private remedy. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1320d-3, -5. Under the Supreme Court's decision in Alexander v. Sandoval, Congress's choices about ...

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