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Brown v. Mortensen

January 29, 2010

ROBERT A. BROWN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
STEWART MORTENSEN, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Anthony J. Mohr, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC289546).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chaney, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

Appellants Robert A. Brown and Susana Brown, as individuals and as guardians ad litem of their two minor children, sued Stewart Mortensen and others for allegedly disclosing the Browns' and their minor children's confidential medical information in violation of the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act ("CMIA") (Civ. Code, § 56 et seq.).*fn2 The operative complaint is the Browns' fourth amended complaint and the only causes of action before us are the third and fourth causes of action against Mortensen. In ruling on Mortensen's demurrer, the trial court found the third and fourth causes of action impermissibly vague and therefore sustained the demurrer with leave to amend. The Browns chose not to amend their complaint further. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the third and fourth causes of action with prejudice.

We conclude the Browns' third and fourth causes of action against Mortensen are not impermissibly vague or confusing. We also conclude, however, that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.) preempts the Browns' claims against Mortensen. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order dismissing with prejudice the Browns' third and fourth causes of action against Mortensen.

BACKGROUND

These facts are based on the allegations in the Browns' fourth amended complaint.

Robert Brown and his two minor children received dental services from the Reinholds defendants, who are not parties to this appeal (the "dentists"). Mortensen had an agreement with the dentists for the collection of an allegedly outstanding debt owed by Mr. Brown to the dentists for dental services. Under their agreement, Mortensen would share the proceeds of the collection of the debt with the dentists.

In March 2001, Mortensen and Mr. Brown spoke by telephone. During their conversation, Mortensen claimed Mr. Brown owed money to the dentists. Mr. Brown asked Mortensen to provide some verification of the alleged debt. In response, Mortensen sent Mr. Brown a copy of not only Mr. Brown's dental chart, but the dental charts for his two minor children as well. In May 2001, Mortensen and Mr. Brown again spoke by telephone. Mortensen claimed the dental charts verified the debt owed by Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown disagreed and complained that the dental charts included confidential medical information about his two minor children and himself. The charts revealed, for example, the children's and Mr. Brown's names, social security numbers, dates of birth, residence addresses, telephone numbers, health care providers, health care treatments and treatment dates.

Soon after their conversation, and continuing for a period of approximately two years, Mortensen used and disclosed the dental charts, including the confidential medical information contained in them, to three consumer credit reporting agencies (specifically, Experian, Equifax and Trans Union). Mortensen made these repeated disclosures for purposes of verifying the claim that Mr. Brown owed money to the dentists. Mortensen made these disclosures despite (i) the fact that Mr. Brown had told Mortensen that the charts included confidential medical information, and (ii) the fact that there was no claim that Mr. Brown's two minor children owed money to the dentists. The Browns never authorized disclosure of the dental charts and confidential medical information. In fact, the Browns repeatedly asked defendants not to make such disclosures, but the disclosures continued.

Mr. Brown also wrote to the credit reporting agencies, explaining that the information they had received was inaccurate and incomplete. In response, the credit reporting agencies contacted Mortensen for verification of the alleged debt. Mortensen then provided to the credit reporting agencies Mr. Brown's dental history and payments to the dentists for the past 10 years. Mr. Brown claimed that detailed history was not only unnecessary to the alleged debt collection, but was also inaccurate. Mr. Brown then requested that the dentists contact the credit reporting agencies to ask them to delete the information Mortensen had provided. The dentists refused to do so and, in fact, made further disclosures to the credit reporting agency Equifax.

Following these events, the Browns sued Mortensen and the dentists. The Browns amended their complaint four times. The fourth amended complaint alleged violations of CMIA and, in the alternative only, violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.) ("FDCPA"). The Browns named Mortensen in the third and fourth causes of action for violations of CMIA, as well as in the fifth cause of action for violations of FDCPA. After considering defendants' demurrers, the trial court dismissed with prejudice the Browns' third and fourth causes of action. The Browns eventually dismissed with prejudice the fifth cause of action, which was the only remaining cause of action against Mortensen.

On appeal, the Browns challenge the trial court's order dismissing the third and fourth causes of action.

DISCUSSION

1. Standard of ...


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