California Court of Appeals, Third District, Nevada
ORIGINAL PROCEEDING in mandate No. CL12078288, Linda J. Sloven and R. Michael Smith, Judges.
Patrick H. Dwyer for Petitioner.
No appearance for Respondent.
Ellis Law Group, Mark E. Ellis, Andrew M. Steinheimer and Amanda N. Griffith for Real Party in Interest, Retailers’ Credit Association of Grass Valley, Inc.
Sheuerman, Martini, Tabari, Zenere & Garvin, Cyrus A. Tabari, and Kim H. Hara for Real Party in Interest, Dignity Health doing business as Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
This case involves how a limited civil case (here a cross-complaint) gets reclassified as an unlimited civil case.
We hold that where petitioner Kathleen Leonard filed, through counsel, an amended cross-complaint that added a cross-defendant and added causes of action that increased the amount in controversy to over $25, 000 and tried twice to pay the court clerk the reclassification fee, the trial court was required to reclassify the case.
Here, however, the trial court refused to reclassify the case and went on to deny Leonard’s later-filed motion for reclassification, a motion that was unnecessary because the trial court should have already reclassified the case (and in any event, the motion was the inappropriate vehicle by which to change the classification here). We therefore grant Leonard’s petition and issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to reclassify the case upon Leonard paying the reclassification fee, if she has not already done so.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The underlying lawsuit in this case, Retailers’ Credit Association of Grass Valley, Inc. v. Leonard, was filed January 6, 2012, by real party in interest Retailers’ Credit Association of Grass Valley, Inc. (Retailers’ Credit Association) and alleged Leonard breached a contract by failing to pay $2, 340.41 for medical services provided by additional real party in interest, Dignity Health, which was doing business as Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. Retailers’ Credit Association was the local collection agency providing collection services for Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
On February 22, 2012, Leonard filed a propria persona cross-complaint against Retailers’ Credit Association, alleging a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (the Act; Pub.L. No. 104-191 (Aug. 21, 1996) 110 Stat. 1936) by negligent disclosure of private medical information (i.e. “date of medical visits, medical record number, [and] account numbers”). On the front page of her cross-complaint, Leonard checked the box on the form that stated, “ACTION IS A LIMITED CIVIL CASE ($25, 000 or less).” In the complaint itself, Leonard checked the
box requesting “compensatory damages” for “limited civil cases” and typed in the amount “$5, 500.” She also requested injunctive relief in the form of a court order requiring Retailers’ Credit Association to remove the allegedly private information from its complaint.
On April 24, 2012, Leonard filed a pro. per. motion to amend her cross-complaint. In the caption of the motion, she stated the amendment was to "NAME SIERRA NEVADA MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AS A CROSS-DEFENDANT and TO REMOVE THIS CASE TO A COURT OF GENERAL JURISDICTION." The memorandum of points and authorities alleged that the documents attached to the complaint contained her medical record number and were not necessary for the prosecution of the collection claim and at the very least could have been redacted to protect her privacy. “Civil statutory penalties for such actions could reach $250, 000.00.” In a declaration attached to the motion, Leonard declared she was “surprised” to receive the complaint against her because Retailers’ Credit Association and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital had previously told her they had “ ‘waived’ the medical bills for [her] and [her] son.” When she reviewed the complaint, she “noticed the attachment to the complaint contained [her] medical records and medical record number” and that the complaint with the attachment had been filed publically at the courthouse. Retailers’ Credit Association and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital “disclosed and published this information, for the purpose of intimidation and financial gain.” “This is a procedural and privacy tort against [her] and [her son]” that “threatens [their] privacy, [their] physical and medical safety and more.” Leonard “did her best to provide an appropriate response to the complaint and file[d] a cross-complaint for the HIPAA violations. [She] did not believe [she] could name any other parties, like Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, nor did [she] think [she] could remove the case from a [l]imited case to one of [g]eneral [j]urisdiction. [¶] [She] ha[s] since learned that both of those things are possible, and ha[s] brought this motion within 2 weeks of learning of those possibilities.”
On June 5, 2012, the trial court denied Leonard’s motion to amend the cross-complaint and “[t]ransfer to [u]nlimited [j]urisdiction” without prejudice. Leonard “failed to attach the proposed [a]mended [c]ross-[c]omplaint to the motion” and as a result, the court was “unable to determine what the proposed changes include.” The court was “unable to determine if an additional [c]ross-[d]efendant [wa]s sought to be named or if damages sought exceed $25, 000. Thus, th[e] Court [w]as unable to determine if [Leonard] [wa]s entitled to the relief sought.”
On June 11, 2012, the court trial was held. On September 18, 2012, the trial court ruled in favor of Retailers’ Credit Association for the principal of $2, 340.14, prejudgment interest, attorney fees, and costs. ...