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Sabatini v. Price

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 5, 2018

HONORABLE THOMAS E. PRICE, M.D., Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendant.



         On March 6, 2018, the Court dismissed Plaintiff William Sabatini's (“Plaintiff”) Privacy Act complaint finding that it was barred by its two-year statute of limitations. (Doc. No. 38.) The Court then granted Plaintiff one last chance to demonstrate circumstances justifying equitable tolling or actions on Defendant Thomas E. Price's (“Defendant”) part that warrant application of the Act's exception to its time-bar. (Id. at 17.) On March 13, and 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed his supplemental briefs, (Doc. Nos. 39, 42), and on March 20, 2018, Defendant filed his response in opposition, (Doc. No. 43). Unfortunately, despite the fact that the statute of limitations issue in this case has been pending since November of 2017, with the Court holding a hearing on this topic on February 7, 2018, (Doc. Nos. 18, 27), Plaintiff has still failed to demonstrate that his Privacy Act complaint is timely. Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the Court DISMISSES the instant action and DENIES AS MOOT Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 1, 30.)


         The Court and the parties are already well-versed as to the factual allegations of this matter. Thus, the Court will only provide a brief summary of the events leading up to the institution of this action.

         On August 9, 2017, Plaintiff, a Registered Nurse and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist licensed to practice Nursing in California, filed a complaint against Defendant alleging violations of the Privacy Act. (See generally Doc. No. 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant allowed a non-eligible entity to access the National Practitioner Data Bank[1] (“NPDB”) and submit two inaccurate reports about him.[2] (Id. at 8.) The reports at issue involve narratives from medical staff that state that Plaintiff showed up to work at Mountain View Surgery Center sleepy and disoriented. (Doc. No. 18-2 at 6.) Additionally, the reports allege that Plaintiff may have been abusing drugs, that he was a safety concern to the patients, and that Plaintiff defended his symptoms as side effects of the flu and low blood sugar. (Id.) Plaintiff contests any and all reports tendered by Mountain View. (Doc. No. 1 at 8.) Moreover, as illustrated in Plaintiff's response to the report, he submitted to a 10-panel drug test that yielded negative results. (Doc. No. 18-2 at 7-8.)

         To request amendment or removal of the reports, Plaintiff, represented by counsel at that time, began contacting Defendant on February 14, 2013. (Id. at 10.) On October 9, 2013, Defendant requested that the NPDB amend the report so that the “Date Action was Taken” and “Date Action Became Effective” fields be reported as January 11, 2013, as well as alter the “Description of the Act” section as it found that it was not factually sufficient. (Id. at 31.) After the corrected report was posted, Defendant denied Plaintiff's dispute. (Id. at 49.) On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff requested reconsideration of Defendant's decision, (Id. at 53), which was denied on December 2, 2014, (Id. at 59-64).

         Two years later, on December 7, 2016, Plaintiff again demanded that Defendant correct or remove the report. (Id. at 66.) On February 3, 2017, Defendant stated that as Plaintiff had “availed himself of the NPDB dispute resolution process and received a decision, ” and “utilized the reconsideration process and received a decision, ” Defendant would deny his request for “additional review.” (Id. at 82.) In coming to this conclusion, Defendant stated that the “NPDB dispute process is inclusive of any rights to review under the Privacy Act.” (Id.) Almost half a year later, Plaintiff then filed his Privacy Act lawsuit with this Court. (Doc. No. 1.)

         In sum, Plaintiff argues that through the dissemination of these purportedly inaccurate reports, Defendant has allowed the NPDB to permit ineligible organizations to access its system of records and receive erroneous information about Plaintiff, that Defendant failed to make him aware of his rights to amendment under the Privacy Act, that the NPDB materially and willfully misrepresented what procedures were available to Plaintiff to correct his record, and that Defendant violated the Privacy Act by maintaining an inaccurate, irrelevant, and unnecessary report about him. (See generally id.)


         The Court appreciates Plaintiff's diligent efforts in litigating this case since 2017 as a pro se litigant. However, though the Court must ensure pro se litigants “meaningful access to the courts[, ]” Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998), pro se litigants are still “bound by the rules of procedure.” Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995).

         One such rule of procedure dictates that statutes of limitations is an issue “that must be resolved before the merits of individual claims.” Gray v. Beard, No. 12-CV-1911-H (RBB), 2013 WL 4782821, at *5 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 6, 2013); see also Young v. United States, 535 U.S. 43, 47 (2002) (holding that statutes of limitations serve an important purpose: “repose, elimination of stale claims, and certainty about a plaintiff's opportunity for recovery and a defendant's potential liabilities.”) (citation omitted); John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, 552 U.S. 130, 133 (2008) (explaining that statutes of limitations “protect defendants against stale or unduly delayed claims.”). Thus, despite Plaintiff's repeated and ardent efforts to reach the merits of his claim-as evidenced by his attempts to argue his underlying cause of action in his supplemental briefs, (see Doc. No. 39 at 8- 14), the Court must first resolve whether his Privacy Act claim is timely.

         In supporting the theory that his complaint is not time-barred, Plaintiff re-hashes several of the same arguments that the Court already analyzed and dismissed when it granted Defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion on March 6, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 21, 38.) For purposes of this Order, the Court expounds that Plaintiff's supplemental briefs argue that (1) Englerius v. Veterans Administration supports his argument that the public would be “poorly served” if this Court dismissed his case; (2) that his statute of limitations began on February 3, 2017; (3) the NPDB does not inform subjects of reports that they have amendment rights under the Privacy Act; (4) per Doe v. Thompson, the Secretarial Review process is not inclusive of the Privacy Act; and (5) that Defendant never complied with the Privacy Act when it reviewed his amendment request. (See generally Doc. Nos. 39, 42.) Defendant challenges each of Plaintiff's contentions. (Doc. No. 43.)

         A. Defendant had no Legal Duty to Inform Plaintiff of His Amendment Rights Under the Privacy Act

         Plaintiff again attempts to resurrect the argument that the NPDB was legally bound to inform him of his Privacy Act amendment rights. (Doc. No. 39 at 2.) Moreover, for a third time, Plaintiff asserts that the NPDB intentionally conceals the Act from subjects of reports as evidenced by the NPDB website and Guidebook, both of which do not reference the Privacy Act. (Id.)

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that it is unsure as to how the preceding contentions demonstrate that Plaintiff's complaint is timely, that he is entitled to equitable tolling, or that his Privacy Act claim falls within the exception to its statute of limitations. Instead, in the Court's opinion, it seems that Plaintiff wishes to expose the NPDB as an agency that is conspiring against him or that he was unable to file his Privacy Act claim on time due to the NPDB's intentional concealment of the Act. These allegations are as baseless as they are incredulous.

         No matter, the Court will again put to rest Plaintiff's abovementioned theories. As delineated by both Defendant and the NPDB Guidebook, 45 C.F.R. Part 60 governs the NPDB. NATIONAL PRACTITIONER DATA BANK, GUIDEBOOK ch. A (2015), Most notably, under subchapter A of Title 45, the Code of Federal Regulations exempts Defendant from the requirements of 5 U.S.C. 552a(d)(1) through (4) and (f). 45 C.F.R. § 5b.11(a), (b)(1)(ii). Presently, Plaintiff's brief points directly to 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(3) to confirm his belief that the NPDB had a duty to inform him that he could file a Privacy Act claim in district court. (Doc. No. 42 at 2.) ...

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