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Emmerick v. Ridgecrest Regional Hospital

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 7, 2018




         Marc Emmerick seeks to proceed pro se in this action against Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, its CEO, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors, the Safety and Regulatory Compliance Manager, a patient advocate, and a pay agent. (See Doc. 6) According to Plaintiff, the defendants are liable for violations of federal and state law due to the disclosure of his medical records without Plaintiff's permission. Because Plaintiff fails to allege facts sufficient to support his federal claims, the Court recommends the complaint be DISMISSED without prejudice.

         I. Screening Requirement

         When an individual seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is required to review the complaint and shall dismiss it, or portion of it, if it is “frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or . . . seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). A plaintiff's claim is frivolous “when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992). In other words, a complaint is frivolous where the litigant sets “not only the inarguable legal conclusion, but also the fanciful factual allegation.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).

         The Court must review Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint because it supersedes the previously filed complaint. See Forsyth v. Humana, 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).

         II. Pleading Standards

         General rules for pleading complaints are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A pleading must include a statement affirming the court's jurisdiction, “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; and . . . a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).

         A complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the plaintiff's claim in a plain and succinct manner. Jones v. Cmty. Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). The purpose of the complaint is to inform the defendant of the grounds upon which the complaint stands. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). The Supreme Court noted,

Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Vague and conclusory allegations do not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court clarified further,

[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” [Citation]. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. [Citation]. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. [Citation]. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citations omitted). When factual allegations are well-pled, a court should assume their truth and determine whether the facts would make the plaintiff entitled to relief; legal conclusions are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Id. The Court may grant leave to amend a complaint to the extent deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by an amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-28 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

         III. Allegations[1]

         Plaintiff asserts that he “has an organic mental disorder” and is disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Doc. 6 at 11, 22) He reports that he was injured “in a slip and fall accident” while “a consumer at the Ridgecrest California Home Depot store.” (Id. at 19, 38) Plaintiff sought treatment at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital for this injury. (Id. at 38) He reports that in August 2015, he discussed the fact that he was engaged in negotiations with Home Depot with Janice Kern, a “pay agent” at Ridgecrest Hospital. (Id. at 23) Plaintiff asserts Ms. Kern “asked Plaintiff if he would like her to send an invoice [to Home Depot] to see if they would pay the hospital so that she could ‘clear the books.'” (Id.)

         He alleges that on August 28, 2015, “Ms. Kern sent a facsimile from Ridgecrest Regional Hospital to an open facsimile machine at Home Depot, a non-covered entity.” (Doc. 6 at 10) Plaintiff asserts “the facsimile contained complete treatment notes providing personal information beyond the minimum necessary required for billing purposes.” (Id. at 18) Plaintiff contends Ms. Kern “did not have Plaintiff's authorization to send any health information to The Home Depot Inc.” (Id. at 17) He asserts that authorization was only for a billing invoice to be sent, and “[n]o reference to Health records or any treatment sheets were made.” (Id.) Further, he alleges the facsimile “was openly available and viewed by … The Home Depot Inc. personnel.” (Id. at 18)

         According to Plaintiff, the facsimile sent by Ms. Kern contained information that was “highly sensitive, deeply personally hurtful and erroneous.” (Doc. 6 at 19) He contends, “It was also harmful because Plaintiff and The Home Depot Inc. to whom the information was disseminated were negotiating … their financial responsibility for Plaintiffs injury.” (Id.) He asserts the receipt of the information “lead to The Home Depot Inc.'s decision to discontinue negotiations” and the “payment of [an] overdue Emergency Room debt.” (Id. at 20) Plaintiff alleges the inclusion of his treatment sheets by Ms. Kern “was a deliberate malicious effort with the ‘Specific Intent' to derail [the] negotiations.” (Id. at 23) Further, Plaintiff asserts that Ridgecrest Regional Hospital then “placed the debt into collections, ” which has damaged his credit. (Id. at 31-32)

         Plaintiff asserts he visited the billing office again on September 1, 2015 and spoke to Ms. Kern. (Doc. 6 at 42) Plaintiff reports Ms. Kern informed him “of a second visit bill for [his] injury that also had not been paid.” (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Ms. Kern “then sent another unauthorized facsimile to The Home Depot Inc. for payment.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges he “attempted to discuss the breach with Janice Kern and found her unreceptive, ” though Ms. Kern gave Plaintiff the phone number for Kristen Hendon, a patient advocate. (Id.) He reports he “began leaving messages” for Ms. Hendon the same day, but “[n]o one returned his calls.” (Id.)

         He alleges that on September 5, 2015, he received a certified letter from Stephanie Meeks, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital's Privacy Officer. (Doc. 6 at 42) Plaintiff asserts, “The letter was in reference to another matter” (Doc. 1 at 15), but Ms. Meeks “included an assurance that Ridgecrest Regional Hospital had policies and procedures to protect his Privacy.” (Doc. 6 at 43) He reports that Ms. Meeks included “a telephone number where Plaintiff could leave a message if he had any questions, ” which Plaintiff called and “left detailed messages, ” but “his messages were not returned.” (Id.; Doc. 1 at 15)

         Plaintiff reports he went to the hospital several times throughout September 2015, attempting to speak to Ms. Meeks or Ms. Hendon. (Doc. 1 at 15) He asserts the attempts were “unsuccessful, ” and the hospital staff “seemed ...

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