Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Denies Mandamus Relief from Restrictive HIPAA Order
On February 23, 2018 the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion inEx Parte Alabama Gas Corporation denying Alagasco’s Petition for Writ of Mandamus wherein it sought relief from a particularly restrictive HIPAA Order entered by the trial court. It is quite a common occurrence for judges in workers’ compensation cases to enter a "HIPAA Order". The purpose of such an order is to ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), while still allowing parties to obtain protected health information relevant to the case. However, in the underlying case of Robert Smitherman v Alabama Gas Corporation, the trial court entered a HIPAA order that was a departure from the "standard" order typically entered. That order provided, among other things, that the parties and their attorneys were only allowed to obtain protected health information (namely medical records and bills) after issuing a subpoena to obtain them. It also limited the parties’ ability to obtain records pertaining to "personal injury", and prohibited any medical care provider from disclosing any protected health information other than that which directly pertained to the alleged work-related injury. The order further expressly prohibited Alagasco’s attorneys from engaging in anyex parte discussions, conferences, interviews, and/or telephonic or email communications with any of the plaintiff’s healthcare providers without first providing notice to the plaintiff’s attorney.
Alagasco filed a Motion to Amend the HIPAA order, asserting that it prohibited certain methods of discovery that are allowed in workers’ compensation cases. The trial court set Alagasco’s Motion to Amend for hearing on December 20, 2017. However, two days prior to that, Alagasco filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, and also filed a Motion to Stay proceedings at the trial court level, pending the Court of Appeals’ resolution of its mandamus petition. At the December 20, 2017 hearing, the trial court denied Alagasco’s Motion to Stay. However, the judge stated "I think the HIPAA Order, to some degree, is due to be amended...there may be some revision that I acknowledge needs to be made".
Alagasco argued to the Court of Appeals that the HIPAA Order prohibits any meaningful opportunity on the part of Alagasco to make timely determinations of reasonableness, necessity, and relatedness of recommended medical treatment. It also argued that the order precludes any opportunity to ensure that the plaintiff is compliant with reasonable requests to submit to medical treatment as provided in the Act. However, the Court of Appeals denied Alagasco’s petition without ruling on the merits of Alagasco’s arguments. The Court of Appeals held that Alagasco failed to demonstrate that the trial court clearly exceeded its discretion, or that Alagasco lacked another adequate remedy by appeal. Judge Terry Moore wrote a concurring opinion, stating that while he agreed that the Petition for Writ of Mandamus was due to be denied, it was primarily because the trial court had not explicitly refused to act on Alagasco’s Motion to Amend the HIPAA Order.
About the Author
This article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC. Fish Nelson & Holden is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields. If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.