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Court News Ohio

Tenth District Court of Appeals: No Invasion of Privacy with Inmate Medical Records Release

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The Tenth District Court of Appeals Ruled the State is Not Liable for Release of Inmates’ Medical Records.

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The Tenth District Court of Appeals Ruled the State is Not Liable for Release of Inmates’ Medical Records.

Though part of their case will go back to the Ohio Court of Claims, a group of Mansfield Correctional Institution inmates who sued the state for invasion of privacy will still not be entitled to any money.

Ten men, six who are HIV-positive and four with other chronic ailments requiring ongoing care, filed separate lawsuits against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) in the Court of Claims. Each claimed a fellow inmate got their medical records out of the trash and passed around the information to other inmates. In its review of the Court of Claims’ August 2012 decision, a three-judge panel of the Tenth District Court of Appeals upheld that the release of the medical information did not meet the standard to receive monetary damages for breach of patient confidentiality that was created by the 1999 Ohio Supreme Court case Biddle v. Warren General Hospital where patient records were intentionally disclosed.

In the appeals court decision, Judge Joseph Vukovich, sitting by assignment, acknowledged the plaintiffs’ concern about the prison environment presenting special problems when it comes to protecting medical information.

“We do not accept, however, counsel's outcome-based proposition that any institutional failure to fully anticipate and forestall this sort of inmate conduct represents actionable conduct under Biddle. Without precluding that an inadvertent disclosure might, under different facts, fulfill the elements of Biddle, the present case does not,” Judge Vukovich wrote.

Judge Vukovich went on to state the Court of Claims was correct in finding the case fell under discretionary immunity: “The present case … does, in fact, fall under discretionary immunity because the institution's fundamental choice at an executive level to implement, or as the case may be not implement, a more comprehensive medical trash disposal policy constitutes a basic planning function and [is] characterized by the exercise of a high degree of official judgment or discretion. There is no assertion of specific negligence on [employee’s] part, or any other specific institutional staff member. Comprehensively stated, in this instance institutional policy was strictly followed, albeit with bad results.”

The appeals court did send part of the lawsuit back to the Court of Claims “to modify its judgments accordingly” for improperly granting summary judgment to the ODRC after ruling the state court had no jurisdiction over a general constitutional claim. Judge Vukovich added, “Because a grant of summary judgment is a disposition on the merits, it is inconsistent with a lack of jurisdiction in the court issuing such a judgment. Once it decided that it lacked jurisdiction over this aspect of the inmates’ complaints, the only course open to the Court of Claims was to dismiss the claims without prejudice.”

Judges William Klatt and Lisa Sadler agreed with the ruling.

Scott v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 2013-Ohio-4383
Appeal From: Ohio Court of Claims
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: October 3, 2013

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