ROBERT T. HUGHES ET AL.
HENRY COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER D/B/A LAKE HAVEN BEHAVIORAL CENTER
May 14, 2015 Session
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Henry County No. 3672 Donald E. Parish, Judge
Tamara L. Hill and T. Robert Hill, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellants, Robert T. Hughes and Melba Hughes.
Chris Tardio, Joshua R. Adkins, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Henry County Medical Center d/b/a Lake Haven Behavioral Center.
Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.
KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE
I. Factual History and Procedure
On November 26, 2013, Appellants Robert and Melba Hughes filed a healthcare liability complaint in the Henry County Circuit Court against Appellee Henry County Medical Center ("HCMC") and Dr. Donald Gold. The factual allegations in the complaint concern the care and treatment Melba Hughes received at HCMC from February 18, 2013 to March 4, 2013. However, those facts are not pertinent to this appeal. HCMC and Dr. Gold both filed motions seeking dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121.
HCMC and Dr. Gold both asserted, among other things, that the complaint failed to conform to the statute because the notice did not include a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization. Specifically, the medical authorization did not permit each health care provider to obtain the complete medical records of the other provider receiving notice. Appellants admitted that, due to a clerical error, the authorization submitted to HCMC did not allow HCMC to obtain Dr. Gold‟s records. Instead, the authorization only allowed HCMC to use its own records. The Appellants argue that this was not a substantive deficiency because Dr. Gold only saw Mrs. Hughes at HCMC and had no records independent of HCMC‟s records. Additionally, HCMC argued that its subsidiary, Lake Haven Behavioral Center, was entitled to the protections of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.
On February 20, 2014, the trial court issued an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice. The trial court found that "the medical authorization provided by [Appellants] did not allow each provider who is now a defendant to obtain and view the records of the other providers. This obviously defeats the purpose of the notice statute." The court also found that the complaint violated Section 29-26-121(b) in that it did not include a copy of the medical authorization that was served on HCMC. Concerning the application of the GTLA, the trial court initially announced from the bench that Appellants would be allowed (90) ninety days to conduct limited discovery on this issue and that it would reserve a ruling until discovery was completed. However, in its order, the trial court states that "in view of the rulings of the [c]ourt which have dismissed this case, the issue regarding the application of the GTLA is now moot."
On March 12, 2014, Appellants filed a motion asking the trial court to reconsider its dismissal of the case. During the hearing, counsel for HCMC conceded that Dr. Gold had no records, and there was no actual prejudice in view of this fact. However, HCMC argued that the court did not need to reach the question of prejudice where there was substantial non-compliance with the requirement for a HIPAA authorization. In its order, entered August 22, 2014, the trial court found that the lack of actual prejudice to HCMC was not determinative. Ultimately, the trial court concluded that Appellants "failed to substantially comply with the presuit notice requirement of T.C.A. §29-26-121(a)(2)(E) in that the [Appellants] admittedly did not provide a medical information release authorization which allowed each defendant to receive the records of the other medical providers."
Mr. and Mrs. Hughes appeal. They raise the following issues as presented in their brief:
1. Whether the trial court erred in dismissing Appellants‟ complaint for failure to authorize Defendants to ...