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State-Law Privacy Claims Alleging Unauthorized Disclosure of Individual?ÇÖs Health Information Not Preempted by ERISA

April 19, 2011
A federal district court in Texas recently granted a motion made by a participant in a group health plan and thus remanded back to state court a cause of action in a lawsuit involving an alleged violation of the participant?ÇÖs privacy rights under the employer-sponsored plan. The participant originally sued in state court alleging that the plan?ÇÖs subrogation vendor violated his privacy rights by sharing protected medical information relating to injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The defendant removed the case to federal court on grounds that the plan was governed by ERISA and thus all of the participant?ÇÖs state law claims were preempted by ERISA. In its decision the federal court granted the participant?ÇÖs motion to remand the case back to state court. The court reasoned that because the participant claimed tortious conduct outside of the plan and did not seek ERISA remedies, the claims were not sufficiently related to the plan to the extent required to be preempted by ERISA. The court stated that, ?Ç£although Quintana?ÇÖs claims may bear some peripheral connection to the plan, his tort claims exist independently of his rights as a plan participant.?Ç¥ Notably, the court also stated that although the participant?ÇÖs cause of action mentioned HIPAA, the HIPAA statute does not contain an express provision creating a private cause of action. The case provides an interesting perspective on the dynamic between ERISA preemption, state law claims, and HIPAA privacy issues. Quintana v. Lightner, 2011 WL 976773 (N.D. Tex. 2011).
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