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Invasion of Privacy Claims – S.D. Cal.

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  • Invasion of Privacy Claims – S.D. Cal.

    Here’s a new case out of the Southern District of California, James Heldt v. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. In this matter, the plaintiff alleges a variety of privacy claims due to the defendant ordering surveillance on the plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that the release of that surveillance to certain entities, including an FCE, constitutes of violation of his privacy and brings causes of action under the California Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA), negligence, and invasion of privacy. The defendant moves to dismiss. The court first finds that the plaintiff’s CMIA allegation survives.

    Based on the above definitions, Defendant argues that Plaintiff makes “bogus contention[s]” and “adventures into fiction” in his claim that Defendant provided him with a health care service plan. (Reply 4:12–14, 20; see also Mot. 4:25–5:4.) The Court acknowledges Defendant’s argument that by definition the CMIA may not encompass an insurance institution in this context. However, the Court is not convinced that this issue can be resolved at the motion to dismiss phase in light of Plaintiff’s allegations.

    Plaintiff’s FAC contains factual allegations to support his argument that the CMIA applies to Defendant. (Opp’n 5:19–20.) For example, Plaintiff alleges that he “obtained health care services through Defendant’s health care service plan from on or about 2008,” (FAC ¶ 24), and that Plaintiff “was a patient who obtained health care services provided by Defendant,” (id. ¶ 23). Thus, Plaintiff argues Defendant falls under the CMIA because it “offered plans which arrange for the provision of health care services . . . . [including] Dental and Vision options, which meet the qualifications for basic health care services.” (Opp’n 5:14–18.)

    Because the Court must accept all allegations as true at the motion to dismiss phase, the Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to invoke the CMIA. If Defendant believes it can establish that Plaintiff’s allegations are “fiction,” then Defendant’s solution is to challenge Plaintiff’s allegations with a motion for summary judgment or at trial. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s CMIA claim.
    The court next finds that it is plausible that the defendant owed him duty of care.

    Applying the Rowland factors, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated sufficient facts to establish a plausible claim that Defendant owed him a duty of reasonable care to safeguard Plaintiff’s private medical information. It is both foreseeable and certain that Plaintiff would suffer harm as a result of Defendant allegedly disseminating his private medical information. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges Defendant was responsible for the dissemination of his private medical information. Assuming it is true that Defendant released Plaintiff’s medical information without his consent, there is a close enough connection between Defendant’s conduct and Plaintiff’s injury. Thus, at this stage, it is plausible that Plaintiff can prove a duty of care under the Rowland factors, but the Court acknowledges that at a later stage, further facts may reveal the Rowland factors are not satisfied and Defendant owed Plaintiff no duty of care.
    Lastly, the court concludes that while it is an ERISA plan, the court cannot conclude that it is preempted.

    Constrained to the factual allegations contained in Plaintiff’s FAC, the Court cannot conclude that Defendant’s conflict preemption defense applies as a matter of law based on a “connection with” an ERISA plan. As in Dishman, preempting Plaintiff’s negligence claim based on only the allegations in the FAC would grant Defendant “immunity from garden variety torts which only peripherally impact daily plan administration.” See 269 F.3d at 984. Plaintiff is not seeking plan benefits or damages resulting from Defendant’s denial of benefits through the negligence claim. Rather, Plaintiff is seeking damages related to the alleged release of his private medical information, independent of the ERISA plan that Defendant issued to Plaintiff. See id. at 983 (explaining ERISA preemption is less likely when a “tort claim does not depend on or derive from [a] claim for benefits in any meaningful way” and a Plaintiff is “not seeking to obtain through a tort remedy that which he could not obtain through ERISA”). At a later stage, Defendant may establish its conflict preemption defense by introducing facts that demonstrate an impermissible “connection with” an ERISA plan. But any such facts are not before the Court on this Motion, and the Court therefore concludes Plaintiff’s allegations do not show his claim is conflict preempted as a matter of law.
    The opinion is attached below. While it may just be too early in this case, I cannot imagine that the plaintiff’s claims will prevail. However, they do survive the motion to dismiss.
    Attached Files
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