September 19, 2014
The following is our summary of the Supreme Court’s actions on petitions for review in civil cases from the Court’s conference on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. The summary includes those civil cases in which (1) review has been granted, (2) review has been denied but one or more justices has voted for review, or (3) the Court has ordered depublished an opinion of the Court of Appeal.
Uriarte v. Scott Sales Company, S220088—Review Granted and Held—September 17, 2014
The court ordered briefing deferred pending its decision in Ramos v. Brenntag Specialities, Inc., S218176, which presents the following issue: Are negligence and strict liability claims by an employee of a processing company against a supplier of raw materials, for injuries allegedly suffered in the course of processing those materials, barred by the component parts doctrine?
The plaintiff alleged that airborne toxins produced by sandblasting with the defendant’s silica sand caused him to develop interstitial pulmonary fibrosis and other illnesses. The defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings based on the component parts doctrine as applied in Maxton v. Western State Metals (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 81. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion without leave to amend and entered judgment in favor of the defendant.
In a published opinion, Uriarte v. Scott Sales Co. (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1396, the Court of Appeal, Second District, Division One, reversed. It held the component parts doctrine did not apply, emphasizing that the plaintiff did not allege that the defendant’s silica sand was incorporated into a finished product that caused him harm. Rather, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s sand “was used in [his employer’s] manufacturing process . . . and he was injured in the course of that process.” The Court of Appeal rejected the defendant’s reliance on Maxton, observing that “[n]o California case other than Maxton has extended the component parts doctrine to apply to injuries caused during the manufacturing process.” The court noted another recent decision, Ramos v. Brenntag Specialties, Inc. (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 1239), in which the Supreme Court subsequently granted review, which declined to follow Maxton and disagreed with its interpretation of the components part doctrine. (Full disclosure: Horvitz & Levy LLP is counsel for one of the defendants in Ramos.)
Lewis v. Superior Court, S219811—Review Granted—September 17, 2014
This case presents the following issues: (1) Do a physician’s patients have a protected privacy interest in the controlled substance prescription data collected and submitted to the California Department of Justice under Health and Safety Code section 11165?; (2) If so, is disclosure of such data to the Medical Board of California justified by a compelling state interest?
The Medical Board of California (the Board) received a complaint from a doctor’s patient about the quality of care and treatment she had received. In response, the Board launched an investigation of the doctor, which included a Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) report on his prescribing practices. Based on the CURES report, the Board sent releases to six of the doctor’s patients to obtain their medical records; two of those sets of records were obtained after an administrative subpoena was issued. Ultimately, as a result of the Board’s investigation, the doctor was placed on probation for three years.
The doctor filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus in the trial court seeking to set aside the Board’s decision. He “argued the Board violated his patients’ informational privacy rights under article I, section 1 of the California Constitution by accessing CURES during the course of an investigation unrelated to improper prescription practices, and also violated their rights not to be subjected to unwarranted searches and seizures.” The trial court denied the petition stating, among other things, that the doctor failed to provide any authority suggesting that the Board’s review of the CURES data violated a right to privacy. Moreover, the trial court emphasized that even if a privacy right were implicated, that right is not absolute and must be weighed against the compelling public interest of the state. On balance, the trial court concluded that “‘[t]he public health and safety concern[s] served by the monitoring and regulation of the prescription of controlled substances serves a compelling public interest that justifies disclosure of prescription records without notification or consent.’”
In a published opinion, Lewis v. Superior Court (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 933, the Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Three, affirmed the denial of the doctor’s writ petition. The court asserted that the Board did not violate the doctor’s patients’ right to informational privacy. Although the court recognized the patients’ legally protected privacy interest in their prescription records, it rejected the doctor’s suggestion that the Board invaded that interest in a significant way. Further, the court asserted that even if the doctor had established the threshold elements of a right to informational privacy on behalf of his patients, the state’s compelling interest in controlling the diversion and abuse of controlled substances and protecting the public from negligent and incompetent physicians, justified the Board’s actions. Accordingly, the court concluded that “the Board’s actions here in accessing and compiling data from CURES did not violate article I, section 1 of the California Constitution.”
Review Denied (with dissenting justices)