Manion Gaynor & Manning LLP ("MG+M") has obtained a summary judgment on behalf of client HealthPort Technologies ("HealthPort") in Basil Crookshanks, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, v. HealthPort and Charlestown Area Medical Center ("CAMC"). On Wednesday, May 25, 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued a writ of prohibition ordering the trial court to dismiss a class action case against HealthPort and CAMC brought in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court held that the representative plaintiff, Basil Crookshanks, lacked Article 3 standing to assert a claim because his purported injury was contingent upon a future event.
Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that HealthPort and CAMC (collectively, “Defendants”) had violated W.Va. Code § 16-29-2(a) by overcharging for the production of medical records. Plaintiff sought to certify a state wide class comprised of all similarly-situated individuals that had requested their records from CAMC or other providers serviced by HealthPort, who had been similarly charged purportedly excessive fees under West Virginia law.
The case arose from Plaintiff’s retention of a law firm (“Plaintiff’s Firm”) to prosecute a medical malpractice claim against a nursing home. Plaintiff entered into a contingent fee agreement with Plaintiff’s Firm, whereby it would front all litigation expenses and only receive reimbursement, if there was a recovery on Plaintiff’s behalf.
Plaintiff’s Firm requested his medical records from CAMC. HealthPort, which served as CAMC’s health information management provider, processed Plaintiff’s Firm’s request and invoiced it for the records. Plaintiff’s Firm paid HealthPort’s invoice and filed the class action on Plaintiff’s behalf soon thereafter. At the time the class action complaint was filed, Plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim was pending and no money had been recovered on his behalf.
Defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff’s claims were not ripe and that he did not have standing because not only had he not yet paid for his medical records, but he may never pay for them. The trial court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Defendants petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia for a writ of prohibition to stop the circuit court from exercising jurisdiction over the case.
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia agreed with Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff lacked standing, thereby depriving the circuit court of jurisdiction. The Court summarized standing as “[a] party’s right to make a legal claim or seek judicial enforcement of a duty or right,” Findley v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 213 W.Va. 80, 94, 576 S.E.2d 807, 821 (2002) (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1413 (7th ed. 1999)), and reviewed the three elements of standing as follows:
First, the party attempting to establish standing must have suffered an “injury-in-fact” – an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent and not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct forming the basis of the lawsuit. Third, it must be likely that the injury will be redressed through at favorable decision of the court.”
The Court determined that Plaintiff could not satisfy the first prong of the standing analysis because the record demonstrated that he had not suffered an injury-in-fact. The Court found that it was Plaintiff’s Firm that had suffered a “direct pocketbook injury.” Further, the Court noted that, “Mr. Crookshanks may become contractually liable to his lawyers for this allegedly unlawful expense at a future date, but until he does, his loss is contingent and conjectural.”
MG+M Partner, Javier Flores, a member of the firm’s class action litigation practice group, served as lead counsel for the Defendants.