Federal Court Dismisses NY Medical Disclosure Case

, New York Law Journal

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A federal appeals court has dismissed an action filed by a man against an upstate health clinic based on the disclosure by one of its nurses to the man's girlfriend that he had a sexually transmitted disease.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said Monday in Doe v. Guthrie Clinic, 12-1045-cv, that it was dismissing the final remaining claim against the clinic for breach of the fiduciary duty of confidentiality. It said it acted after receiving an answer from the state Court of Appeals on a certified question that under New York law, an employer cannot be held liable for the actions of an employee that are not reasonably foreseeable and not within the scope of their employment (NYLJ, Jan. 10).

The U.S. Court of Appeals asked the state's highest court for help after determining it was unclear whether a common law right of action for breach of fiduciary duty could be brought against medical corporations for actions by their employees in such circumstances.

In an unsigned ruling Monday, Judges Denny Chin (See Profile), Raymond Lohier Jr. (See Profile) and Christopher Droney (See Profile) dismissed the case.

The clinic patient sued the Guthrie Clinic Steuben in Corning and its operators after he learned that a nurse had informed his girlfriend, who is the nurse's sister-in-law, that he had an STD while the patient was being treated in 2010. The nurse was fired for violating confidentiality rules.

Dismissal by the circuit affirmed a decision by Western District Judge Michael Telesca (See Profile).

T. Andrew Brown and Joseph Gawlowicz of Brown & Hutchinson represented the plaintiff. Martha Brockway Stolley of Morgan Kewis & Bockius argued for Guthrie and its parent organizations.

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