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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana decision from the 7th Circuit

In Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services v. Indiana FSSA (SD Ind., Judge McKinney), a 10-page opinion, CJ Easterbrook writes:

Advocacy Services asked for records about J.Y.G., a mentally disabled patient at LaRue Carter Memorial Hospital. J.Y.G. had died, and Advocacy Services wanted to learn whether she was a victim of abuse, so that it could propose improvements in medical procedures. The Hospital, a part of the state, see Ind. Code §12-7-2-184, declined to furnish all of the records that Advocacy Services wanted. Some of them are covered by state privacy protections, the Hospital asserted, and the disclosure of others would violate the privacy interests of J.Y.G.’s parents. Advocacy Services then filed this suit in federal court, naming as defendants not only the Hospital but also the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (which superintends the Hospital), plus several state officials. The district court held that defendants must hand over the records, because J.Y.G. was an adult at the time of death and her parents had not been appointed as her legal guardians. The absence of a guardian brought J.Y.G. within the scope of Advocacy Services’ authority under §10805(a)(4) and 42 C.F.R. §51.2, the commentary to which says that parents are deemed guardians of minor children but not of adult children, unless the parents are appointed to that role by a court.

Defendants (collectively “Indiana”) contend on appeal that the regulation is invalid and that parents should be treated as guardians of their (mentally disabled) adult as well as their minor children, whether or not a court appoints them to that role. If J.Y.G.’s parents were her guardians, then Advocacy Services needs their consent. Disclosure without consent, Indiana maintains, would violate the parents’ constitutional and statutory rights.

Underneath this apparently simple dispute lies a bushel full of issues that the parties did not mention in the district court, or this court. * * *

Some future decision will need to wrestle with the problems that arise when a “system” established as a private organization sues in federal court to obtain information from a private medical provider, or when a “system” sues its home state in state court. This suit, between one state agency and another, is outside the scope of §1983 and blocked by the eleventh amendment. The judgment of the district court is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss for want of jurisdiction.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 28, 2009 10:50 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions