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Dickman v. Multicare Health System

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

June 2, 2015

PAULINE DICKMAN, individually and as a class representative, Plaintiff,
MULTICARE HEALTH SYSTEM, a Washington nonprofit corporation, IOD, INC., a Wisconsin corporation, Defendants.


BENJAMIN H. SETTLE, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Pauline Dickman's ("Dickman") motion to remand and request for fees (Dkt. 8) and Defendants MultiCare Health System and IOD, Inc.'s (collectively "Defendants") motion to dismiss (Dkt. 10). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the remainder of the file and hereby grants Dickman's motion, denies Dickman's request for fees, and denies as moot Defendants' motion for the reasons stated herein.


On November 13, 2014, Dickman requested her medical records from IOD, Inc. ("IOD") for treatment she received at MultiCare Health System. Dkt. 1, Ex. B ("Comp.") ¶ 4.7. Dickman requested this information pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA"). Id.

Under HIPAA, an individual has "a right to obtain from [a] covered entity a copy of [protected health] information in an electronic format." 42 U.S.C. § 17935(e)(1). "[T]he covered entity may impose a reasonable, cost-based fee" for providing the requested information. 45 C.F.R. § 164.524(c)(4). This fee may include only the cost of copying, postage, and preparing a summary of the requested information. Id. IOD charged Dickman $488.93 for the requested medical records on a per-page basis. Comp. ¶ 4.10.

On February 26, 2015, Dickman filed suit against Defendants in Pierce County Superior Court. Id. Dickman alleges that Defendants (1) violated Washington's Consumer Protection Act ("CPA"), and (2) negligently handled her medical records request. Id. ¶¶ 6.3-6.14. Dickman bases both state law claims on Defendants' alleged violations of HIPAA's fee provisions. See id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 17935(e)(1); 45 C.F.R. § 164.524(c)(4)). Dickman seeks declaratory and equitable relief, as well as damages, under state law. Id.

On April 1, 2015, Defendants removed the suit to this Court. Dkt. 1. On April 8, 2015, Dickman moved to remand and requested fees. Dkt. 8. On April 27, 2015, Defendants responded. Dkt. 14. On May 1, 2015, Dickman replied. Dkt. 16. On April 8, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt. 10. On April 27, 2015, Dickman replied. Dkt. 15. On May 1, 2015, Defendants replied. Dkt. 17.


A. Motion to Remand

Defendants removed this suit from state court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Dkt. 1 at 2. Dickman moves to remand, arguing that her complaint does not present a federal question. Dkt. 8. As the party that removed this case, Defendants bear the burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction is proper. O'Halloran v. Univ. of Wash., 856 F.2d 1375, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). Any doubts about the propriety of removal must be resolved in favor of remand. Moore-Thomas v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., 553 F.3d 1241, 1244 (9th Cir. 2009).

District courts have federal question jurisdiction over all claims "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. "The presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint' rule, which provides that federal question jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." California v. United States, 215 F.3d 1005, 1014 (9th Cir. 2000). "In determining the existence of removal jurisdiction, based upon a federal question, the court must look to the complaint as of the time the removal petition was filed." O'Halloran, 856 F.2d at 1379.

Here, Dickman's complaint sets forth only state law claims.[1] See Comp. Defendants nevertheless argue that federal question jurisdiction is proper because Dickman's state law claims are based on HIPAA violations and thus implicate significant federal issues. Dkt. 14.

When a complaint does not allege a federal cause of action, federal question jurisdiction will sometimes lie over "state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues." Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005). However, "the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction." Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986). State law claims give rise to federal question jurisdiction only "if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federalstate balance approved by Congress." Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1065 (2013). A case fits within this "special and small category" only if all four elements are satisfied. Id. at 1064-65.

In this case, the first two elements appear to be satisfied. Dickman's claims necessarily raise federal issues that are actually disputed because Dickman's CPA and negligence claims are solely predicated on Defendants' alleged HIPAA violations. See Comp. ¶¶ 6.3-6.14. However, Dickman's reliance on HIPAA to prove elements of her state causes of action does not, by itself, confer federal jurisdiction. Grable, 545 U.S. at 318-19; Merrell Dow, 478 U.S. at 817. The federal issue must also be substantial and capable of resolution in federal court without ...

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