Law School Case Brief
Nw. Mem'l Hosp. v. Ashcroft - 362 F.3d 923 (7th Cir. 2004)
Section 264 of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 1320d-2 note, directs the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services to promulgate regulations to protect the privacy of medical records, but provides in 42 U.S.C.S. § 1320d-2, note (c)(2) that such a regulation shall not supercede a contrary provision of State law, if the provision of State law imposes requirements, standards, or implementation specifications that are more stringent than the requirements, standards, or implementation specifications imposed under the regulation. 45 C.F.R. § 160.203(b). A standard is more stringent if it provides greater privacy protection for the individual who is the subject of the individually identifiable health information" than the standard in the regulation. 45 C.F.R. § 160.202(6).
The subpoenaed records, apparently some 45 in number, were sought for use in the forthcoming trial in a federal court in New York for a suit challenging the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1531. The doctor was one of the parties in that suit and would also be testifying as an expert witness. The district court held that the production of the records was barred by regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
Did the HIPAA regulations bar the production of the records?
The appellate court disagreed that HIPAA regulations barred the production of the records. But, the appellate court found that the burden of compliance with the subpoena would exceed the benefit of production of the material sought by it because (1) the probative value of the records was meager; (2) it would be an invasion of the patients' privacy; (3) a patient's identity might be learned even after the records were redacted; and (4) the government had failed to articulate a use for the records that it sought. Thus, the appellate court found that the district court had not erred in quashing the subpoena on the basis of relative hardship under Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c).
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