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Summary judgment is proper when, based on pleadings, discovery, and affidavits filed with the court, there are no genuine issues of material fact and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. Thus, on appeal from summary judgment, an appellate court reviews de novo a district court's application of the law and the district court's conclusion that no genuine issues of fact remain for trial. An appellate court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve any doubts regarding the existence of a material fact against the moving party. A fact is material if it affects the outcome of the case. The party opposing summary judgment may not rely on unverified and conclusory allegations, or postulated evidence that might be developed at trial, or metaphysical doubt about the facts to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Summary judgment is also proper when the record is devoid of proof on an essential element of a plaintiff's claim.
This case was an invasion-of-privacy case which involved the Internet posting of embarrassing personal information taken surreptitiously from appellant patient Candace Yath's medical file. Respondent Fairview Cedar Ridge Clinic’s employee saw a personal acquaintance at the clinic and read her medical file. The employee then learned that appellant had a sexually transmitted disease and a new sex partner other than her husband. The employee disclosed this information to another employee, who then disclosed it to others, including the appellant’s estranged husband. A webpage was also created where the said personal information was posted. Appellant then sued respondent individuals for intentional infliction of emotional distress. She sued respondent clinic for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Appellant also sued all respondents for violating Minnesota Statutes section 144.335, subdivision 3a(e), by disclosing information in her medical file. The district court granted summary judgment to respondents on most of the claims. Appellant patient then appealed, challenging the court’s decision holding that an invasion-of-privacy claim failed because there was no publicity, holding that respondent clinic could not be held liable for the unauthorized acts of its employees, holding that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 1320d-1320d-8 (2006), preempted Minn. Stat. § 144.335.
Did the court err in granting summary judgment on invasion of privacy and liability claim?
The court ruled that the invasion-of-privacy claim was correctly resolved by summary judgment because appellant failed to show that any respondent surviving on appeal were involved with creating or sustaining the webpage. Also, the court held that summary judgment was also appropriate on the claim for vicarious liability because appellant failed to present evidence to establish foreseeability. Nevertheless, the appellate court ruled that HIPAA did not preempt § 144.335 because both laws were complementary rather than contradictory. Accordingly, the court of appeals affirmed in part with respect to the claims of spoliation, invasion of privacy, negligent infliction-of-emotional-distress, and vicarious liability. The court reversed, in part, with respect to appellant’s statutory claim, hence, the matter was remanded.