Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law

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A district court judge ordered Petitioner committed to the Women’s Addiction Treatment Center pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, 35, a statute that authorizes the involuntary civil commitment of a person, for care and treatment, where there is a likelihood of serious harm that could result from the person’s alcoholism or substance abuse. The Appellate Division dismissed Petitioner’s appeal. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking to vacate the order. A single justice reserved and reported the case to the full Court. The Supreme Judicial court dismissed the petition for relief as moot, holding (1) because Petitioner was no longer committed to the facility, her challenge to the order of commitment was rendered moot; but (2) because this case raised important issues concerning the operation of section 35 as well as the Uniform Trial Court Rules for Civil Commitment Proceedings for Alcohol and Substance Abuse scheduled to go into effect on February 1, 2016, the Court decided the case and concluded that the evidence in this case did not appear to satisfy the requirements of section 35 for an order of commitment. View "In re G.P." on Justia Law
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When Samantha Reckis was seven years old, she developed toxic epidermal necrolysis, a life-threatening skin disorder, after receiving multiple doses of Children’s Motrin, an over-the-counter medication with ibuprofen as its active ingredient. Plaintiffs, Samantha and her parents, sued the manufacturer and marketer of Children’s Motrin and its parent company, alleging that Samantha developed TEN as a result of being exposed to ibuprofen in the Children’s Motrin and that the warning label on the medication’s bottle rendered the product defective because it failed to warn consumers about the serious risk of developing a life-threatening disease from it. A jury found in favor of Plaintiffs and awarded Samantha a total of $50 million in compensatory damages and each of Samantha’s parents $6.5 million for loss of consortium. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claim of failure to warn was not preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; (2) a pharmacologist who offered the causation evidence essential to Plaintiffs’ case was qualified to testify as to specific medical causation, and the testimony was reliable and admissible; and (3) the damages awarded to each of the plaintiffs were not grossly excessive or unsupported by the record. View "Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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K.I. was committed to Walden Behavioral Care (Walden), a facility for the treatment of mentally ill patients, for a three-day period, during which a psychiatrist provided diagnosis of and treatment to K.I. Walden then brought a petition seeking K.I.’s continuing commitment. K.I. filed a motion in limine to exclude the psychiatrist’s testimony regarding K.I.’s statements, asserting that his statements were protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege, as defined in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 233, 20B. A district judge denied the motion, determining that the exception provided by section 20B(b) was inapplicable because the psychotherapist-patient privilege was overcome by the imminent harm exception to the privilege set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 233, 20B(a). At the commitment hearing, the psychiatrist was permitted to testify to K.I.’s statements and to his opinion that K.I. was suicidal. K.I. was committed to Walden for six months. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege established in section 20B(a) applied under these circumstances; and (2) the district court judge did not err in permitting the psychiatrist to testify at the involuntary commitment hearing concerning K.I.’s statements. View "Walden Behavioral Care v. K.I." on Justia Law
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After a jury-waived trial, Defendant was found to be a sexually dangerous person and ordered civilly committed. While the judge found that although Defendant was only likely to commit noncontact sexual offenses in the future, the judge concluded that the offenses would instill in Defendant's victims a “reasonable apprehension of being subjected to a contact sex crime,” and thus Defendant was a “menace” as defined in Commonwealth v. Suave. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to prove that Defendant was a menace to the health and safety of others and a sexually dangerous person within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123A; and (2) Defendant’s commitment as a sexually dangerous person did not violate his substantive due process rights. View "Commonwealth v. Fay" on Justia Law

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Following a trial, a judge of the superior court civilly committed Defendant based on the judge’s finding that Defendant was a sexually dangerous person. The judge noted that Defendant’s sexual offenses were noncontact offenses but nevertheless concluded that Defendant was likely to engage in sexual offenses in the future to a degree that made him a “menace” to the health and safety of other persons. At the time of Defendant’s trial, the Supreme Judicial Court had not yet decided Commonwealth v. Suave, in which the Court held (1) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123A permits a finding of sexual dangerous based on a defendant’s history of committing noncontact sexual offenses and his likelihood of committing only noncontact offenses in the future, and (2) to find that a defendant is a “menace,” the State must show the defendant’s predicted sexual offenses are likely to instill in his victims “a reasonable apprehension of being subjected to a contact sex crime.” In the instant case, because the judge did not make his findings within the Suave framework, the Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case for further consideration in light of Suave. View "Commonwealth v. Almeida" on Justia Law

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When Rita Licata was transferred to a nursing facility operated by Defendant Rita’s son Salvatore signed an agreement with the facility to arbitrate disputes arising from Rita’s stay at the facility. Salvatore signed the agreement in the space provided for the resident’s “authorized representative.” Rita suffered personal injuries at the nursing facility resulting in her death. Salvator filed a complaint as administrator of Rita’s estate against Defendant for, inter alia, wrongful death and negligence. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. The motion judge denied the motion, concluding that Salvatore lacked authority to execute the arbitration agreement on Rita’s behalf. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Salvatore lacked authority to execute the agreement on Rita’s behalf; and (2) the arbitration agreement did not otherwise bind Rita’s estate. View "Licata v. GGNSC Malden Dexter LLC" on Justia Law

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Barbara Johnson, in her capacity as her husband Dalton’s health care agent, signed an agreement with a nursing facility to arbitrate disputes arising from Dalton’s stay at the facility. While a resident of the facility, Dalton suffered burns and later died. The administrators of Dalton’s estate, filed a complaint against nursing home defendants and others, arguing that Barbara, as Dalton’s health care agent, did not have the authority to execute the arbitration agreement on his behalf. A superior court judge entered an order compelling mediation or arbitration. The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court, holding that a health care agent’s decision to enter into an arbitration agreement is not a health care decision under the health care proxy statute, and therefore, an agreement to arbitrate all claims arising out of a principal’s stay in a nursing facility does not bind the principal where the agreement was entered into solely by a health care agent under the authority of a health care proxy. View "Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2001, Robert Riskind suffered a grand mal seizure while driving home from work, causing him to strike Plaintiff. Plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident. Riskind's seizure was triggered by an inoperable brain tumor, a condition for which he had been receiving treatment from Dr. Fred Hochberg since its diagnosis. Riskind died in 2002 as a result of the brain tumor. Plaintiff subsequently filed a negligence action against Hochberg. Hochberg moved for summary judgment, arguing that, as a matter of law, he owed Plaintiff neither a duty to control Riskind nor a duty to warn Riskind against driving. A superior court judge granted Hochberg's summary judgment motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a medical professional, other than a mental health professional, owes no duty to a third person arising from any claimed special relationship between the medical professional and a patient; and (2) Hochberg did not owe a duty of care to Plaintiff under ordinary negligence principals. View "Medina v. Hochberg" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought release from commitment as a sexually dangerous person. After being found indigent, Petitioner filed a motion requesting that the judge authorize funds to retain the services of an independent qualified examiner to evaluate Petitioner and to assist in the preparation of his case. The judge approved the motion for funds in the amount of $2,500. Petitioner subsequently retained a licensed psychologist who agreed to conduct an evaluation of Petitioner and to testify at trial at the hourly rate approved by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS): $190 an hour. After trial, Petitioner moved for the authorization of an additional $2,060 to compensate the psychologist. The trial judge allowed the motion in the amount of $1,500. The appeals court denied Petitioner's appeal, concluding that the judge did not err in limiting the expert's compensation to $4,000, which was "reasonable under the circumstances." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a judge is bound by CPCS's determination of an hourly rate but still retains the authority to determine whether the total amount billed is reasonable; and (2) the judge in this case acted in accordance with these limits in determining the reasonable amount of the expert's fee. View "In re Edwards" on Justia Law

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In two separate actions, seven Massachusetts hospitals and one managed health care organization that disproportionately provided medical care to the poor alleged that the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services violated her obligation to reimburse them for the reasonable costs incurred in providing medical services to MassHealth enrollees. A superior court judge granted the Secretary's motion for judgment on the pleadings in one case and the Secretary's motion to dismiss in the other, concluding as a matter of law that the plaintiffs could not prevail even if their allegations were true. The plaintiffs appealed, and the cases were consolidated. The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions denying the plaintiffs' claims, holding that the plaintiffs' redress for their claims rested in the political arena, not in the courts. View "Boston Med. Ctr. v. Sec'y of the Executive Office of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law