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G.R. v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 5, 2017

G.R., Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE, and GALLUP INDIAN MEDICAL CENTER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims Not Raised in Tort Claims Notice [Doc. 45]. In this case, Plaintiff G.R. asserts claims arising from Defendant's alleged dissemination of information regarding the fact that G.R., its employee, was a victim of sexual assault. The Defendant asks the Court to dismiss some of those claims. The Court has reviewed the motion, response, and reply, as well as the relevant legal authorities cited therein. For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the motion to dismiss will be denied in part with regard to Defendant's motion to dismiss G.R.'s claims for negligence and negligence per se for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The motion to dismiss also will be denied in part with regard to Defendant's motion to dismiss G.R.'s claim of private facts on the grounds that she has failed to state a claim. However, the Court withholds ruling on Defendant's motion to dismiss G.R.'s negligence per se claim on the grounds that it fails to state a claim. Instead, the Court certifies to the New Mexico Supreme Court the question of whether this claim is precluded by the fact that there is no private cause of action under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In her Complaint [Doc. 1], G.R. alleges that she was employed as a registered nurse at the Gallup Indian Medical Center (“GIMC”) from June of 2009 until December of 2012. Doc. 1 at ¶ 10. G.R. was also a patient of GIMC, receiving primary and emergency medical treatment from providers at GIMC's facility. Id. at ¶ 11.

         On August 26, 2012, G.R. was physically and sexually assaulted, and she sought treatment for her injuries at GIMC. Id. at ¶ 12-13. Afterwards, Defendants and their employees “disclosed private details about Plaintiff's assault and resulting injuries” to G.R.'s co-workers who were not her direct care providers. Id. at ¶ 14. As a result, G.R.'s co-workers were able to identify her as the victim of the brutal assault, the details (excepting the name of the victim) of which had been described in local news articles. Id. at ¶ 15-16. “During the weeks following the assault, as a result of GIMC's disclosures, many of Plaintiff's co-workers came to know the private details pertaining to Plaintiff that related to the assault.” Id. at ¶ 17. This, in turn, caused G.R. further trauma and humiliation, and as a result she was unable to return to work for an additional period of two months beyond the one month she spent recovering from the assault. Id. at 18-20. G.R. then left her job at GIMC and moved away to avoid further humiliation. Id. at ¶ 21.

         G.R. asserts claims for violation of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (Count I), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II), public disclosure of private facts (Count III), negligence (Count IV), and negligence per se (Count V).

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. Failure to State a Claim

         Under rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The nature of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994). The sufficiency of a complaint is a question of law, and when considering and addressing a rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, view those allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Moore v. Guthrie, 438 F.3d 1036, 1039 (10th Cir. 2006); Hous. Auth. of Kaw Tribe v. City of Ponca City, 952 F.2d 1183, 1187 (10th Cir. 1991).

         A complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations, yet a “pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. See Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d at 1163 (stating that the “plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully”). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         II. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         A plaintiff suing the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq., must exhaust administrative remedies before a district court can exercise jurisdiction. The FTCA's jurisdictional statute provides:

An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail.

28 U.S.C. § 2675(a)(emphasis added). This statute “requires that claims for damages against the government be presented to the appropriate federal agency by filing (1) a written statement sufficiently describing the injury to enable the agency to begin its own investigation, and (2) a sum certain damages claim.” Estate of Trentadue ex rel. Aguilar v. United States, 397 F.3d 840, 852 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Bradley v. United States ex rel. Veterans Admin., 951 F.2d 268, 270 (10th Cir. 1991)).

         “[A] claim should give notice of the underlying facts and circumstances ‘rather than the exact grounds upon which plaintiff seeks to hold the government liable.' ” Staggs v. United States ex rel. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 425 F.3d 881, 884 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Estate of Trentadue, 397 F.3d at 853). The Tenth Circuit has added that “the FTCA's notice requirements should not be interpreted inflexibly.” Estate of Trentadue, 397 F.3d at 853. Whether a ...


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