LEROY W. DADE, JR., Plaintiff,
GAUDENZIA DRC, INC., et al., Defendants.
WILLIAM H. YOHN, Jr., District Judge.
Plaintiff, Leroy W. Dade, Jr., brings this pro se civil rights action against defendants, Gaudenzia DRC, Inc. ("Gaudenzia"); Shakiya Drummond; Sharronna Holmes; Melvin Thompson; Erin Sutton; and Patricia O'Connor (collectively, "individual defendants"). I construe his complaint as alleging two causes of action under § 1983. First, he alleges that defendants denied him mental health treatment in violation of his right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Second, he alleges that the defendants violated his statutory rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., by improperly disclosing confidential health records to unauthorized persons. Before me is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for plaintiff's failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant defendants' motion in part and deny it in part.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Gaudenzia is a non-profit private drug treatment facility. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ¶ 4.) Dade was housed there under pre-release status prior to his full release from prison on parole. He was a resident at Gaudenzia from March 17, 2011, through June 15, 2011, in its "mental health facility." ( Id. ; Compl. at 3.) The individual defendants were employees of Gaudenzia during this time: Sutton and Drummond were Dade's in-house counselors; Thompson was his floor supervisor; Holmes was director of Gaudenzia's mental health program; Thompson was Dade's floor supervisor; and O'Connor was an "administrator." (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ¶ 4; Compl. at 2-5; Supplemental Exs., ECF No. 7, Ex. A.)
In April 2011, while still a resident at Gaudenzia, plaintiff began outpatient therapy at Intercommunity Action for his mental health needs. ( Id. at 3; Supplemental Exs., Exs. B, C.) Sutton, his counselor, subsequently removed him from that group and assigned him to an outpatient treatment group in Roxborough, Pennsylvania. (Compl. at 3.) Dade was assigned a new counselor, Drummond, who accused him of noncompliance with "Sutton['s] recommendations and group registration at treatment in Roxborough." ( Id. ) He was thereafter assigned to outpatient therapy at the "JFK" treatment center in Philadelphia. ( Id. ) Plaintiff avers that he complained to Holmes about the "constant harassment and false accusations." ( Id. at 5.) When she responded unfavorably, he appealed and "was denied" by O'Connor. ( Id. )
Based on the above, Dade alleges that defendants "[c]onstantly den[ied] and delay[ed his] prescribed treatments for several weeks" and that he "was not allowed to see any psychiatrist/psychologist, nor receive refills of prescribed medications." ( Id. at 3.) He also avers that Gaudenzia "staff members" released confidential health information to unauthorized family members. ( Id. )
A. Legal Standard
In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), courts must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). But "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to be plausible on its face. Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"; a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully is not sufficient. Id.
Thus, the Third Circuit has developed a three-step approach. "First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Since Dade is proceeding pro se, I construe his pleading liberally - his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Defendants argue that plaintiff cannot maintain a § 1983 claim based on rights secured by HIPAA because HIPAA does not allow for a private right of action. With respect to the Eighth Amendment claim, defendants raise three arguments. First, all defendants argue that Dade has failed to allege sufficiently egregious conduct to constitute a deprivation of Eighth Amendment rights. Second, Gaudenzia argues that it is not liable because Dade does not allege a policy or custom that caused the constitutional violation. Third, each individual defendant moves for dismissal on the basis that Dade has not adequately specified his or her role in the deprivation.
i. No private right of action based on HIPAA
"While the Third Circuit has not specifically addressed the issue whether there is an express or implied private right of action under HIPAA, several other federal courts have held that there is no such right." Rigaud v. Garofalo, No. 04-1866, 2005 WL 1030196, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 2, 2005) (collecting cases). But "the question whether a statutory violation may be enforced through § 1983 is a different inquiry from that involved in determining whether a private right of action can be implied from a particular statute." Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 274 (2002). Nevertheless, "both inquiries have the same first step: determining whether a statute creates a private right." Adams v. Eureka Fire Prot. Dist., 352 F.Appx. 137, 138 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing Gonzaga, 536 U.S. at 285). The Eight Circuit in Adams pointed out that "[c]ourts have repeatedly held that HIPAA does not create a private right...." Id. at 138-39 (collecting cases). "Since HIPAA does not create ...