The November 2014 ruling in the Connecticut Supreme Court in the case of Byrne v. Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C., — A.3d —-, 2014, WL 5507439 (2014) (the “Byrne case”) has been discussed in a number of posts on this blog, including those here and here. The main focus of such posts has been the Byrne case’s recognition of potential use of HIPAA’s requirements as a standard of care in a state breach of privacy lawsuit, even though an individual cannot sue under HIPAA itself. In those earlier blog entries, we observed that the Connecticut case may spawn copycat lawsuits using HIPAA the same way for state breaches of privacy, negligence and other causes of action.

This blog entry will focus more on facts of the Byrne case and some of their implications for individual health information (“IHI”) privacy in the context of domestic relations – both in the divorce or legal separation context and even in a less confrontational domestic environment. In the divorce or breakup context, consideration should be given to privacy issues of IHI in settlement agreements and divorce decrees. While settlement agreements and divorce decrees often address healthcare and health insurance issues, especially where there are custodial children involved, addressing IHI issues is much less common.

The Byrne Case

We recently co-authored an article entitled “Utilizing HIPAA as a Basis for State Negligence Actions” that was first published in Volume 11 Issue 12 of Data Protection Law & Policy (December 2014). The article, which may be found here, focused more on the facts of the Byrne case than our earlier blog posts and illustrates how IHI issues may infiltrate the break-up of domestic relationships. Among other things, the plaintiff in the Byrne case complained that, upon the end of her five month relationship with an individual (the “Individual”), she instructed the defendant physician practice group (the “Group”), as permitted under the Notice of Privacy Practices (“NPP”) of the Group, not to release her medical records to the Individual. Thereafter, the Group was allegedly served with a subpoena requesting its presence, together with the plaintiff’s medical records, at a court proceeding. The Group apparently did not alert the plaintiff of the subpoena, file a motion to quash it or appear in court, but rather mailed a copy of the plaintiff’s medical file to the court. The Individual later allegedly informed the plaintiff by telephone that he had reviewed the plaintiff’s medical file in the court file.

(Part II of this series on privacy of health information in the domestic relations context will be posted shortly.)