Fort Wayne Women’s Health v. Health Commissioner, Fort Wayne-Allen County Department Of Health
A case challenging a county ordinance that allows for increased government access to confidential patient records and imposes a special set of stringent requirements on doctors who practice in Fort Wayne-Allen County, but live outside of the area and do not have privileges to admit patients at local hospitals. After a favorable ruling on preliminary motions, the parties settled the case.
Filing Date: 05/28/2010
State: Indiana, USA
Plaintiff(s): Fort Wayne Women’s Health, Dr. Ulrich Klopfer
Center Attorney(s): Suzanne Novak
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Kenneth Falk, ACLU of Indiana
Summary: On May 28, 2010, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Indiana filed suit on behalf of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer, an abortion provider at Fort Wayne Women’s Health, against a county ordinance that imposes a special set of stringent requirements on doctors who practice in Fort Wayne-Allen County, but live outside of the area and do not have privileges to admit patients at local hospitals. On June 25, following the filing of the lawsuit, the ordinance was amended.
The amended Ordinance requires, among other things, that such doctors secure a “physician designee” and provide various officials and a wide range of entities with physician identifying information, as well as around-the-clock contact information. This information is not required to be kept confidential, despite the fact that abortion providers and patients are frequently harassed. In addition, if a complaint about a physician regulated by the Ordinance is made, the Ordinance then requires the Allen County Health Officer to review certain patient records kept by the physician and, in some circumstances, permits the Health Officer to pass along patient-identifying information to third parties.
CRR challenged the ordinance on the grounds that the Board of Commissioners, in passing the Ordinance, exceeded its authority under state law, since it attempts to regulate an area that Indiana law requires to be regulated at a state level. Moreover, it violates the constitutional rights of physicians and patients under both the Indiana and United States Constitutions by subjecting regulated physicians to unwarranted searches and seizures and by allowing the County Health Officer access to patients’ medical files whenever.
CRR filed a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of the plaintiffs, asking the court to block enforcement of the ordinance until the case is resolved, and the defendant filed a motion to dismiss. On August 9, 2010, Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr. held a hearing on those motions. Following the hearing, Judge Miller issued an order denying the motion to dismiss and upholding the ordinance, but blocked enforcement of provisions that threatened to undermine patient confidentiality. This ruling was a significant victory for patient privacy.
The parties settled the case, a Stipulation dismissing the case was filed on March 3, 2011. Pursuant to the settlement, patient confidentiality will be protected. Although patients will sign acknowledgements of receipt of emergency contact information, which will be kept in patient files, County officials will not be able to subpoena review or otherwise access those documents, absent written permission by the patient.