Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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When Plaintiff-appellant Linda Smith purchased a prescribed continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) and its necessary supplies between 2016 and 2018, she sought reimbursement through Medicare Part B. Medicare administrators denied her claims. Relying on a 2017 ruling issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare concluded Smith’s CGM was not “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose” and therefore was not covered by Part B. Smith appealed the denial of her reimbursement claims through the multistage Medicare claims review process. At each stage, her claims were denied. Smith then sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in federal court, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Contending that her CGM and supplies satisfied the requirements for Medicare coverage. Instead of asking the court to uphold the denial of Smith’s claims, the Secretary admitted that Smith’s claims should have been covered and that the agency erred by denying her claims. Rather than accept the Secretary’s admission, Smith argued that the Secretary only admitted error to avoid judicial review of the legality of the 2017 ruling. During Smith’s litigation, CMS changed its Medicare coverage policy for CGMs. Prompted by several adverse district court rulings, CMS promulgated a formal rule in December 2021 classifying CGMs as durable medical equipment covered by Part B. But the rule applied only to claims for equipment received after February 28, 2022, so pending claims for equipment received prior to that date were not covered by the new rule. Considering the new rule and the Secretary’s confession of error, the district court in January 2022 remanded the case to the Secretary with instructions to pay Smith’s claims. The district court did not rule on Smith’s pending motions regarding her equitable relief claims; instead, the court denied them as moot. Smith appealed, arguing her equitable claims were justiciable because the 2017 ruling had not been fully rescinded. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Secretary that Smith’s claims were moot: taken together, the December 2021 final rule and the 2022 CMS ruling that pending and future claims for CGMs would be covered by Medicare deprived the Tenth Circuit jurisdiction for further review. View "Smith v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Three teaching hospitals challenged the denial of Medicare reimbursements. At that time, a teaching hospital could obtain reimbursement only by incurring “substantially all” of a resident’s training costs. Because the teaching hospitals had shared the training costs for each resident, the government denied reimbursement. The denials led the teaching hospitals to file administrative appeals. While they were pending, Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which created a new standard for reimbursement. The parties disagreed on whether the ACA’s new standard applied to proceedings reopened when Congress changed the law. The agency answered no, and the district court granted summary judgment to the agency. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "St. Francis Hospital, et al. v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Adam Hemmelgarn moved for compassionate release, based on an outbreak of COVID-19 at FCI Lompoc. The district court denied his motion, as well as his subsequent motion for reconsideration. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding Hemmelgarn had not established extraordinary and compelling reasons in support of a sentence reduction because of his health conditions or the risk of exposure to COVID-19. View "United States v. Hemmelgarn" on Justia Law

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At the time this appeal was initiated, Jason Brooks was a Colorado-state inmate serving a lengthy prison sentence for securities fraud. Brooks had an extreme and incurable case of ulcerative colitis: even when his disease was well treated, Brooks suffered from frequent, unpredictable fecal incontinence. This case involved the Colorado Department of Corrections’s (“CDOC”) efforts, or lack thereof, to deal with the impact of Brooks’s condition on his ability to access the prison cafeteria. Specifically, the issues presented centered on whether the district court erred when it concluded: (1) Brooks’s Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim for damages failed because the CDOC’s offer to provide Brooks with adult diapers was a reasonable accommodation of Brooks’s disability; and (2) Brooks’s Eighth Amendment claim against ADA Inmate Coordinator Julie Russell failed because the decision not to access the cafeteria with the use of adult diapers was Brooks’s alone. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the district court erred in its treatment of Brooks’s ADA claim for damages. "A reasonable juror could conclude the offer of adult diapers was not a reasonable accommodation of Brooks’s disability. Thus, at least as to the question of the reasonableness of the proposed accommodation, the district court erred in granting CDOC summary judgment on Brooks’s ADA claim for damages." On the other hand, the Court concluded the district court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of Russell on Brooks’s Eighth Amendment claim: "the record is devoid of sufficient evidence for a jury to find Russell acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind—deliberate indifference to Brooks’s ability to access food—when she declined Brooks’s request for a movement pass." Accordingly, the Court dismissed in part, reversed in part, and remanded this matter to the district court for further proceedings. View "Brooks v. CDOC, et al." on Justia Law

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Wichita pharmacist Ebube Otuonye (defendant) filled prescriptions written by Dr. Steven Henson for opioids and other controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) became suspicious of Dr. Henson’s prescriptions and investigated him, which led them to Defendant Otuonye. Based on the results of the DEA’s investigation, Otuonye was indicted for conspiring to unlawfully distribute controlled substances; unlawfully distributing controlled substances; and Medicare and Medicaid fraud. A jury convicted Otuonye on all four counts. The district court imposed a 150-month concurrent prison sentence. Otuonye raised seven issues on appeal: five challenged the admission of evidence; the sixth challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for all four convictions; and in the last, Otuonye argued the district court committed procedural error by miscalculating his sentencing guidelines range. Finding none of these challenges availing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Otuonye" on Justia Law

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Shawna Tanner, the plaintiff below, appealed an adverse ruling on summary judgment. Tanner was approximately 35 weeks pregnant and in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County, New Mexico when she went into the final stages of her pregnancy. Over the ensuing thirty hours, commencing with the point at which her water broke, Appellees—employees of a nationwide private medical contractor—ignored and minimized her symptoms, refused to transport her to a hospital, and failed to conduct even a cursory pelvic examination. Only minimal attention was given to her: water, Tylenol, and sanitary pads. After thirty hours of pain and trauma, Tanner gave birth to her son. The child was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He was not breathing. He had no pulse. This appeal considered whether full-time employees of a for-profit, multi-state corporation organized to provide contract medical care in detention facilities may assert a qualified immunity defense to shield themselves from 42 U.S.C. 1983 liability. The Tenth Circuit found neither historical justifications of special government immunity nor modern policy considerations supported the extension of a qualified immunity defense to Appellees. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Tanner v. McMurray" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the tragic death of 21-year-old Madison Jensen while in custody of the Duchesne County Jail. Jensen was arrested after her father alerted law enforcement to her drug use and possession of drug paraphernalia. Her estate brought this action for deprivation of civil rights under color of state law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the county and qualified immunity to jail supervisors and staff, but denied qualified immunity to jail medical personnel, Defendants-Appellants (Nurse) Jana Clyde and Dr. Kennon Tubbs. The district court held that genuine issues of material fact precluded qualified immunity on the Estate’s claims of: (1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Nurse Clyde; and (2) supervisory liability against Dr. Tubbs. The Tenth Circuit ultimately concluded that when an individual’s sole purpose was “to serve as a gatekeeper for other medical personnel,” and that person delays or refuses to fulfill the gatekeeper role, he may be liable for deliberate indifference. Clyde was the gatekeeper in this case, and she failed to fulfill that role when she chose to give Jensen Gatorade instead of calling Dr. Tubbs or PA Clark. Accordingly, Clyde was given sufficient notice that what she was doing violated Jensen’s rights to medical care. The Court affirmed as to Clyde and reversed as to Dr. Tubbs. View "Estate of Madison Jody Jensen v. Clyde" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Christina Smith was the mother of Joshua England. Her claims arose from the death of England from a ruptured appendix in May 2018, while England was housed at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center (JHCC), an Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) facility in Lexington, Oklahoma. England was a 21-year-old prisoner at JHCC who was a few months away from release when he submitted multiple sick call requests. At the fifth such request, England complained his stomach hurt and he was short of breath. Unable to bear the pain while waiting at the clinic, England died in his cell from a ruptured appendix with acute peritonitis. Defendants-Appellants Joe Allbaugh, the Director of the Department of Corrections at the time this claim arose, and Carl Bear, the Warden of Joseph Harp Correctional Center (collectively, Defendants) appealed the district court’s order denying their motion to dismiss Smith's subsequent lawsuit relating to England's death on grounds of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding Smith alleged only that JHCC medical staff failed to follow procedure, not that Defendants failed to enforce those policies. Furthermore, the Court determined Smith failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to support deliberate indifference on the part of these defendants. Likewise, Smith failed to sufficiently plead Defendants improperly hired, supervised, and retained certain medical staff employees. View "Smith v. Allbaugh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Amber Brooks and Jamie Gale brought tort claims based on injuries they sustained when their breast implants began to deteriorate. The district court found they failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and dismissed their complaint with prejudice. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that though Congress heavily regulated the production and use of medical devices, there was a narrow preemption by which plaintiffs could plead their claim arising from the failure of that medical device. They also alleged the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion for leave to amend their complaint. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that federal law preempted all of plaintiffs' claims, and any any state-law claims were insufficiently pled. With respect to the trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice, the Tenth Circuit determined plaintiffs elected to "stand by their 'primary position,' and took no available avenue to amend their complaint. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit declined to grant their request now, and found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Plaintiffs' request for leave to amend. View "Brooks v. Mentor Worldwide" on Justia Law

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Martin Crowson was an inmate at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility (the “Jail”) when he began suffering from symptoms of toxic metabolic encephalopathy. Nurse Michael Johnson and Dr. Judd LaRowe, two of the medical staff members responsible for Crowson’s care, wrongly concluded Crowson was experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawal. On the seventh day of medical observation, Crowson’s condition deteriorated and he was transported to the hospital, where he was accurately diagnosed. After Crowson recovered, he sued Johnson, LaRowe, and Washington County under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court denied motions for summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity by Johnson and LaRowe, concluding a reasonable jury could find both were deliberately indifferent to Crowson’s serious medical needs, and that it was clearly established their conduct amounted to a constitutional violation. The district court also denied the County’s motion for summary judgment, concluding a reasonable jury could find the treatment failures were an obvious consequence of the County’s reliance on LaRowe’s infrequent visits to the Jail and the County’s lack of written protocols for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating inmates. Johnson, LaRowe, and the County filed consolidated interlocutory appeals, raising threshold questions of jurisdiction. Johnson and LaRowe challenged the denial of qualified immunity, while the County contended the Tenth Circuit should exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of its summary judgment motion. The Tenth Circuit exercised limited jurisdiction over Johnson’s and LaRowe’s appeals pursuant to the exception to 28 U.S.C. 1291, carved out for purely legal issues of qualified immunity through the collateral order doctrine. The Court held Johnson’s conduct did not violate Crowson’s rights and, assuming without deciding LaRowe’s conduct did, the Court concluded LaRowe’s conduct did not violate any clearly established rights. The Court's holding was "inextricably intertwined with the County’s liability on a failure-to-train theory," so the Court exercised pendent appellate jurisdiction to the extent Crowson’s claims against the County rested on that theory. However, under Tenth Circuit binding precedent, the Court's holdings on the individual defendants’ appeals were not inextricably intertwined with Crowson’s claims against the County to the extent he advanced a systemic failure theory. The district court's denial of summary judgment to Johnson, LaRowe, and the County on the failure-to-train theory was reversed, and the remainder of the County’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Crowson v. Washington County State, Utah" on Justia Law