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No Private Cause of Action Under HIPAA, but Possible Cause of Action for 14th Amendment Violation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that there is no private cause of action in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to address improper disclosures of protected health information; however, the ruling suggests there is potentially a cause of action under the 14th amendment when an individual’s privacy is violated.

The case, Payne v. Taslimi, named Christopher N. Payne as plaintiff and Jahal Taslimi as the defendant. Payne was a Deep Meadow Correctional Center inmate and Taslimi a prison doctor. Payne took legal action against Taslimi over an alleged improper disclosure of his confidential medical information. Payne alleged Taslimi had approached his bed and stated in a voice loud enough for others to hear that the plaintiff had not taken his HIV medication. Payne alleged staff members, other inmates, and civilians had heard the doctor.

In the lawsuit, Payne claimed his medical records were confidential and his HIPAA rights had been violated at Deep Meadow Correctional Center by Taslimi, as well as his right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. The district court dismissed Payne’s claims, but the decision was appealed.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court and confirmed there was no private cause of action under HIPAA. The court also affirmed the decision of the district court to dismiss the claim of a violation of the 14th Amendment.

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In the decision, the Court of Appeals said the violation of the 14th Amendment hinged on whether Payne had “a reasonable expectation of privacy” with regards to information about his HIV medications. Since Payne was a Deep Meadow Correctional Center prisoner, the court ruled that Payne lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning his diagnosis and treatment plan, especially since the information was about a communicable disease.

The court ruled that the test in such cases is whether there is a compelling government interest that outweighs the plaintiff’s privacy interest. The ruling suggests there may be a cause of action under the 14th Amendment where there has been a disclosure of private medical information and no compelling government interest.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.