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Suesbury v. Caceres

January 22, 2004

ERNEST C. SUESBURY, APPELLANT,
v.
CESAR A. CACERES, M.D., ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-3422-01) (Hon. Joan Zeldon, Trial Judge)

Before Steadman, Farrell and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge

Argued November 8, 2002

Ernest C. Suesbury ("Suesbury") was diagnosed with the HIV virus. Cesar A. Caceres, M.D. ("Caceres"), a principal in the medical office of Cesar Caceres, M.D., P.C., was Suesbury's treating physician, and, as such, was privy to Suesbury's HIV status. Suesbury sought treatment from Caceres for unrelated injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Alfred Muller, M.D. ("Muller"), another physician in Caceres' medical office, treated Suesbury during that office visit, in the course of which Suesbury mentioned his HIV condition and a T-cell reading of 700. Suesbury later alleged to Caceres that Muller molested him during this office visit. Following their conversation, Caceres wrote a memorandum to Muller in which he not only discussed Suesbury's allegation, but also indicated that Suesbury was HIV-positive and that Suesbury's T-cell count was 600.

When he learned of this communication by Caceres to Muller, Suesbury filed suit against Caceres and his medical office, claiming breach of the confidential physician-patient relationship and related torts. Appellees Caceres and his medical office moved for summary judgment. The trial court ruled that, on the undisputed facts, appellees had not breached the confidential relationship and granted the motion. We affirm.

I. Facts

Caceres practices as an internist and maintains a medical office in Washington, D.C. In 1988, Caceres hired Muller, a board certified internist, to work at his medical office. Caceres first examined appellant on January 15, 1988. Suesbury informed Caceres that he was HIV-positive, a fact that was then noted in Suesbury's medical chart. On May 26, 1992, Suesbury returned to Caceres' medical office for an examination and for treatment of injuries suffered during an automobile accident. Because Caceres was unavailable, Muller examined Suesbury.

Prior to examining Suesbury, Muller reviewed Suesbury's chart and learned that he suffered from HIV. Suesbury, during his examination, also disclosed to Muller that he was HIV-positive and that his T-cell count was 700.

Suesbury alleged in his complaint that, during this May 26, 1992 examination, Muller sexually molested him. Following that examination, Suesbury, apparently by telephone and in writing, communicated his allegation to Caceres. Caceres indicated that he would investigate the matter and report back to Suesbury. In a memorandum dated September 2, 1992, Caceres told Muller:

The message attached is from a patient that called to say that he had been massaged and molested sexually during his visit of 5-26.

I indicated no similar complaint had come thru regarding any other patient seen but would discuss it with you, and call him back. He says he had spoken to a social worker regarding the situation but had decided not to take the matter further. But I was not able to understand fully why he was calling now or whether he wanted some action taken.

I do not recall the patient since he had been here only in 1988. His reference tho, I think, (Mr. Hooker), had been in several times but I would have to look this up.

PT HIV status was in Jan of 88 so I would assume that altho his T 4s are 600 according to his report (NIH) he should be getting to some point at ...


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