December 19, 2017
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CAB-6448-16) (Hon. Jeanette J. Clark, Trial Judge)
Jonathan B. Nace for appellant.
Nichole Nesbitt for appellee.
Glickman, Thompson, and McLeese, Associate Judges.
MCLEESE, ASSOCIATE JUDGE
Jessica Velcoff, Ph.D., brought this action against MedStar
Health, Inc., alleging that MedStar unlawfully disclosed her
sensitive mental-health information. Dr. Velcoff appeals the
trial court's dismissal of the complaint for failure to
state a claim. We vacate the trial court's decision and
remand for further proceedings.
complaint alleges the following. Dr. Velcoff suffered
life-threatening injuries in a work-related car collision.
She was admitted to National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH),
which is owned and operated by MedStar, for treatment that
included psychological treatment. She submitted a claim for
workers' compensation benefits. At some point during her
inpatient treatment, she was told that "workers'
comp was the client, not you." After she was discharged,
she continued outpatient psychological treatment with an NRH
clinical psychologist. During her treatment, MedStar gave her
information would be kept confidential and disclosed only as
required by law.
connection with her treatment, Dr. Velcoff shared personal
and confidential information with her psychologist, unrelated
to the processing of any workers' compensation claim.
When her psychologist began questioning her on topics similar
to those asked by her workers' compensation insurance
company, Dr. Velcoff became concerned that her psychologist
was not protecting her confidential information. When Dr.
Velcoff asked what her psychologist had shared with the
insurance company, her psychologist acknowledged having
"shared everything." At this point, Dr. Velcoff
stopped treatment with NRH's psychology department. Dr.
Velcoff ordered a copy of her records, which confirmed that
her psychologist had shared Dr. Velcoff s treatment file,
including detailed notes of her sessions, with the insurance
company, without Dr. Velcoff s consent.
complaint alleges that MedStar violated the District of
Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), D.C. Code
§ 28-3901 et seq. (2013 Repl. & 2017 Cum.
Supp.). Under the CPPA, "[a] consumer may bring an
action seeking relief from the use of a trade practice in
violation of a law of the District." D.C. Code §
28-3905 (k)(1)(A). Illegal trade practices include
"representing] that . . . services . . . have
characteristics . . . that they do not have";
"misrepresenting] as to a material fact which has a
tendency to mislead"; or "fail[ing] to state a
material fact if such failure tends to mislead." D.C.
Code § 28-3904 (a), (e), (f). The complaint alleges that
MedStar committed illegal trade practices in violation of the
CPPA by breaking its promise to protect Dr. Velcoff s
confidential mental-health information except as required by
law. The complaint also alleges that MedStar violated the
CPPA by disclosing Dr. Velcoff s mental-health information in
violation of the D.C. Mental Health Information Act (MHIA),
D.C. Code § 7-1201.01 et seq. (2018 Repl).
MHIA prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of mental-health
information. D.C. Code § 7-1201.02. Under the MHIA, the
following mental-health information may in some circumstances
be disclosed to third-party payors: "(1) Administrative
information; (2) Diagnostic information; (3) The status of
the client (voluntary or involuntary); (4) The reason for
admission or continuing treatment; and (5) A prognosis
limited to the estimated time during which treatment might
continue." D.C. Code § 7-1202.07 (a); see
also D.C. Code § 7-1201.01 (15) (defining
"[t]hird-party payor" as "any person who
provides . . . medical . . . benefits whether on an
indemnity, reimbursement, service or prepaid basis,
including, but not limited to, insurance carriers,
governmental agencies and employers"). Disclosure under
this provision requires the client's written
authorization or consent. D.C. Code §§ 7-1202.02
(a), -1202.07 (a).
MHIA provides additional protection to "personal notes
regarding a client." D.C. Code § 7-1201.03.
such personal notes shall not be maintained as a part of the
client's record of mental health information.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, access
to such personal notes shall be strictly and absolutely
limited to the mental health professional and shall not be
disclosed except to the degree that the personal notes or the
information contained therein are needed in litigation
brought by the client against the mental ...