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U.S. Court In Florida Says Billing Collection Practices Do Not Constitute A Violation Of EMTALA


HLD, v. 33, n. 10 (October 2005)

U.S. Court In Florida Says Billing Collection Practices Do Not Constitute A Violation Of EMTALA


The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida dismissed a class action against a purported charitable hospital finding that the plaintiff failed to establish federal question jurisdiction under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) or the hospital's � 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.


Plaintiff Wayne Nash brought this claim alleging that Lee Memorial Hospital engaged in aggressive and harmful billing collection practices stemming from emergency medical treatment he received after breaking his leg in a boating accident.  


Recognizing that this was one of many class actions filed nationwide on behalf of uninsured patients alleging that charitable hospitals breach implied contracts with the government by engaging in practices prejudicial to those with limited means, the court said it would follow the uniform holdings of other courts in finding that plaintiff lacked standing.


"The plain language of Section 501 (c)(3) lacks an indication that Congress intended to create a contract between the United States and the entity upon which tax-exempt status is conferred," found the court.


Even if a contract existed, the court said the plaintiff would still lack standing as a beneficiary of the contract since 501(c)(3) had no express private right of action nor did the court see any reason to imply one.      


The court next found plaintiff's EMTALA claims were time-barred under the two-year statute of limitations periods. After noting that EMTALA provides a private right of action for those individuals who suffer "personal harm," the court rejected plaintiff's argument that the hospital's billing collection activity could toll the limitations period or even constitute a violation of EMTALA in the first place.


Even if the action was not time-barred, the court said it would still dismiss the action since plaintiff had failed to allege that he suffered a "personal harm" that could be compensated under Florida law as a "personal injury."      


The court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the pendant state law claims, dismissing them without prejudice for reassertion in state court.


Nash v. Lee Mem'l Health Sys., No. 204CV369FTM29DNF (M.D. Fla. Aug. 25, 2005).

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