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Demarco v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 19, 2019

BETTY LOU DEMARCO, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG HOSPITAL AUTHORITY d/b/a CAROLINAS HEALTHCARE SYSTEM, CAROLINAS PHYSICIANS NETWORK, INC. d/b/a CABARRUS FAMILY MEDICINE, P.A., and CABARRUS FAMILY MEDICINE-HARRISBURG, CAROLINAS MEDICAL CENTER-NORTHEAST d/b/a NORTHEAST WOMEN'S HEALTH & OBSTETRICS, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 October 2019

          Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 7 January 2019 by Judge Adam M. Conrad in Mecklenburg County Superior Court No. 18 CVS 5560.

          Stubbs & Perdue, P.A., by Matthew W. Buckmiller and Joseph Z. Frost, for plaintiff.

          Alston & Bird, LLP, by Brian D. Boone, Michael R. Hoernlein, and Rebecca L. Gauthier, for defendants.

          ARROWOOD, JUDGE.

         Betty Lou Demarco ("plaintiff") appeals from order granting motion of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, Carolinas Physicians Network, Inc., and Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast ("defendants") to dismiss plaintiff's claims with prejudice pursuant to N.C. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (2019). For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I. Background

         This case arises from an error in plaintiff's medical records. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she is a 76-year-old woman who receives disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Worker's Compensation Programs ("OWCP"). Under OWCP policy, plaintiff is required to undergo annual medical evaluations which are sent by plaintiff's doctors to OWCP. In preparation for an upcoming medical evaluation, plaintiff requested a copy of her medical record from her previous annual evaluation from Dr. Katherine Foster ("Dr. Foster"), an employee of defendants. One document in plaintiff's medical record, titled "Problem List," catalogues instances in which her attending physicians have recorded her various ailments over time, along with information concerning when the problem was last updated and whether or not it is ongoing or resolved.

         Upon receipt of her medical record, plaintiff discovered erroneous entries in the Problem List. The Problem List contained two entries ("the erroneous entries") created in 2011 by Dr. Linda Bresnahan ("Dr. Bresnahan"), an employee of defendants Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority and Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast. The erroneous entries indicated that plaintiff had been diagnosed with "gonococcal infection (acute) of lower genitourinary tract" and "gonorrhea" in 2011, which were "resolved" in January of 2016. Plaintiff has neither been diagnosed with nor treated for any sexually transmitted disease in her lifetime.

         Plaintiff contacted Dr. Bresnahan to address the erroneous entries, and Dr. Bresnahan admitted that they had been "added to [her] chart erroneously in Dec[.] 2011[, ]" "found no reason" why they were entered, and had no explanation for how the erroneous entries had been added to her medical record. To address this mistake, Dr. Bresnahan amended the Problem List for the erroneous entries by adding language reflecting that the diagnoses had been "canceled" and "entered in error" (hereinafter "the annotated entries").

         Thereafter, plaintiff repeatedly insisted that this solution was insufficient and, per defendants' privacy policy and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 ("HIPAA") regulations, requested an amendment of her medical record to completely erase the annotated entries from her medical record. Defendants deemed their response sufficient to address the problem and took no further action to change the Problem List in plaintiff's medical record.[1] In January of 2018, Dr. Foster conducted plaintiff's annual medical evaluation for submission to OWCP. Dr. Foster sent OWCP the medical evaluation along with the rest of plaintiff's medical record, including the annotated entries.

         Defendants' refusal to comply with plaintiff's request to completely erase the annotated entries from her medical record led plaintiff to file her complaint in the instant case, asserting claims of negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. Defendants responded by moving to dismiss the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, pursuant to N.C. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A hearing on this motion was held at the 6 November 2018 civil session of Mecklenburg County Superior Court. The trial court entered an order granting defendants' motion, and this appeal followed.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in dismissing her claims of negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[2] We address each argument in turn.

         A. Standard of Review

         "We review appeals from dismissals under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo." Arnesen v. Rivers Edge Golf Club & Plantation, Inc., 368 N.C. 440, 448, 781 S.E.2d 1, 8 (2015) (citations omitted).

Dismissal of an action under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate when the complaint fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [T]he well-pleaded material allegations of the complaint are taken as true; but conclusions of law or unwarranted deductions of fact are not admitted. When the complaint on its face reveals that no law supports the claim, reveals an absence of facts sufficient to ...

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