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From Health Law Daily, March 12, 2014

Court lacked jurisdiction to review ALJ’s administrative remand of medical record discovery matter

By Harold M. Bishop, JD

A decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ) to remand a workers’ compensation claim to a District Director, due to the claimant’s refusal to sign a medical release form, could not be reviewed by a federal district court. The ALJ did not certify the facts to the district court, a requirement for federal subject matter jurisdiction, and was within his discretion not to do so. The proper remedy for the injured worker is administrative appeal of the ALJ’s remand order (Washington v SSA Cooper, LLCMarch 10, 2014, Gergel, R).

Background. Anthony Washington (Washington) filed a claim for worker's compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) against his employer, SSA Cooper, LLC and its insurer Homeport Insurance Co. (collectively “Cooper”). The ALJ assigned to Washington's case ordered that Washington sign a medical release giving employer's counsel “unfettered access” to his medical records and treating physicians. When Washington refused to comply, the ALJ remanded the case administratively to the District Director until Washington and his attorney complied with his discovery orders.

In his federal complaint to the district court, Washington contends that the ALJ's orders to release medical information were unlawful violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) (P.L. 104-191) and the remand of the case to a District Director amounted to a sanction, which the ALJ lacked the power to impose. Washington also contends that the ALJ has refused to perform his mandatory legal duties and asks the district court for a writ of mandamus to compel the ALJ to rule on the matters properly before him within a reasonable time.

Cooper moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. A Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

LHWCA claims. Workers’ compensation claims under the LHWCA are not directly reviewed by district courts, but are adjudicated in the first instance by an ALJ, appealed to the Benefits Review Board (BRB), and then appealed to the appropriate United States Circuit Court of Appeals (33 U.S.C. sec. 921). However, 33 U.S.C. sec. 927(b), at issue here, gives the district court jurisdiction to punish as contempt of court any disobedience or resistance to a lawful order or process issued in the course of administrative proceedings under the LHWCA if the ALJ or BRB certifies the facts to the district court. As such, the court agreed with and adopted the Magistrate Judge's finding that jurisdiction is lacking under sec. 927(b) because neither the ALJ nor the BRB has certified facts to the district court.

Writ of mandamus. The federal district courts have original jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States, or any agency thereof, to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff (28 U.S.C. sec. 1361). Washington requests a writ requiring the ALJ to: (1) certify facts concerning Washington's noncompliance with pre-hearing orders to the district court; (2) rule on Washington's motion to reconsider the ALJ orders; and (3) proceed with the underlying compensation claim itself.

The district court found no authority for the proposition that Washington may compel the ALJ to certify facts or that the ALJ has a duty to certify facts when faced with a disobedient party. An ALJ’s decision to certify facts is discretionary. The court found that the ALJ acted within his discretion and, as such, it lacked jurisdiction over the request for a writ of mandamus. Washington’s remedy, according to the court, is to appeal the ALJ orders to the BRB.

The case number is 2:13-cv-393-RMG.

Attorneys: Malcolm M. Crosland, Jr. (Steinberg Law Firm) for Anthony Washington. Richard Patrick Salloum (Franke and Salloum) and Stephen Edward Darling (Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd) for SSA Cooper LLC and Homeport Ins. Co.

Companies: SSA Cooper LLC; Homeport Ins. Co.

MainStory: TopStory CaseDecisions HIPAANews EmploymentNews

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