Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Action Against Healthcare Provider but Cautions Careful Review of TCPA Exemptions

By: Joseph C. Wylie II, Molly K. McGinley, Nicole C. Mueller

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently determined that a flu shot reminder text message sent by a hospital is not an “advertisement” for purposes of the level of consent required under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227(b) (the “TCPA”).  In issuing its ruling in Latner v. Mt. Sinai, No. 17-99 (2d Cir. Jan. 3, 2018), the Second Circuit gave effect to the FCC’s “Healthcare Exception,” which holds that “a ‘health care’ message” sent by a HIPAA “covered entity” does not require prior express written consent.

Plaintiff David Latner visited a Mt. Sinai medical facility in 2003, where he signed release forms granting consent to Mt. Sinai to use his health information “for payment, treatment and hospital operations purposes.”  On September 19, 2014, Mr. Latner received a single text message sent on behalf of Mt. Sinai by a third party encouraging him to schedule an appointment to obtain a flu shot.  Mt. Sinai stated that it sent flu shot reminder texts to all active patients of the facility Mr. Latner visited the office within three years prior to the date of the texts.  Mr. Latner’s last visit fell within that timeline.  Mr. Latner filed a lawsuit, alleging that Mt. Sinai violated 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), which prohibits anyone from making any call (including text messages) using any automatic telephone dialing system or prerecorded voice to a cellular telephone service without prior written express consent.  The District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Mt. Sinai’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the case on the ground that the FCC has exempted healthcare providers from being required to obtain written consent prior to making calls that deliver a healthcare message.

Though it affirmed the lower court’s ultimate decision, the Second Circuit determined that the “analysis was incomplete” because it had not determined whether Mr. Latner had provided his prior express consent to receive text messages sent on behalf of Mt. Sinai.  Considering the facts of the situation, the Second Circuit determined that the text message fell within the scope of consent that Mr. Latner had previously granted to Mt. Sinai, where the consent form included a reference to Mt. Sinai sharing his information for “treatment” purposes, and the privacy notices stated that the facility could use Mr. Latner’s information “to recommend possible treatment alternatives or health-related benefits and services.”

This opinion illustrates the care callers must employ in drafting its privacy and consent notices as they relate to patients receiving calls or messages, even where the message relates to treatment provided by a healthcare provider.

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