Applicability of AMLA – Transfer of Venue

Ex parte Chin, M.D. and Sportsmed Orthopedic Specialists, P.C., [Ms. 1210175, May 5, 2023] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2023). In a plurality opinion, the Court (Parker, C.J.; Mitchell, J., concurs specially; Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur in the result; Cook, J., dissents) denies a mandamus petition filed by Victor Chin, M.D., and Sportsmed Orthopedic Specialists, P.C. (collectively “Sportsmed Defendants”) seeking to vacate the Jefferson Circuit Court’s denial of their motion to transfer venue to Madison County.

Dr. Chin treated Malik Woodard in Madison County for pain management following a workplace accident. At the initial appointment, Dr. Chin asked Woodard for consent to obtain his psychological records. Although Woodard declined to consent, the complaint alleged that “Dr. Chin later sought and obtained the psychological records from a medical-case manager who had been retained by Woodard’s employer’s workers’ compensation insurer.” Ms. *4.

The Sportsmed Defendants argued mandamus should issue because § 6-5-546, Ala. Code 1975, of the AMLA requires that “any action for injury or damages … against a health care provider based on a breach of the standard of care ... be brought in the county wherein ... the alleged breach ... occurred.” Regarding applicability of the AMLA, the main opinion explains:

AMLA applies to claims (1) against a health-care provider (2) for “medical injury” (3) based on a breach of the standard of care. See §§ 6-5- 540, -543(a), -544(a), -546, -548(a), (d), -549, -550, -551; Ex parte Vanderwall, 201 So. 3d 525, 537 (Ala. 2015); Ex parte Addiction & Mental Health Servs., Inc., 948 So. 2d 533, 535-36 (Ala. 2006); Jenelle Mims Marsh, Alabama Law of Damages § 36:45, at 948-49 (6th ed. 2012). “Medical injury” is harm that occurs “because of the provision of medical services,” Vanderwall, 201 So. 3d at 537-38 (emphasis omitted). “Medical services,” in turn, are conduct that the health-care provider has a “therapeutic or medical reason,” id. at 538, for engaging in.

Ms. **6-7.

In resolving the factual question of whether Dr. Chin had a therapeutic or medical reason for obtaining Woodard’s psychological records, the main opinion concludes that a motion challenging venue is analagous to a personal jurisdiction challenge and should be viewed through a similar lens. Ms. **7-8, applying Wenger Tree Serv. v. Royal Truck & Equip., Inc., 853 So. 2d 888, 894 (Ala. 2002) (“‘In considering a Rule 12(b)(2), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction, a court must consider as true the allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint not controverted by the defendant’s affidavits.’” The opinion then notes that the defendants did not submit any affidavits and did not argue that the allegations of the complaint “did not support an inference that Dr. Chin lacked a medical reason for obtaining the psychological records.” Ms. *9. Instead, the defendants relied on the “time and place test.” However, the main opinion states that test was overruled by Ex parte Vanderwall, 201 So. 3d 525, 537 (Ala. 2015) and replaced with “the medical-reason test…: In short, ‘medical injury’ is harm that is caused by conduct that the defendant has a ‘medical reason’ for engaging in.” Ms. *10.

The main opinion also rejects the Sportsmed Defendants’ challenge to a protective order because the defendants failed to carry their burden of establishing that the protective order was subject to mandamus review under one of the exceptions recognized by the Court for review of discovery orders. Ms. **16-17.

Justice Cook’s dissent, joined by Justice Sellers, would order venue transferred and argues “Woodard cannot have it both ways. He wants to subject Dr. Chin to an enhanced duty because the conduct was undertaken for the purpose of medical treatment and then wants to disclaim the applicability of the AMLA. He cannot do this. The standard Dr. Chin must meet ‘as a doctor’ and ‘as a physician’ – i.e., the duty he owes his patient – is a medical standard of care.” Ms. *35. The dissent also disagrees with denial of the writ as to the protective order and notes “both parties have agreed that this aspect of the “protective order” should be set aside. The main opinion does not address this crucial fact. Alabama courts routinely accept party stipulations (and should do so) for the purpose of judicial economy. Although the refusal to accept stipulations by parties before this Court might be warranted when an impediment, such as a lack of jurisdiction, prevents us from doing so, no such impediment exists in this case.” Ms. *37.

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