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Dephillips v. Hospital Service District No. 1 of Tangipahoa Parish

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 5, 2019

MATTHEW A. DEPHILLIPS, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
v.
HOSPITAL SERVICE DISTRICT NO. 1 OF TANGIPAHOA PARISH, DOING BUSINESS AS NORTH OAKS MEDICAL CENTER/ NORTH OAKS HEALTH SYSTEM EARNEST WILLIAMS, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
v.
HOSPITAL SERVICE DISTRICT NO. 1 OF TANGIPAHOA PARISH D/B/A NORTH OAKS HEALTH SYSTEM AND NORTH OAKS MEDICAL CENTER, AND LOUISIANA HEALTH SERVICE & INDEMNITY COMPANY D/B/A BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF LOUISIANA

          On Appeal from the 21st Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Tangipahoa State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 2015-0001261 Consolidated with Trial Court No. 2015-0001388 Honorable Robert H. Morrison, III, Judge Presiding

          J. Lee Hoffoss, Jr. Claude P. Devall Donald W. McKnight Lake Charles, Louisiana and Derrick G. Earles David C. Laborde Marksville, Louisiana and Jeffery Berniard Scott R. Bickford Lawrence J. Centola, III Norman F. Hodgins, III New Orleans, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiffs/Appellants, Matthew A. DePhillips and Earnest Williams, Individually, And on Behalf of All Similarly Situated

          Harry J. Philips, Jr. Amy C. Lambert Caroline K. Darwin Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendant/Appellee, Hospital Service District No. 1 of Tangipahoa Parish, d/b/a North Oaks Medical Center/North Oaks Health System

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          PENZATO, J.

         This matter is before us on remand from the Louisiana Supreme Court following our dismissal of plaintiff Earnest Williams' appeal of a trial court judgment granting an exception raising the objection of prescription filed by defendant Hospital District No. 1 of Tangipahoa Parish, Doing Business as North Oaks Medical Center/North Oaks Health System ("North Oaks"). For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [1]

         On February 26, 2011, Williams was involved in a motor vehicle accident requiring medical attention. He sought emergency medical treatment from North Oaks and was charged $1, 378.75 by North Oaks as a result of said treatment. At the time of the accident, Williams was insured under an insurance policy administered by Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Company d/b/a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana ("BCBS"). North Oaks is a contracted health care provider with BCBS. Following its medical treatment of Williams, North Oaks filed a claim with BCBS and was paid pursuant to the terms of its contract with BCBS. In addition, North Oaks attempted to collect amounts from Williams by asserting a lien/privilege against his liability insurance claim for the full and undiscounted charges.

         On May 8, 2015, Williams filed a "Class Action Petition for Damages, Payment of a Thing Not Due, Declaratory Judgment, and for Injunctive Relief," naming as defendants North Oaks and BCBS. As to North Oaks, Williams, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, alleged that North Oaks violated the Health Care Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act ("the Balance Billing Act"), La. R.S. 22:1871, et seq., by failing to file claims with health insurers; failing to accept payments from health insurers; attempting to collect and collecting from insureds or enrollees amounts in excess of those legally owed by those insureds or enrollees; and filing liens/privileges, which constitute actions at law, or otherwise maintaining actions at law. Williams, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated sought damages, reimbursement of sums paid which were not owed, attorney fees, and costs.

         On June 10, 2015, North Oaks filed a motion to consolidate Williams' suit with a similar suit filed by Matthew A. DePhillips. DePhillips filed suit on April 28, 2015, alleging that he was treated at North Oaks as a result of a February 9, 2015 motor vehicle accident and that at the time of the accident he was insured by BCBS. DePhillips, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, sought damages arising from North Oaks' refusal to submit and/or accept payment from his insurer for such treatment, instead seeking to collect directly from DePhillips by maintaining an action at law for payment. DePhillips' petition asserted two causes of action: (1) a violation of the Balance Billing Act; and (2) a breach of contract involving the member provider agreement between North Oaks and BCBS.

         Prior to the hearing on the motion to consolidate, BCBS removed the Williams case to federal court. North Oaks then filed peremptory exceptions in the DePhillips matter raising the objections of no right of action for breach of contract, no cause of action for claims arising before the effective date of the Billing Act, and prescription. Following a hearing on October 13, 2015, the trial court granted the exception raising the objection of no cause of action for claims arising before the effective date of the Balance Billing Act, but denied North Oaks' exceptions raising the objections of no right of action for breach of contract and prescription. A judgment was signed on November 2, 2015. North Oaks filed an application for supervisory writs seeking review of this ruling. On March 8, 2016, this court granted the writ in part, finding that DePhillips did not have a right of action to assert a claim for breach of the member provider agreement, as he was neither a party to the member provider agreement or a third-party beneficiary. DePhillips v. Hosp. Service District No. 1 of Tangipahoa Parish, 2015 CW 1589 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/8/16). Accordingly, the judgment denying the exception raising the objection of no right of action for breach of contract was reversed, and the exception was sustained. The writ was denied with respect to the peremptory exception raising the objection of prescription.

         The Williams case was remanded to the Twenty-First Judicial District Court, Parish of Tangipahoa, State of Louisiana, by the federal court by order dated September 29, 2015.[2] Thereafter, on March 31, 2016, North Oaks filed a peremptory exception raising the objection of prescription, asserting that a one-year prescriptive period applies to DePhillips' and Williams' claims arising from the Balance Billing Act.[3] DePhillips and Williams opposed the exception of prescription, arguing that a ten-year prescriptive period applies.

         The matter came for hearing on October 11, 2016. On October 24, 2016, the trial court issued written reasons for judgment stating that the court was "bound by the First Circuit's ruling" of March 8, 2016, and accordingly, "that the DePhillips claims are confined to billings occurring within one year from the filing of his suit, and that the Williams claims are barred in their entirety by prescription." On November 16, 2016, the trial court signed a judgment granting North Oaks' exception raising the objection of prescription, finding claims arising from the Balance Billing Act are subject to a one-year prescriptive period, and dismissing Williams' claims against North Oaks with prejudice. It is from this judgment that Williams appeals.[4]

         LAW ...


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