Friday, September 09, 2016

6th Circuit Dismisses Suit Over Catholic Bishops' Health Care Directives

In Means v. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, (6th Cir., Sept. 8, 2016), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Michigan federal district court's dismissal of a suit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and against three individuals who served as chairs of the Catholic Health Ministries-- the sponsor of a health care system that includes the Catholic hospital at which plaintiff Tamesha Means claims she was inadequately treated.  Means visited the hospital when she prematurely went into labor at 18 weeks into her pregnancy.  The hospital, complying with the USCCB's  Catholic health care directives, did not give Means the option of terminating her pregnancy, even though her physician suspected she had a serious bacterial infection that can cause infertility and even death.  After the statute of limitations on medical malpractice had run, Means sued the entities responsible for promulgating and adopting the Catholic health care directives, charging them with negligence.

The 6th Circuit dismissed the USCCB from the case for lack of personal jurisdiction.  As to the other defendants, the court said in part:
Means asks us to recognize a duty under Michigan law on the part of a religious organization to a specific patient to adopt ethical directives that do not contradict the medical standard of care. Whether such a duty exists is far from certain, especially if the standard of care violates the organization’s religious beliefs. Nevertheless, even if the CHM defendants had such a duty, Means’s factual allegations do not create the plausible inference that any breach of that duty proximately caused any injury to Means within the strictures of Michigan negligence law.... 
Means alleges—and we do not doubt—that she suffered physical and mental pain, emotional injuries, a riskier delivery, shock and emotional trauma from making funeral arrangements for her dead child, and other “discomforts and pain.” But these allegations are not sufficient to state an injury under Michigan negligence law. In Michigan, “present physical injury” is necessary to state a claim for negligence.
[Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]