Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Douglas, Haun & Heidemann, P.C. v. Missouri Department of Social Services

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

October 4, 2016

DOUGLAS, HAUN & HEIDEMANN, P.C., Appellant,
v.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Robert D. Schollmeyer, Judge

          Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge Presiding, James Edward Welsh, and Alok Ahuja, Judges

          James Edward Welsh, Judge

         Douglas, Haun & Heidemann, P.C., appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cole County (circuit court) concluding that the Missouri Department of Social Services (Department) did not violate the law by failing to disclose to Douglas, Haun & Heidemann all Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) liens[1] filed with any recorder of deeds in the last five years. The circuit court found that, pursuant to section 610.021(14), RSMo Cum. Supp. 2013, the TEFRA liens in the Department's possession were records made confidential by section 208.155, RSMo 2000, and the Privacy Rule of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The circuit court further found that the TEFRA liens in the possession of the Department were records of welfare cases and were records authorized to be closed under section 610.021(8), RSMo Cum. Supp. 2013. Douglas, Haun & Heidemann contends that the circuit court erred in granting judgment in favor of the Department because the TEFRA lien information is not confidential under section 208.155, HIPAA, or any other applicable law and that the information cannot be closed pursuant to any Sunshine Law (section 610.010, RSMo et seq.) exemption. We affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         The evidence presented to the circuit court was based upon the parties' joint stipulation of facts, which is summarized as follows. Douglas, Haun, & Heidemann is a law firm located in Bolivar, Missouri, and the Department of Social Services is the administrative agency charged with administering the MO HealthNet (Medicaid) program. § 208.201, RSMo Cum. Supp. 2013.

         On February 17, 2015, the Department received a Sunshine Law request from Douglas, Haun & Heidemann requesting "[a]ll TEFRA liens filed with any recorder of deeds in the last 5 years." On February 20, 2015, the Department responded to Douglas, Haun & Heidemann's request saying that it would take no more than five business days to review the request and provide an additional response.

         On February 24, 2015, the Department sought legal advice from the Office of the Missouri Attorney General concerning Douglas, Haun & Heidemann's request. On that same day, the Department sent Douglas, Haun & Heidemann a follow-up response stating that the information requested contained confidential information and that the disclosure of that information was prohibited by federal and state law. The Department suggested that the law firm provide written authorizations from individuals so that the Department could disclose the information concerning the liens. In the alternative, the Department said it would provide redacted copies of the liens for the time period requested and provided an example of a redacted lien.[2] On March 5, 2015, the Department sent Douglas, Haun & Heidemann a letter that asked for the law firm's legal basis for believing that the requested records should be provided without redaction. On March 11, 2015, the Department received a letter from Douglas, Haun & Heidemann stating that it disagreed with the Department's legal reasoning.

         On March 20, 2015, Douglas, Haun & Heidemann filed its petition with the Circuit Court of Greene County seeking the circuit court's determination that the Department knowingly violated the Sunshine Law and seeking to compel the Department to disclose all TEFRA liens filed with any recorder of deeds in the last five years. Upon the Department's motion to transfer venue, the case was transferred to Cole County. On January 21, 2016, the circuit court entered its judgment in favor of the Department. The circuit court found that the TEFRA liens in the Department's possession were confidential and closed records, pursuant to sections 610.021(8) and (14), section 208.155, and HIPAA. Douglas, Haun & Heidemann appeal.

         On review of this court tried case, we must affirm the circuit court's judgment unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). Statutory interpretation is an issue of law that we review de novo. Spradling v. SSM Health Care St. Louis, 313 S.W.3d 683, 686 (Mo. banc 2010).

         In its sole point on appeal, Douglas, Haun & Heidemann contends that the TEFRA lien information is not confidential under section 208.155, HIPAA, or any other applicable law and that the information cannot be closed pursuant to any Sunshine Law exemption. We disagree.

         As part of its duties, the Department or MO HealthNet division has the obligation to enforce TEFRA liens as authorized by federal law and regulation. According to section 208.215.13(1), RSMo Supp. 2014, a TEFRA lien is for "the debt due the state for MO HealthNet benefits paid or to be paid on behalf of a participant" and the "amount of the lien shall be for the full amount due the state at the time the lien is enforced[.]"

         Section 208.155 instructs that "[a]ll information concerning applicants and recipients of medical assistance shall be confidential, and any disclosure of such information shall be restricted to purposes directly connected with the administration of the medical assistance program."[3] This statute, therefore, prohibits the Department from disclosing any information concerning recipients of medical assistance except for information directly connected with the administration of the medical assistance program. Indeed, the phrase "any disclosure" as used in section 208.155 would encompass any subsequent disclosures of the information made by the Department. Moreover, information concerning TEFRA liens most certainly falls within section 208.155's declaration that information concerning recipients of medical assistance is confidential, and we find nothing in Douglas, Haun & Heidemann's request for the TEFRA liens that suggests that its request is "directly connected with the administration of the medical assistance program." In fact, Douglas, Haun & Heidemann does not even contend that its request is "directly connected with the administration of the medical assistance program."

         The legislature mandated in section 610.011.1, RSMo Cum. Supp. 2013, that "[i]t is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law." Further, the legislature mandated that the provisions of the Sunshine Law are to be liberally construed and that any exceptions are to be strictly construed to promote this public policy. § 610.011.1.

         Section 610.021(14) of the Missouri Sunshine Law provides: "Except to the extent disclosure is otherwise required by law, a public governmental body is authorized to close meetings, records and votes, to the extent they relate to the following: . . . (14) Records which are protected from disclosure by law." As previously discussed, the TEFRA ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.