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Phillips v. Guardian Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

June 18, 2019

William Phillips
v.
Guardian Life Insurance Co.; Delondria Terry; N.H. Insurance Dept.; John Elias, Commissioner, N.H. Insurance Dept.; Barbara Anderson Karen McCallister

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ANDREA K. JOHNSTONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiff William Phillips filed this action in forma pauperis, asserting claims against the New Hampshire Insurance Department (“NHID”), Guardian Life Insurance Co. (“Guardian”), and individuals associated with each entity in connection with a long-term disability policy Guardian issued to Phillips. The complaint is before this court for preliminary review, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and LR 4.3(d)(2).

         Preliminary Review Standard

         The magistrate judge conducts a preliminary review of complaints, like Phillips's, which are filed in forma pauperis. See LR 4.3(d). The magistrate judge may recommend to the district judge that one or more claims be dismissed if, among other things, the court lacks jurisdiction, a defendant is immune from the relief sought, or the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); LR 4.3(d). In conducting its preliminary review, the court construes pro se complaints liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). The complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). The court treats as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, and construes reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. See Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011).

         Background

         Phillips alleges that he has a long-term disability insurance policy with Guardian and that in approximately January 2019, Guardian, acting through its employee, defendant Terry, shared private information with Phillips's former employer that resulted in an attachment to secure disputed child support payments. Phillips further alleges that NHID ignored his complaints about Guardian's actions.

         Discussion

         Phillips contends that Guardian violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (1996) (“HIPAA”). He also claims that Guardian and NHID have discriminated against him, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

         I. HIPAA

         Phillips's asserts that Guardian and Terry violated HIPAA by sharing private information about him and by placing harassing phone calls to him and to his family physician, allegedly in retaliation for complaining to authorities[1] about Guardian's actions. HIPAA, however, does not provide a private right of action, and thus Phillips cannot state a claim for relief under that statute. Miller v. Nichols, 586 F.3d 53, 59 (1st Cir. 2009). Only the Secretary of Health and Human Services can enforce its provisions. See 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-5. The district judge should therefore dismiss Phillips's claims to the extent they are premised on HIPAA violations.

         II. ADA and Rehabilitation Act

         Phillips, identifying himself as a disabled person, asserts that Guardian, NHID, and their respective personnel violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by not resolving his complaints and harassing him.

         Title II of the ADA provides that:

no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be ...

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