This is an order by the United States District Court – Eastern District of Wisconsin granting in part and denying in part two defendants' motion for summary judgment and granting in part and denying in part the third defendant's motion for summary judgment. Both motions asked the court to enter judgment on the plaintiff's claim that she was refused medical care on the basis of her HIV status. This case is important for HIV-positive patients denied care, as it highlights strategic use of traditional disability law frameworks by both parties. Multiple, overlapping defendants is common in health care-related claims, where health care providers, clinics, insurance companies, and other health maintenance organizations may share liability for a single incident. This case also explores the exemption afforded religiously affiliated organizations in many disability-related claims.
The plaintiff, Melody J. Rose, is HIV-positive. Ms. Rose was an inmate at Taycheedah Correctional Institution (Taycheedah) when she was referred to the defendant, Dr. Cahee, a licensed physician, regarding the removal of her gallbladder. This consultation took place at the Fond du Lac Clinic, also listed as a defendant, and was arranged by Agnesian Healthcare, Inc. (Agnesian), a Catholic Church-affiliated organization contracted to provide health services to individuals incarcerated at Taycheedah. Ms. Rose claims that Dr. Cahee, upon learning of her viral load, refused to perform her gallbladder surgery because of the danger it posed to him and his surgical team. Dr. Cahee denies this, but admits he informed Ms. Rose's general physician that he would not perform surgery until Ms. Rose had been taking HIV medications for a month. Ms. Rose filed suit against Dr. Cahee, Fond du Lac Clinic, and Agnesian alleging violations of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and various Wisconsin HIV discrimination statutes.
Dr. Cahee and Fond du Lac Clinic jointly moved for summary judgment on Ms. Rose's ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Wisconsin statutes claims. 1.) The court denied the defendants summary judgment on the ADA claim, rejecting the argument that Ms. Rose cannot establish irreparable harm, a necessary element for obtaining a preliminary injunction prohibiting HIV-related discrimination. Ms. Rose sought a permanent, not preliminary, injunction, which requires proof that she had no other adequate legal remedy, not proof of irreparable harm. Since the ADA provides no remedy for a Title III violation other than injunctive relief, Ms. Rose clearly met this requirement. The court also rejected the defendants' argument that Ms. Rose lacked standing, finding that at the time of filing, Ms. Rose faced possible referral to the defendants who would again deny her treatment on the basis of her HIV status. 2.) The court granted the defendants summary judgment on the Rehabilitation Act claim, agreeing that since Agnesian, not the defendants, received the federal funds, obligations under the Rehabilitation Act extended only to Agnesian. The defendants were merely incidental beneficiaries. 3.) The court denied the defendants summary judgment on the Wisconsin HIV discrimination statutes claim, rejecting the defendants' argument that these statutes were preempted by a Wisconsin medical malpractice statute. Ms. Rose's claims did not arise from the defendant's negligent provision of medical care, i.e., malpractice; they arose from the defendants' discriminatory provision of medical care. Also regarding the Wisconsin HIV discrimination statutes, the court rejected the defendants' argument that, as a health care provider and facility, they were not "public place[s] of accommodation" as required by the statutes.
Agnesian moved for summary judgment on Ms. Rose's ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Wisconsin statutes claims. 1.) The court granted the defendant summary judgment on the ADA claim, agreeing that Agnesian is exempt from Title III claims because it was an entity controlled by a religious organization. (The court declined to go as far as to deem Agnesian a religious organization, however.) Agnesian's mission, operation, and the extent to which it was controlled by the Catholic Church's Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes qualified Agnesian for Title III's religious exemption. 2.) The court denied the defendant summary judgment on the Rehabilitation Act claim because material issues of fact – namely, details regarding Dr. Cahee's alleged refusal to perform Ms. Rose's surgery – remained in dispute and should be left for the jury. 3.) The court denied the defendant summary judgment on the Wisconsin HIV discrimination statutes claim for the same reason.