Published July, 2014

C.E. v. Prairie Fields Family Medicine P.C., 844 N.W.2d 56 (Neb. 2014)

Plaintiff, C.E., brought claims for invasion of privacy and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from disclosure of her positive HIV test result. The district court issued summary judgment in favor of defendants, Prairie Fields. A motion for summary judgment effectively asks the court to decide in one party’s favor before the conclusion of the trial. Although plaintiff testified that no one in the diagnostic lab or insurance company would have known her test results, and that she did not share her test results, the court found that there was no evidence indicating Prairie Fields or its agents were negligent or caused any injury to C.E. Thus, the court found her claim based “merely on speculation or conjecture.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed and remanded the district court decision, emphasizing that trial courts do not resolve factual issues at summary judgment. The district court incorrectly focused on the inadequacy of C.E.’s circumstantial evidence for the purposes of proving causation. To pass summary judgment, this evidence must simply prove tortious conduct.

The district court’s holding would have elevated the burden on plaintiffs like C.E. to bring such a claim, essentially requiring that plaintiffs prove their case from the start or have it thrown out. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s holding is significant because it gives substance to plaintiffs’ claims regarding disclosure of test results by medical practitioners.