Judgment for hospital affirmed in blood draw after drunken-driving crash

A man who was seriously injured in a car crash lost his appeal claiming his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Fort Wayne hospital staff ordered a blood draw that was provided to police, leading to criminal drunken driving charges.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Northern Indiana District Court on Tuesday, which granted summary judgment for the defense in Tyquan Stewart v. Parkview Hospital, 19-1747.

Stewart says he doesn’t remember the time he was in Parkview Hospital, claiming he was unconscious. But hospital staff including his treating physician said when he arrived at the emergency room, he “relayed that he had been drinking and lost control of his car,” Judge Michael Scudder wrote for the panel in a seven-page opinion. Stewart also signed a treatment consent form, and his doctor ordered a blood draw.

Under Indiana law, medical staff who test a person’s blood must disclose those results to police when requested as part of a criminal investigation. After staff provided the blood draw results showing intoxication, he was charged with misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated and later pleaded guilty.

But Stewart then filed a lawsuit against Fort Wayne police, Parkview and its staff and the city of Fort Wayne under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also claimed violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for disclosure of this medical records.

“We begin with Stewart’s statutory claim under HIPAA. The district court concluded that the statute provides no private right of action and accordingly entered judgment for the medical defendants on that basis. We agree,” Scudder wrote. “…Medical professionals, including those who treated Stewart, are bound by the statute’s disclosure prohibitions and confidentiality requirements. But Congress left enforcement for violations to the Department of Health and Human Services, not to private plaintiffs.”

The court also affirmed judgment for the police and city.

“Like the district court, we have identified no case law establishing that an officer’s receipt of blood-test results from medical personnel offends the Fourth Amendment. Those cases that do address the question point in the other direction,” the court noted, citing Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 758–59, 766–72 (1966) and, much more recently, Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525, 2533–34, 2537–39 (2019), which further upheld warrantless blood draws from unconscious drivers after accidents.

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