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Sadler v. PacifiCare of Nev., Inc.

Supreme Court of Nevada

December 31, 2014

SUSAN SADLER; AND JACK SADLER SR., INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Appellants,
v.
PACIFICARE OF NEVADA, INC., A NEVADA CORPORATION, Respondent

Appeal from a district court order granting judgment on the pleadings in a negligence action. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Susan Scann, Judge.

Marquiz Law Office and Craig A. Marquiz, Henderson; George O. West, III, Las Vegas, for Appellants.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP and Daniel F. Polsenberg and Joel D. Henriod, Las Vegas; Holland & Hart LLP and Constance L. Akridge and Matthew T. Milone, Las Vegas, for Respondent.

BEFORE HARDESTY, DOUGLAS and CHERRY, JJ.

OPINION

Page 1265

HARDESTY, J.:

Following an outbreak of hepatitis C that was linked to unsafe injection practices used in procedures performed at certain health-care facilities in southern Nevada, patients of those facilities who had undergone such procedures were advised to submit to testing for

Page 1266

blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. This appeal concerns whether, in the absence of a present physical injury, those patients who have so far tested negative for such diseases, or who have not yet been tested, may state a claim for negligence based on the need to undergo ongoing medical monitoring as a result of the unsafe injection practices at these health-care facilities. Because we conclude that such individuals may state a claim for negligence, we reverse the district court's dismissal of the complaint and remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Appellants Jack and Susan Sadler, on behalf of themselves and a proposed class of similarly situated individuals,[1] filed a complaint in the district court against respondent PacifiCare of Nevada, Inc., a health maintenance organization, asserting claims of negligence and negligence per se on the ground that PacifiCare failed to perform its duty to establish and implement a quality assurance program to oversee the medical providers within its network. In the complaint, the Sadlers alleged that PacifiCare's failure to monitor the medical providers allowed those providers to use unsafe injection practices, including reusing syringes and consequently injecting patients with medications from contaminated vials, which resulted in the Sadlers and the putative class members being " exposed to and/or placed at risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases, requiring subsequent medical monitoring . . . for infections of the same.'' As relief for their negligence claims, the Sadlers sought to have the court establish a court-supervised medical monitoring program at PacifiCare's expense.

PacifiCare moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Sadlers' complaint failed to state a negligence claim on the ground that they had not alleged an " actual injury," such as testing positive for a blood-borne illness. Instead, PacifiCare characterized the Sadlers' claim as one for a risk of exposure. And PacifiCare contended that the Sadlers' fear of injury or illness could not support their negligence claims. The Sadlers opposed the motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the injury that must be alleged to state a tort claim does not need to be a physical injury, as suggested by PacifiCare. The crux of the Sadlers' opposition was that, by asserting that PacifiCare's negligence had caused them to need ongoing medical monitoring, they had alleged a legal injury sufficient to support their negligence claims.

Following a hearing on the matter, the district court granted PacifiCare's motion for judgment on the pleadings. In addressing the question of injury, the district court found it significant that the Sadlers had alleged exposure to blood generally, but had not specifically alleged exposure to infected blood. The court therefore concluded that the Sadlers' claims were based on a risk of exposure to infected blood, which the court found was insufficient to allege an injury. On this basis, the court granted judgment in favor of PacifiCare. This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Standard of review

Under NRCP 12(c), the district court may grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings when the material facts of the case " are not in dispute and the. movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Bonicamp v. Vazquez, 120 Nev. 377, 379, 91 P.3d 584, 585 (2004). Because an order granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings presents a question of law, our review of such an order is de novo. Lawrence v. Clark Cnty., 127 Nev. __, __, 254 P.3d 606, 608 (2011). As with a dismissal for failure to state a claim, in reviewing a judgment on the pleadings, we will accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Cf. Buzz Stew, LLC v. City of N, Las Vegas, 124 ...


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