Louisiana Supreme Court Allows Class Action for La. Rev. Stat. § 22:1871 (Balance Billing Act) Violations

hospital-s-corridor-1631146-1-1024x765Class action lawsuit certification is one of the most complex areas of the law to explain. The question of whether a lawsuit would be best as a class action or as individual lawsuits often comes down to a determination of what is the best method for fair and efficient adjudication for both the plaintiffs and the defendant.

Across the state of Louisiana, people are filing lawsuits against health care providers under the Health Care Consumer Billing and Disclosure Protection Act, hereafter referred to as the Balance Billing Act.  See La. Rev. Stat. § 22:1871 et seq. As a result of these lawsuits,  the Louisiana Second Circuit had denied class certification for a group of plaintiffs while the Louisiana Third Circuit had approved a class certification in their jurisdiction. Thus a split of the circuits existed and therefore it was time for the Louisiana Supreme Court to weigh in.

Certain Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in 2011 claiming the Defendant, Minden Medical Center, “engaged in unlawful billing practices by billing them in an amount in excess of the agreed upon rate negotiated between the hospital and plaintiffs’ respective insurers.”  As a result of that lawsuit a question was presented for review to the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana whether these types of lawsuits (balance bill violations) would be better handled as class action or on an individual basis.

In the Minden opinion, The Supreme Court of Louisiana first discussed the applicable law for class certification in Louisiana.  The prerequisites for a class action are contained in La. Code. Civ. Proc. art. 591.  That code article provides five threshold prerequisites that a court should analyze when considering class certification.  These threshold matters are (1) numerosity, (2) commonality, (3) typicality, (4) adequacy of representation, and (5) objective definability of the class.  After a court finds those five prerequisites have been meet, La. Code. Civ. Proc. art. 591 (B) list three additional criteria in where one must be satisfied for the certification depending on the type of class action sought.

In the review of this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court stated that the appellate court’s ruling was solely on the superiority requirement. Specifically whether the class action could resolve a common question to all Plaintiffs as to the legality of the Defendant’s practices under the balance billing act.  Therefore the Supreme Court’s focus of it’s opinion was on that issue.

The court then discussed the superiority requirement in context to the facts of the Plaintiffs allegations.  First, the court found that the record of the Minden class action showed there was little proof on liability or causation that would be individual to each plaintiff.  The court then stated that the claims do not require a highly individualized inquiry into the cause of Plaintiff’s damages.  This finding occurred because the Plaintiff’s allegations in this case were that Minden has a policy in place as to every patient that violated the balance billing act.  No person was treated different because of that uniform policy.  Therefore a court could easily dispense with the threshold question of “whether or not Minden’s actions violated the Balance Billing Act.”  Once that determination is made liability and causation for all of the class members is decided.  From there if the allegations are found to be true the only individual issues that might arise will be the calculation of damages.  The Supreme Court reasoned that although the calculation of damages could be individualized the method to calculate could be uniform and therefore the superiority requirement was clearly meet in this case.

The court then went on to discuss the other requirements needed under art. 591 and found all of them to be meet in this case.  This case demonstrates the scrutiny that Louisiana courts use in reviewing matters of importance such as class action certification.  Because class actions can involve issues of great importance that effect large groups of people an experienced class action lawyer should be sought if you are considering being part of such litigation.

Additional Sources: PRENTISS BAKER AND SHERYL WIGINTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED VERSUS PHC-MINDEN, L.P. D/B/A MINDEN MEDICAL CENTER

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Jordan Shelton

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Class Certification: Class Action Involving Plant Releases Demonstrates How Certification Occurs