Tag Archives: class action

1998 – HMO Class Action Lawsuit

Four hundred Tarrant County doctors filed a class action lawsuit against Harris HMO, alleging that the physician payment system in its plan violated Texas insurance laws.  In the lawsuit, which was filed in the 352nd District Court, the physicians asked Judge Bonnie Sudderth to issue a temporary injunction preventing the HMO from enforcing monetary penalties against doctors who overspent their budget in issuing prescriptions to patients. 

The law in Texas at the time the case was filed provided that managed care entities could not establish physician payment systems which created financial incentives to limit medically necessary care to patients.

At the temporary injunction hearing, the undisputed evidence established that physicians who spent less than budgeted amounts received bonuses from the HMO, while doctors who exceeded their budgets were penalized.  At that point in time, the HMO had imposed millions of dollars in fines against the physicians who had exceeded established budgets.  The doctors argued that they shouldn’t be forced to choose between their bottom lines and their patients’  best interests. 

In issuing the requested injunction, Judge Sudderth found that the HMO’s practices resulted in the denial of medically necessary care to patients.  “These denials include circumstances of cherry-picking, patient-dumping … and outright denials of treatment, referrals and prescriptions,” Judge Sudderth explained, in ruling in favor of the requested injunction. 

A few months later, the Texas Insurance Department levied an $800,000 fine against the HMO for violations of state insurance regulations that prohibit health plans from using financial incentives to encourage doctors to withhold medically necessary care.  Shortly thereafter, the HMO announced its plan to do away with the caps on prescription spending in physician contracts and to compensate the doctors who had been fined for exceeding their budgets.  Within a few days of this announcement, the parties entered into settlement negotiations which resulted in the eventual settlement of the lawsuit.

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2004 – Class Action Lawsuit Regarding Edna Gladney Adoption Files

Lee and Carolyn Williams of Fort Worth won an early victory in the lawsuit they filed in the 352nd District Court against the Gladney Center for Adoption when State District Judge Bonnie Sudderth ordered that the Center release approximately 800 pages of medical records related to the birth mother of their adoptive daughter.  However, when the parents sought to certify their lawsuit as a class action, arguing that Gladney should be forced to open up medical and psychological records for 4,000 other adoptions which dated back to the mid-1970’s, Judge Sudderth disagreed.

The parents, after experiencing years of troubling behavior by their daughter, starting with fitful sleeping and incessant crying as a baby and developing into serious misbehavior at school, including biting and fighting, initially sought medical and psychological information about the birth mother from the Gladney Center in order to obtain more effective medical treatment for their daughter, who was later diagnosed with depression and attention deficit disorder.  The Center responded that these records were unavailable due to confidentiality.

When, at age 12, she pulled a kitchen knife on her mother, the parents sought legal counsel to help them try once again to find out more about her genetic history.  Although the Center reiterated that the birth mother had refused permission for the release most of the information they sought, it did provide some new information about family medical history, including cancer, alcoholism and “mental problems” in general.

The parents continued seeking treatment for their daughter, who despite these problems, graduated from high school in just three years, from college in another three years, eventually earning a Master’s Degree in accounting for the Universityof North Texas.  Even with her high academic achievement, her parents contended that because of her behavioral problems, she couldn’t keep a job.  By this time, the parents had filed their lawsuit in the 352nd District Court, claiming that the Gladney center had violated state law by withholding information from them.  They requested that  Judge Bonnie Sudderth force the GladneyCenter to not only release the information they sought but also to release similar information regarding all adoptions from 1975-1989.

Gladney responded that because the birth mothers in many of the adoptions during this time period had been promised strict confidentiality at the time, they would not voluntarily release this information.  They cited state laws which required them to maintain the confidentiality of the records and argued that recent laws which opened up some records didn’t apply to adoptions which had happened years earlier.  Gladney essentially took the position that existing law tied their hands.

The Williams’ daughter was adopted under a “closed” adoption system, which means that the birth parents and adoptive parents remained unknown to each other, and at the time of her adoption the existing state laws were stringent, making access to adoption records virtually impossible to obtain.  By the 1980s, however, the adoption laws in Texas began to relax, allowing adoptive parents to obtain some health, social, educational and genetic background information, but still requiring that information which would reveal the identity of the birth parents remained withheld.  

In 2003, Judge Bonnie Sudderth ordered the Gladney Centerto turn over this information to the Williams family.  However, when the Williams’ sought class action certification of their lawsuit, which would have required that all Gladney Center birth parents from 1975-1989 receive notification of the court proceedings and their right to participate in them, Judge Sudderth refused.  If successful, the class action lawsuit would have resulted in the automatic opening of records for all adoptive parents during that time period. 

The Gladney Center fiercely resisted these efforts, pointing out that if the class action was certified, the Center would be required to mail notices to thousands of birth mothers, advising them of the existence of the class action lawsuit and informing them of its potential effect.  Gladney argued that the mere act of mailing the notice would violate the birth mother’s privacy rights.  Most birth mothers, Gladney argued, expected that the promise of confidentiality given to them would always be protected.

In refusing the class action request, Judge Sudderth cited concerns that so doing would open up a “Pandora’s Box” on matters that many birth parents had received assurance would forever remain closed.  She characterized the issues surrounding these closed adoptions as “so highly individualized, intensely personal and emotionally charged” that all of the affected persons should not be lumped into one class action group together.  In her letter ruling, Judge Sudderth stated, “Certifying this proposed class would also carry with it a significant risk of opening up a Pandora’s Box on matters which at least some in the proposed class would prefer to remain closed,”

Not surprisingly, Gladney’s attorneys agreed with Judge Sudderth’s ruling, pointing out that Texas law permits class action certifications only when rigorous standards have been met proving that the claims should be grouped together. 

Although the Williams family disagreed with Judge Sudderth’s ruling, they decided not to appeal to a higher court.  Instead, they stated publicly that they would concentrate their efforts on helping other families get their individual records in the future, as they had.

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Cases from the 352nd District Court

Welcome to the 352nd District Court.  The purpose of this website is to provide a history of the more interesting or notable cases from the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, Texas.

A Brief History of the 352nd District Court:

The 352nd District Court is a district court which serves all citizens of Tarrant County, Texas. Since the 352nd District Court was established on September 1, 1984, only three judges have served in its history.

John G. Street, a Tarrant County civil trial lawyer, was elected to the 352nd District Court on November 16, 1984.  Judge Street was a Democrat who served in that position until December 31, 1988, having being defeated for re-election in the 1988 election by Republican Bruce Auld, a Tarrant County civil trial attorney.  On January 1, 1989, Judge Bruce Auld took the bench, where he served until December of 1995.  Judge Auld resigned due to illness and died a short time thereafter.  Judge Bonnie Sudderth, the former Chief Judge of the Fort Worth Muncipal Court, ran in a contested Republican primary for election to the 352nd District Court bench, winning the seat for a term that would commence on January 1, 1997.  However, because the bench was vacant at the time of her primary election, then-Governor George W. Bush appointed her to fill the vacancy for the remainder of 1996.  (She had no opponent in the general election of November, 1996.)  Judge Sudderth has been re-elected three times to the 352nd District Court and is now serving her fourth term in office.  As such, Judge Sudderth is the longest-serving judge of the 352nd District Court.

Although the 352nd District Court has general jurisdiction to hear all matters properly filed in a district-level court – civil, criminal, family and juvenile cases – in practice, the court hears only civil cases. When the Texas Legislature created the 352nd District Court, it directed that this court would give preference to civil cases; therefore, pursuant to Section 24.498 of the Texas Government Code, all cases which are currently assigned to the 352nd District Court involve civil disputes.

The 352nd District Court is a trial court. Traditional notions of a “trial” usually center around the concept of a jury of 12 citizens serving as the ultimate arbiter of the case. However, most cases in the 352nd District Court are either “tried to the bench” (meaning that all matters of law and fact are presented to the judge for determination) or adjudicated by the judge as a result of a pre-trial motion. Jury trials in civil district court cases are rare today, the vast majority of cases being resolved in some manner other than a full jury trial on the merits.

Civil cases are varied and often complex, involving multiple parties and multiple legal issues in dispute. Among the many different types of cases which are filed in the 352nd District Court are cases involving:

Business entities
Class actions
Commercial litigation
Contracts
Debt collection
Employment and discrimination
Foreclosures
Insurance
Intellectual property
Medical and other professional malpractice
Oil and gas
Partnership dissolutions
Personal injury
Premises security
Property taxes
Real estate ownership and title
Worker’s compensation appeals
Wrongful death and survivorship

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