Harwood v. Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc. (Class Action Certification)

In Harwood v. Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc. (2018AP1836), the Court of Appeals District I affirmed class action certification in a lawsuit against a medical provider related to medical record fees.

Plaintiff Elizabeth Harwood filed the lawsuit against Wheaton Franciscan, alleging Wheaton Franciscan illegally charged her attorney fees for copies of her health records. Harwood sought to certify a class including all Wheaton Franciscan patients in Wisconsin (or persons authorized to obtain their medical records) whom Wheaton Franciscan charged retrieval or certification fees in violation of Wis. Stat. § 146.83(3f)(b)4.-5. That statute allows health care providers to charge such fees only to persons other than the patient or person authorized by the patient.

The trial court certified the class, and Wheaton Franciscan appealed. The appeals court rejected Wheaton Franciscan’s argument that the trial court did not apply a rigorous analysis of the specific facts of the case as required by federal class action law. The trial court properly found that Harwood’s proposed class met the four prerequisites of Wisconsin’s class action law (§ 803.08):

  1. Numerosity. Harwood presented 44 invoices wherein Wheaton had charged patients or their authorized representatives retrieval or certification fees. The numerosity requirement was met because it would be impracticable to bring all the invoiced patients before the court.
  2. Commonality. All members of the proposed class suffered a common injury of allegedly unlawful charges for medical records.
  3. Typicality. Harwood’s claim was typical of the claims of the rest of the proposed class. The court dismissed Wheaton’s argument that there was not enough evidence to determine typicality.
  4. Adequacy. Harwood acting as class representative would adequately protect the interests of the class. Her claim was substantially similar and her interests were not adverse to the rest of the class’s interests.

The trial court further found – and the appeals court upheld – that the shared claims of the class members and Harwood were predominant to any individual claims. Class action was the superior means of addressing the controversy because addressing the individual claims, each of which was only $28, would be impracticable (§ 803.08(2)(c)).

Finally, the appeals court found that federal case law did not require additional discovery to certify the class. Therefore, Harwood’s class action lawsuit against Wheaton Franciscan could proceed.