Court Grants Google and Univ. of Chicago’s Motions to Dismiss in Consumer Medical Record Sharing Suit

Last Friday, a Northern District of Illinois judge dismissed a lawsuit against Google, LLC, The University of Chicago Medical Center, and The University of Chicago (collectively the University) that accused the defendants of staging what the plaintiff’s amended complaint referred to as “the greatest heist of consumer medical records in history.” The 2019 putative class action brought various state law claims “on behalf of all patients whose medical information was disclosed for the defendants’ research.”

The allegations centered on a 2017 collaboration between Google and the University. The research partnership intended to use “machine-learning techniques to create predictive health models aimed at reducing hospital readmissions and anticipating future medical events.” To facilitate the research, the University provided Google with “‘de-identified’ electronic health records of all adult patients treated at its hospital from January 1, 2010 through June 30, 2016,” including “demographic data, vital signs, diagnoses, procedures, and prescriptions.”

The plaintiff, Matt Dinerstein, was an inpatient at the University during that time period. In addition to the information handed to Google, the plaintiff contended that he “maintained an account with Defendant Google and used a smartphone with Google applications on it, which, he alleges, collected and transmitted to Google his geolocation information.” While he was a patient, Dinerstein received two forms pertinent to the sensitive information collected, in part obtaining his consent for the sale of his medical information.

The plaintiff brought claims against the University, for violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (ICFA), express and implied breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Against Google, he asserted tortious interference with contract and unjust enrichment claims, and against both defendants he asserted an intrusion upon seclusion cause of action.

The University and Google filed motions to dismiss the plaintiff’s amended complaint, arguing that he lacked standing and failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court agreed, holding that the plaintiff lacked standing for one of his asserted claims and dismissed the remaining causes of action for failure to state a claim. 

The court reasoned that the plaintiff did not have standing for his ICFA claim because it required a showing of actual damages. The plaintiff only contended that “had he known about the University’s privacy practices, he may have gone to a different hospital or paid less for his treatment.” The court found this insufficient for standing under the ICFA which requires demonstration of “economic or pecuniary harm.”

The court further held that though the plaintiff had satisfied the other breach of contract claim elements, he failed to plead economic damages. Instead, he pled non-economic damages, like anxiety and emotional distress, for which there is a heightened standard reserved for instances of extreme conduct, the court explained. In considering the tortious interference claim against Google, the court concluded that the plaintiff did not satisfactorily plead facts showing that Google engaged in the intentional conduct required to move forward with it.  

As to the intrusion upon seclusion claim, the court noted that “[l]ikely recognizing that [] case law forecloses his ability to pursue this claim, Mr. Dinerstein abandons his intrusion-upon-seclusion theory in his brief and tries to reframe it as a breach-of-confidentiality tort.” After acknowledging that a number of state courts have recognized “a common law cause of action for breach of confidentiality exists for the unauthorized disclosure of a patient’s medical information,” Judge Pallmeyer noted that Illinois had not, and refused to break new state law grounds.

The order noted that the plaintiff has leave to file an amended complaint on or before October 15.  

The plaintiff is represented by Edelson. Google, LLC is represented by Cooley and Neal & McDevitt. The University defendants are represented by Kirkland & Ellis.