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Smallwood v. Central Peninsula General Hosp., Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 2, 2010

Patricia SMALLWOOD, as Personal Representative of the Estate of John L. Smallwood, Appellant,
v.
CENTRAL PENINSULA GENERAL HOSPITAL, INC., Appellee.

Page 458

Nikole Nelson, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Robert J. Molloy and Kristine A. Schmidt, Molloy Schmidt LLC, Kenai, for Appellee.

Before: CARPENETI, Chief Justice, FABE, WINFREE, and CHRISTEN, Justices, and BOLGER, Justice pro tem.[*]

OPINION

BOLGER, Justice pro tem.

I. INTRODUCTION

John L. Smallwood obtained an injunction requiring Central Peninsula General Hospital to discontinue its practice of " balance billing" certain Medicaid patients, and the hospital complied by implementing a new billing system. But when Smallwood did not dispute the hospital's compliance, the superior court erroneously concluded that he had abandoned his balance billing claim. Smallwood appealed the order that was based on this erroneous conclusion, but he died while this appeal was pending. The superior court then dismissed this case, even though " supervision and control" had been transferred to this court. We reverse the superior court's finding that Smallwood abandoned his claim, vacate the superior court's dismissal order, and remand for a determination of attorney's fees.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Smallwood was a Medicaid recipient whom Central Peninsula General Hospital treated on multiple occasions.[1] The hospital sent Smallwood bills that included both approved Medicaid co-payment amounts and unauthorized charges. [2] Smallwood did not pay the bills and sued the hospital, alleging that it violated state and federal Medicaid law by charging him amounts exceeding those allowed as co-payments, a practice known as " balance billing." [3] He also alleged that the hospital violated the Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA) because its billing practices were confusing and misleading.[4] He requested declaratory and injunctive relief for himself and all of the hospital's Medicaid patients.[5] The superior court awarded the hospital all fees allowed by Medicaid, ordered the hospital to stop overcharging Smallwood, and " concluded that neither party had prevailed on the issues of injunctive and declaratory relief." [6]

Smallwood appealed the decision to this court. We affirmed the superior court's order requiring the hospital to stop overcharging Smallwood and the award of the valid co-payment amounts to the hospital.[7] We vacated the order denying injunctive and declaratory relief on the balance billing and UTPA claims and remanded the case for reconsideration of those issues.[8]

Page 459

On remand, the superior court held a hearing at which it ordered the hospital to stop all balance billing. The court ordered the hospital to provide an affidavit within two weeks confirming that it was no longer balance billing Medicaid patients. It instructed Smallwood's attorney to request a hearing if she was not satisfied with the affidavit. The court also set a briefing schedule for the UTPA claim.

The hospital submitted a timely affidavit describing the procedures the hospital had put in place to prevent balance billing of Medicaid recipients. Smallwood and the hospital both filed briefs addressing only the UTPA claim.

The superior court issued a memorandum decision concluding that Smallwood had abandoned his claim for relief from balance billing because he did not include that issue in his brief. The court also concluded that the balance billing claim was moot because Medicaid patients were no longer being balance billed. It ...


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