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Third Circuit Affirms Decision to Dismiss Doctor's Act 13 Challenge

In a recent non-precedential opinion, the Third Circuit affirmed a decision of the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissing an action on the basis that a doctor lacked standing to challenge what he refers to as the “Medical Gag Rules” of Act 13.  In Rodriguez v. Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the plaintiff, a doctor specializing in the treatment of renal diseases, hypertension and advanced diabetes, asserted he is unable to obtain critical information about the quality of local water.  Specifically, he claimed that he needed the information to properly diagnose and treat patients whose illnesses or medical conditions allegedly resulted from contact with environmental contaminants.  He therefore challenged Section 3222.1 of Act 13, which provides two mechanisms for health professionals to learn proprietary information about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—one for medical emergencies and one for non-emergency situations.  Dr. Rodriguez argued Act 13’s non-emergency provision, which requires a written statement and the execution of a confidentiality agreement, impermissibly restricts his speech and is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.

The Middle District of Pennsylvania held that Dr. Rodriguez’s alleged injury was too speculative to satisfy the requirements of standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution.  In this regard, Dr. Rodriguez did not allege that he had ever been in a situation where he needed or attempted to obtain such information, or that he had ever been forced to sign a confidentiality agreement under Act 13.  In short, he never suffered an injury-in-fact.

On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the District Court, holding that it was insufficient for Dr. Rodriguez to rely on “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.”  Rather, he must allege that he suffered an invasion of an interest that is actual or imminent, not conjectural.  The Third Circuit also distinguished Dr. Rodriguez’s reliance upon the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s 2013 opinion in Robinson Twp., Washington Cty. v. Com.  The court ruled that Dr. Rodriguez’s reliance on Pennsylvania law as authority regarding federal standing requirements was misplaced.