Hamlet H.M.A. v. Hernandez

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Opinion Filed December 06, 2019
Attorney for the Case Mark Hayes
Amicus Brief Writers Laura Wetsch Jon Wall
Court NC Supreme Court
Docket No. 425A18

When the North Carolina Legislature enacted, and then amended, the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA), it made clear that the statute’s intent was to broadly cover commercial activities.  However, in response to legislator concerns that the UDTPA not create another cause of action for malpractice claims, the UDTPA expressly exempted “professional services rendered by a learned professional.”  Thus, a doctor or a lawyer cannot be sued under the UDTPA for injury caused by the professional services they provide to their patients or clients.

But can doctors (and lawyers) be sued under the UDTPA for their commercial activities that do not constitute the rendering of professional services to clients?  NCAJ’s amicus brief said, “yes,” arguing that the learned professional exemption was never intended to be a “status-based” exemption, and that these professionals nevertheless remain subject to the Act for commercial activities not involving the rendering of professional services.  The Act’s language, statutory construction principles, and the Legislature’s intent support this narrow interpretation.  By adopting such an interpretation, the N.C. Supreme Court could curtail a line of lower appellate cases that greatly expanded the exemption for healthcare providers and bring North Carolina in line with the majority of other States’ interpretation of similar provisions.  NCAJ’s amicus brief argues that a doctor should be able to maintain counterclaims under the UDTPA arising from a hospital’s alleged fraudulent recruiting.