A federal appellate court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by an area physician challenging a law that precluded him from releasing information he obtained regarding chemicals contained in hydraulic fracking fluid.
Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez of Dallas challenged Act 13 of 2012, which allows medical professionals to learn the ingredients in fracking fluid if the information is used to treat patients, but requires them to enter a confidentiality agreement.
Hydraulic fracking is a process that involves blasting chemically-treated water into the Marcellus shale to release natural gas. The chemicals include substances that are potentially harmful to human health.
Dr. Rodriquez, a kidney specialist who has questioned the health impact of the fracking process, filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 that alleged the “medical gag rule” interfered with his ability to treat patients, some of whom worked in the natural gas industry and had been exposed to fracking chemicals.
The lawsuit argued Dr. Rodriguez had an ethical obligation to share information regarding fracking fluid ingredients with his patients, other medical professionals and the general public “to advance scientific knowledge.” The suit, which named the head of the Department of Environmental Protection and State Attorney General as defendants, sought a court order precluding the agencies from enforcing the law.
Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo dismissed the complaint in June. This week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s ruling.
The appellate court said it concurred with Judge Caputo’s determination that Dr. Rodriguez lacked legal standing to bring the lawsuit. The court noted federal law requires a plaintiff show he or she suffered an actual injury. In this case, Dr. Rodriguez claimed his injury was the threat of a lawsuit or professional discipline if he failed to adequately treat a patient because of his lack of knowledge of the chemicals to which the patient may have been exposed. The court agreed with Judge Caputo that purported injury was too speculative to meet the legal standard.