The University of Chicago Medical Center is trying to get claims of selling patient data to Alphabet Inc.'s Google in violation of privacy laws dismissed by alleging the plaintiff’s attorney has a conflict of interest as an investor in another analytics company, according to an Illinois state court filing.
Attorney Jay Edelson has “significant and personal financial interests” in a health analytics competitor Quant HC Inc., according to the medical center in the Nov. 13 filing. Edelson and his law partners allegedly “funded, organized, and served as officers and directors of” the company, which was founded by Edelson’s wife, according to the motion to strike before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Federal civil rules limit conflicts of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Defendants will often try to get cases dismissed by using legal strategies such as trying to show conflicts of interest between plaintiffs, their attorneys, and possible competitors in the field. These challenges are in addition to usual motions to toss claims.
The case stems from allegations that the medical center sold patient records to Google so it could create new products instead of using them for research. Plaintiff Matt Dinerstein alleged that the actions violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, in addition to Illinois health privacy laws, because patients didn’t give approval to share their records for financial gain.
The medical center wrote in its motion that the conflict of interest described shows that “Edelson cannot provide adequate representation to the class.”
“Edelson’s personal and financial interests in Quant create both the appearance of a conflict and an actual conflict with the interests of the putative class,” according to the medical center.
Edelson, however, denies any conflict of interest and contends that the university is trying to confuse the situation.
“The university’s response, unfortunately, is to belatedly try to throw up dust by making offensive and counter-factual arguments about my family,” Edelson said in an interview.
Google did not join the motion to strike, but defended its data sharing deal with the university. The company takes HIPAA compliance seriously, including the data deal with the university, a Google spokesman said.
Edelson said, “We are glad that Google has decided not to join the university’s cynical strategy and look forward to holding all the defendants culpable for their blatant privacy violations.”
Cooley LLP represents Google. Kirkland & Ellis LLP represents the university.
The case is Dinerstein v. Google, LLC, N.D. Ill., No. 19-cv-04311, motion to strike 11/13/19.