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Cooper Medical Center v. Joyner

Decided: January 22, 1979.

COOPER MEDICAL CENTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD JOYNER, DEFENDANT



Rossetti, J.s.c.

Rossetti

This is defendant's motion to vacate a default judgment entered for the cost of medical services furnished defendant. The "meritorious defense," Marder v. Realty Constr. Co. , 84 N.J. Super. 313, 318 (App. Div. 1964), aff'd 43 N.J. 508 (1964), alleged by defendant is plaintiff hospital's failure to comply with the Hill-Burton Act, the "Public Service Health Act," 42 U.S.C.A. § 291 et seq. , reenacted by Congress as the National Health Planning and Resource Development Act of 1974, 42 U.S.C.A. § 300k et seq. , in furnishing free or below costs medical services to certain indigent beneficiaries of that act. Neither the Hill-Burton Act nor any regulations promulgated thereunder contain any express authority which would give a defendant standing to raise the hospital's failure to comply with the Hill-Burton Act as a defense to the hospital debt. This court has found no New Jersey or federal court case which has treated this specific issue.

The Hill-Burton Act was enacted for the purpose of assisting the states in implementing programs for the construction and/or modernization of medical facilities in order to furnish adequate hospital and medical services to all the

people. 42 U.S.C.A. § 291 (1970). To carry out its purpose, Congress has appropriated sums of money to be paid to states which submitted acceptable plans for construction. 42 U.S.C.A. § 291(a) (1970).

The act does not specifically establish a cause of action for nongovernmental parties who seek to enforce a hospital's obligation to provide a "reasonable volume" of services to those "unable to pay therefor." 42 U.S.C.A. § 291e.

This court has concluded that Congress did not intend to foster compliance or enforce the provisions of the Hill-Burton Act by establishing a violation as a defense to a hospital's suit for medical services rendered.

The Hill-Burton Act by its terms has entrusted the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (hereinafter "Secretary") with the responsibility and authority to carry out the purposes and intent of the act, and has given specific powers to the Secretary in that regard. 42 U.S.C.A. § 300p-2(c).

Extensive federal regulations have been implemented to establish the machinery and procedure for the enforcement of and compliance with the provisions of the Hill-Burton Act. 42 C.F.R. § 53.111 et seq.

A further method of enforcement of the act has been entrusted to the states, 42 C.F.R. § 53.111(j), including effective sanctions which may be invoked by the states for the failure of a hospital facility to furnish the appropriate medical services. These sanctions may include, but need not be limited to, license revocation, termination of state assistance and court action.*fn1

Clearly, Congress and the Secretary have made ample provision for the enforcement of the act. There is no necessity for this court to fashion a civil remedy in order to compel compliance by a particular medical facility. If the intent of Congress or the Secretary was to grant such an extraordinary civil remedy it would have been indicated in the enforcement provisions of the act and the regulations.

Some federal courts have allowed actions by nongovernmental entities to compel compliance. Most of these actions were class actions brought by the beneficiaries. Cook v. Ochsner Foundation Hosp. , 319 F. Supp. 603 (E.D. La. 1970), aff'd 559 F.2d 968 (5 Cir. 1977), and 61 F.R.D. 354 (E.D. La. 1972); Gordon v. Forsyth Cty. Hosp. Auth., Inc. , 409 F. Supp. 708 (M.D.N.C. 1976), aff'd in part, vacated in part on other grounds, remanding individual plaintiff's claims upon stipulation of exhaustion of administrative remedies pending appeal, 544 F.2d 748 (4 Cir. 1976); Poirrier v. St. James Parish Policy Jury , 372 F. Supp. 1021 (E.D. La. 1974), aff'd 531 F.2d 316 (5 Cir. 1976), reh. den. 537 F.2d 840 (5th Cir. 1976); National Ass'n of Neighborhood Health Centers, Inc. v. Mathews , 179 U.S. App. D.C. 135, 551 F.2d 321 (D.C. Cir. 1976) held that a national organization has standing under Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C.A. § 702, to challenge H.E.W. administrative designations under the Hill-Burton Act; Euresti v. Stenner , 458 F.2d 1115 (10 Cir. 1972), reh. den. (10 Cir. 1972); Newsom v. Vanderbilt Univ. , 453 F. Supp. 401 ...


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