| Brent E. Beveridge, Esq.|
Beveridge Law Offices
Fairmont, West Virginia
Attorney for the Appellant
| Stephen M. LaCagnin, Esq.
Shannon Smith Wolfe, Esq.
Parween S. Mascari, Esq.
Jackson Kelly, PLLC
Morgantown, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellee
The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
CHIEF JUSTICE ALBRIGHT and JUSTICE STARCHER dissent
and reserve the right to file dissenting opinions.
This action is before this Court upon the appeal of the appellant and plaintiff below, Michael Angelucci, from the March 22, 2004, order of the Circuit Court of Marion County, West Virginia, granting summary judgment in favor of the appellee and defendant below, Fairmont General Hospital, Inc. The controversy concerns the appellant's indebtedness to the Hospital in the amount of $1,663.80 for cardiac rehabilitation services. In the complaint, the appellant alleged that the Hospital breached a contractual obligation to him by failing to submit the bills for the rehabilitation services to his medical benefit provider and that the Hospital wrongfully and maliciously disclosed the debt to various credit reporting companies. In granting summary judgment for the Hospital, the Circuit Court set forth findings of fact and conclusions of law, thereby confirming the appellant's responsibility to pay the $1,663.80.
This Court has before it the petition for appeal, all matters of record and the memoranda of law filed by counsel. Upon review, this Court notes that the appellant signed an agreement at the Hospital, prior to receiving treatment, which stated that he would be directly responsible for the payment for Hospital services not paid by his medical benefit provider. The appellant received cardiac rehabilitation services at the Hospital and does not dispute the validity or the amount of the resulting debt. Moreover, the Circuit Court determined that the Hospital, in fact, submitted invoices for the services to the appellant's medical benefit provider. The $1,663.80, however, was never paid by the provider or by the appellant. Consequently, this Court is of the opinion that the Circuit Court was warranted in granting summary judgment in favor of the Hospital.
Accordingly, the March 22, 2004, order of the Circuit Court of Marion County is affirmed.
Mr. Angelucci has produced no
evidence of fraud, intent or malice on the part of FGH and no evidence that FGH
knowingly breached any duty to him. * * * Mr. Angelucci acknowledges the debt
and that FGH had every right to submit the bills to a collection agency when
they remained unpaid. Thus, FGH was under no duty to remove a debt with accurate
information from Mr. Angelucci's credit report. * * * Mr. Angelucci's debt was
valid, and FGH had a right to take action in its collection of the debt. Furthermore,
Mr. Angelucci has provided no proof his credit rating would be higher in the
absence of the FGH debt.
Syl. pt. 3, Harrison v. Town of Eleanor, 191 W.Va. 611, 447 S.E.2d 546
(1994). See also, syl. pt. 7, Aetna Casualty and Surety Company v.
Federal Insurance Company of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).
Specifically, syllabus point 5 of Wilkinson v. Searls, 155 W.Va. 475,
184 S.E.2d 735 (1971), holds:
A motion for summary judgment should be granted if the pleadings, exhibits and discovery depositions upon which the motion is submitted for decision disclose that the case involves no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the party who made the motion is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
Syl., Redden v. Comer, 200 W.Va. 209, 488 S.E.2d 484 (1997); syl. pt. 1, Wayne County Bank v. Hodges, 175 W.Va. 723, 338 S.E.2d 202 (1985).
Upon appeal, the entry of a summary judgment is reviewed by this Court de novo. Redden, supra, 200 W.Va. at 211, 488 S.E.2d at 486; syl. pt. 1, Koffler v. City of Huntington, 196 W.Va. 202, 469 S.E.2d 645 (1996); syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). Nevertheless, as this Court stated in syllabus point 3 of Fayette County National Bank v. Lilly, 199 W.Va. 349, 484 S.E.2d 232 (1997): Although our standard of review for summary judgment remains de novo, a circuit court's order granting summary judgment must set out factual findings sufficient to permit meaningful appellate review. Findings of fact, by necessity, include those facts which the circuit court finds relevant, determinative of the issues and undisputed. Syl., Hively v. Merrifield, 212 W.Va.
804, 575 S.E.2d 414 (2002); syl. pt. 3, Glover v. St. Mary's Hospital, 209 W.Va. 695, 551 S.E.2d 31 (2001); syl. pt. 2, State ex rel. Department of Health and Human Resources v. Kaufman, 203 W.Va. 56, 506 S.E.2d 93 (1998).
In the action now to be determined, the appellant executed an agreement in September 1997assigning the Hospital his right to benefits from the NALC Health Benefit Plan for medical services. The agreement also provided that, in the event bills for such services were not paid through such coverage or by insurance, the appellant would be directly responsible. (See footnote 4) As the agreement stated:
It is understood, whether I sign as agent, patient, or as Guarantor that I am directly responsible and will pay for services rendered and not paid by insurance. An assignment of benefits of any insurance policy or medical reimbursement plan shall not be deemed a waiver [of] the Hospital's right to require payment directly from the undersigned or the patient. The Hospital expressly reserves the right to require such payment.
The agreement concluded as follows: I have read this form and understand its content. I have had an opportunity to ask questions which have been answered to my satisfaction. During his subsequent deposition, the appellant acknowledged his ultimate responsibility to pay the Hospital for the cardiac rehabilitation services. (See footnote 5)
Here, neither the validity of the debt nor the amount thereof are in dispute. As stated above, the original amount payable, $1,947.00, was reduced to $1,663.80 through the $283.20 payment made by the NALC Health Benefit Plan. Importantly, the Circuit Court indicated that NALC had received all the invoices relating to the debt. As the March 22, 2004, order states: FGH did submit Mr. Angelucci's bills to his insurance company for payment. That determination is supported by the affidavit of the Hospital's Director of Patient Accounting filed in the Circuit Court. The affidavit states in part:
FGH electronically submitted
invoices to NALC for services rendered to the [appellant] on a monthly basis
by downloading invoices from its medical billing system, MEDITECH, to an electronic
billing system, QUADAX.
QUADAX then electronically forwards claims to the respective clearinghouse used by NALC.
FGH tracks the submission of invoices through its MEDITECH computer system, which automatically creates a log of transactions once they are electronically forwarded to QUADAX for submission to NALC or any other insurance company.
Based upon the record automatically created by MEDITECH, FGH submitted four invoices for the [appellant's] cardiac rehabilitation services to QUADAX for submission to NALC: (1) a claim dated 9/30/97, submitted 10/01/97 in the amount of $354.00; (2) a claim dated 10/31/97, submitted on 11/03/97 in the amount of $708.00; (3) a claim dated 11/30/97, submitted on 12/01/97 in the amount of $590.00; and (4) a claim dated 12/31/97, submitted on 01/01/98 in the amount of $295.00.
The assertion of NALC that it did not receive the invoices, notwithstanding, an examination of the record reveals no basis for overturning the finding of the Circuit Court that the invoices were submitted to NALC for payment. The $1,663.80 never having been paid by either the NALC Health Benefit Plan or the appellant, the appellant's complaint was without justification in alleging that the Hospital wrongfully and maliciously disclosed the debt to the credit reporting companies. Consequently, the Circuit Court was warranted in granting summary judgment in favor of the Hospital. (See footnote 6)