United States v. Zhou

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 05-10-2012
  • Case #: 10-50231
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judge Kleinfeld and District Judge Sammartino
  • Full Text Opinion

42 U.S.C. § 1320d-6(a)(2) contains two separate elements necessary for a violation: a person must (1) knowingly obtain individually identifiable health information relating to an individual and (2) use that information in a manner inconsistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

After being terminated from the University of California at Los Angeles Health System, Huping Zhou accessed patient records on at least four occasions, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-6(a)(2). Zhou moved to dismiss the charges because they did not allege that he knew his actions were illegal. The district court denied Zhou’s motion to dismiss. Zhou entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal his denied motion to dismiss. On appeal, Zhou challenged the interpretation of the term “knowingly” as it applies in the statute, arguing that a defendant violates the statute only if he knew his actions were illegal. The Court rejected Zhou’s argument, finding the statute to be unambiguous. A violation of § 1320d-6(a)(2) contains two elements, as indicated by the use of the word “and” in the subsection. All that is required to be in violation of the statute is: (1) “the defendant knowingly obtained individually identifiable health information relating to another individual; and (2) that the defendant obtained this. . . information for a purpose other than permitted by Title 42, United States Code, Chapter 7, Subchapter XI, Part C.” When a statute is unambiguous, it is not necessary to consider legislative history. Zhou also argued that the civil penalties section of the statute supports his argument, because it includes an exception where the defendant can show that he did not know his actions violated the statute. The Court found this argument “unavailing,” because the civil and criminal subsections are completely separate. Also, the absence of the exception in § 1320d-6(a)(2) indicates that Congress “explicitly chose not to include” it. AFFIRMED.

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