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Betty Ford Center Sues Cabbies|To Stop Tell-All Book on Clients

INDIO, Calif. (CN) - The Betty Ford Center sued two cab drivers and their business, claiming the married couple plan to reveal private medical information about its clients by publishing a book about famous people they drove to rehab.

The Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower sued Robin Burns, Kevin Burns and their company Classicab, in Riverside County Superior Court.

Betty Ford claims it signed a contract with the Burnses in April 2008, "individually and on behalf of Classicab," to provide taxi rides for patients to and from the rehab center.

The Burnses signed confidentially agreements, promising not to "discuss, transmit, or narrate" any patients' confidential information "except in the routine in the routine conduct of providing services to BFC," the complaint states.

They also signed Ford's code of ethics, "in which they agreed to ... not harm a patient, either physically or psychologically, and would not engage in any activity that could be construed as exploitation of patient for personal gain, including financial gain. Defendants also agreed not to name or give information about a patient or former patient," according to the complaint.

Ford claims that the Burneses and Classicab terminated the agreement on March 2, 2009, after the yearlong contract ended.

But that does not get them out of the confidentiality agreements and code of ethics, Ford says.

However, in July 2011, Ford says it "became aware of facts indicating that defendants Kevin Burns, Robin Burns and Classicab were contemplating writing a book about the individuals they transported to and from BFC during the terms of the contractual agreement between plaintiff and defendants."

Ford says it wrote to the defendants, demanding that the book not be published, because it would violate the agreements they signed. But the Burnses blew it off, Betty Ford says.

On Dec. 9, 2012, "defendants Robin Burns, Kevin Burns and Classicab advertised at Canada Fest 2012 at the Palm Springs Convention Center, via a display, for the summer release of their book titled 'Get in the Cab - You're Going to Rehab,'" the complaint states. "The advertisement depicts a sign with the words 'Betty Ford Center' and 'Palm Springs.'"

That day the Burnses also "handed out cards advertising their book 'Get in the Cab - You're Going to Rehab' on which the name 'Betty Ford Center' is prominently displayed on a sign," the complaint states.

"On the cards defendants handed out to advertise their book, it is written, 'True stories of taking people to rehab for over 13 years as the exclusive transportation for the Betty Ford Center.'"

Betty Ford says this claim is false, and the defendants know it.

It claims the defendants are advertising their book on the Internet, soliciting emails so they can let people know when the book hits shelves.

Ford claims the defendants are "using BFC's name in advertising for their book as well as in their book without the consent of BFC, disclosing protected health information of BFC and its patients without consent, and exploiting BFC and its patients for personal and financial gain."

It claims the defendants' ads depict Betty Ford in a false light by showing "a BCF patient being transported to or from BFC holding a martini glass out the window of the cab."

It claims the ad "misleads the public into believing the Betty Ford Center has allowed the use of its name in connection with a book, that it permits disclosure of private protected health information, including identities of its patients, and that it provides alcohol for or authorizes alcohol use by its patients being transported to and from its facility."

It claims the "public disclosure of private facts concerning BFC and its patients" in the book is damaging the center's reputation, interfering with its ability to treat patients, causing it to lose patients, and exposing it to "civil and administrative liability."

The Betty Ford Center seeks an injunction preventing the defendants from revealing its patients' private information and from using its name "in connection with any book or advertisement or merchandise."

It also seeks damages and punitive damages for breach of contract, negligence, public disclosure of private facts, false light, false advertising, intentional interference with contract, and violations of business law.

The Betty Ford Center is represented by Frederick M. Borges with Brobeck, West, Borges, Rosa & Douville, of Newport Beach.

Former First Lady Betty Ford and tire mogul Leonard Firestone opened the now-famous rehab center in Rancho Mirage in 1982. It has treated patients from "all over the world, many of whom are celebrities," the complaint states.

As a rehab center, the clinic must comply with state and federal laws protecting its patients' private medical information.

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