Commercial laboratories owe a duty of care to drug testing subjects and the failure to follow established procedures may be a violation of that duty in certain circumstances, according to a recent decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Rodriguez v. Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, d/b/a LabCorp, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13505 (D.D.C. Feb. 4, 2014).  However, given that the employee could not demonstrate that his drug test results were inaccurate, his case was dismissed.

Florentino Rodriguez, a long-term employee of the District of Columbia, was required to submit to a random drug test pursuant to the District of Columbia’s Mandatory Drug and Alcohol Testing Program for Safety-Sensitive Positions.  Defendant LabCorp certified his test results as positive for the presence of marijuana metabolites, and he subsequently was terminated from his position as an Urban Park Ranger.

While Rodriguez did not deny that he used marijuana, he filed suit against LabCorp, alleging that the laboratory failed to follow government-mandated drug testing procedures and therefore improperly reported his positive result to his employer.   Specifically, he alleged LabCorp violated the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (which incorporate the United States Department of Transportation drug testing provisions), by failing to confirm, in writing, whether Rodriguez had a positive initial urine screen.  According to the regulations, a laboratory can only report a drug test result as positive if the specimen exceeds the “cutoff concentrations” for both the initial screen and the confirmatory test.  The cutoff concentration for an initial screen of marijuana is 50 ng/mL.   Rodriguez claimed the report submitted by LabCorp to his employer failed to indicate whether LabCorp complied with these procedural requirements.  Therefore, LabCorp “denied [him] a fair test in compliance with . . . government procedures.”

In deciding Rodriguez’s negligence claim, the Court held that testing laboratories owe testing subjects a duty of care, as it “is entirely foreseeable that an employee who submits a specimen for drug testing will suffer adverse effects to his or her employment if the laboratory erroneously reports a positive result.”    However, the Court declined to decide the “open question” whether that duty requires strict compliance with quality control procedures.   Instead, it dismissed Rodriguez’s negligence claim on the basis that the report stated clearly that LabCorp conducted an initial screen of Rodriguez’s urine specimen and that such screen exceeded the 50 ng/mL cutoff concentration.  Therefore, there was no actual violation of procedure and Rodriguez’s claim could not withstand LabCorp’s motion to dismiss.