Texas Appeals Court
Vacates Lower Court's Document Production Order
In an appeal of a discovery order,
appeals court June 30 vacated a lower court's order that a hospital produce
records of non-party patients and instructed the trial court to make further
factual determinations regarding the relevance of the records.
Russell sued Christus Health Southeast Texas d/b/a Christus St. Mary Hospital (hospital). During discovery,
Russell requested the hospital produce certain documents, but with patients'
names redacted. The hospital objected, citing the physician-patient privilege,
and "HIPAA privilege." Russell filed a motion to compel production, arguing
that the documents were relevant to the hospital's defense and it should not be
allowed to use the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
as a shield. The hospital answered that non-party medical records are
privileged and therefore are not discoverable. The trial court ordered the
hospital to produce the documents and the hospital appealed.
Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's order and remanded the case. The appeals
court noted at the outset that a party must state in its response to a
discovery request: "(1) information or material responsive to the request
has been withheld, (2) the request to which the information or material
relates, and (3) the privilege or privileges asserted." Therefore, the
hospital should not have objected to the requests on the basis of privilege,
but "this was not fatal to its privilege assertion," said the court.
with Russell's argument that the hospital is not a physician and therefore
cannot claim the physician-patient privilege applies, the appeals court found
that privilege belongs to the patient and "there is nothing in the record
indicating the nonparties have consented to disclosure for purposes of this
next argued that the records were relevant to the hospital's defense and were
therefore admissible under an exception to the general privilege rule. In
addressing this argument, the appeals court relied on the Texas Supreme Court's
decision in R.K. v. Ramirez, 887 S.W.2d 836 (Tex. 1994), in which the court found:
Communications and records should
not be subject to discovery if the patient's condition is merely an evidentiary
or intermediate issue of fact, rather than an "ultimate" issue for a
claim or defense, or if the condition is merely tangential to a claim rather
than "central" to it. . . . As a general rule, a . . . condition will
be a "part" of a claim or defense if the pleadings indicate that the
jury must make a factual determination concerning the condition itself.
court said that it would leave it to the trial court to determine whether "the
other patients' medical conditions are part of plaintiffs' claims as pleaded
and not merely evidentiary or intermediate issues of fact." The court further
noted that the trial court should be vigilant of the non-parties' interests in
privacy and should tailor any information disclosed "so that it is limited in
scope to the litigation exception or to information that is otherwise not
Christus Health Southeast Tex., No. 09-05-124 CV
App. June 30, 2005).
To read the opinion, go to http://www.9thcoa.courts.state.tx.us/opinions/HTMLopinion.asp?OpinionID=7971