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U.S. Court In Texas Orders Medical Center To Produce Records Of Blood Alcohol Test

 
 

U.S. Court In Texas Orders Medical Center To Produce Records Of Blood Alcohol Test

A federal court in Texas denied a medical center�s motion to quash a subpoena for production of a defendant�s medical records where the defendant had been cited for driving while intoxicated and took a blood alcohol test at the medical center.

Defendant, Diana Zamora, was criminally charged with driving while intoxicated on federal property. In connection with the charge, the government served a subpoena on Bay Area Healthcare Group, Ltd. doing business as Corpus Christi Medical Center-Bay Area (Bay Area) requesting Zamora�s medical records. According to the government, Zamora was taken to Bay Area after she was arrested and submitted to a blood alcohol test at the hospital.

Bay Area moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that it is prohibited from disclosing the records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Texas Health and Safety Code � 81.103, and 42 U.S.C. � 290dd-2 e.

A magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas denied the motion. The court first noted that HIPAA allows disclosures of personal health information for law enforcement purposes. According to the court, HIPAA permits disclosures for law enforcement purposes to a law enforcement official as required by law, or in compliance with "(A) A court order or court-ordered warrant, or a subpoena or summons issued by a judicial officer; (B) A grand jury subpoena; or (C) An administrative request, including an administrative subpoena or summons, a civil or an authorized investigative demand, or similar process authorized under law...." 45 C.F.R. � 164.512(f)(1)(ii).

In the instant case, the subpoena was issued by a clerk of the court, but the court found �no case law directly addressing whether a clerk is a judicial officer for purposes� of HIPAA. Looking at other jurisdictions that have indirectly addressed the question, the court determined that a clerk is not a judicial officer and therefore �the subpoena cannot be enforced on that basis.�

Nevertheless, the court found that HIPAA was not intended to serve as a means to evade criminal prosecution and because the government�s response to the motion to quash could be construed as a motion for a court order, the government may still be able to access the records under � 164.512(f)(1)(ii)(A).

�Based upon the totality of the circumstances and the evidence in the record, the government has established probable cause justifying the production of the medical records,� the court held.

The court also found that Bay Area�s argument that the records are protected under 42 U.S.C. � 290dd-2 e, which protects confidentiality of records concerning a patient's substance abuse or mental health treatment, must fail. The court found that the government has shown good cause for production of the records�the results of the blood alcohol test�which outweighs any harm to Zamora in this case.

Thus the court denied Bay Area�s motion to quash the subpoena.

United States v. Zamora, 2006 WL 45904 (S.D.Tex. Jan. 10, 2006).

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