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R.I. Supreme Court Orders Review Of Subpoena For Psychiatric Records Under Confidentiality Of Health Care Information Act

In a case concerning the discovery of psychiatric records, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has remanded the matter to the Superior Court for additional findings pursuant to the Confidentiality of Health Care Information Act ("CHCIA"), R.I.G.L 5-37.3-1, et seq. The issue arose in the context of a convicted murder's habeas corpus proceeding and his attempt to discover the psychiatric records of a witness in his criminal trial.

Plaintiff was convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction in 2002. Plaintiff pursued a pro se application for post-conviction relief arguing, inter alia, the prosecution withheld information about the witness. In 2011, plaintiff deposed the witness and she testified she suffered from a history of mental illness and memory problems. She could not recall how long she had suffered these ailments. Plaintiff served a subpoena for plaintiff's psychiatric records. The witness moved to quash the subpoena. After a hearing and an in camera review of over 700 pages of records, the Superior Court ordered production of a small percentage of the records. The court granted the witness' motion for a stay of its order pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court said CHCIA created a statutory exception to the usually liberal rules of civil discovery. It requires that the trial court consider and balance six factors before ordering production of confidential health care information such as the witness' psychiatric records: 1) the particular purpose for which the information is collected, 2) the individual's reasonable expectations of privacy in the information, 3) the degree to which disclosure of the information would embarrass, injure, or invade the privacy of the individual, 4) the effect of the disclosure on the individual's future health care, 5) the importance of the information to the lawsuit or proceeding, and, 6) whether the information is available from another source, including Rule 35 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Court said the Superior Court failed to consider and balance the specific factors set forth in CHCIA. It remanded the matter for those findings.

DePina v. State, No. 2011-259, (R.I. Dec. 6, 2013)

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