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S.G. v. San Francisco Unified School District

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 18, 2019

S.G., et al., Plaintiffs,



         Plaintiff S.G., a minor student, alleges that Defendant Donavan Eagle Harper, a teacher at Defendant San Francisco Unified School District (“the District”), sexually abused her and that the District failed to take timely action to intervene and to remedy the effects of the harassment on Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that Harper’s abuse has caused her severe emotional and psychological distress. Docket No. 40 (First Amended Complaint or “FAC”) ¶ 38. She now suffers from moderate to severe anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder, has become socially isolated, and meets regularly with a therapist. Id. ¶¶ 48–50. One of the claims she asserts against Defendants is intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. ¶¶ 99–107.

         The parties are now engaged in discovery. During a May 30, 2019 case management conference, the parties notified the Court of a possible dispute regarding examination requests. The Court set a briefing schedule in the event the parties were unable to resolve the dispute. See Docket No. 117. The District has now moved to compel Plaintiff’s attendance at a medical examination pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35. Docket No. 119 (“Mot.”). After the hearing on the motion on August 8, 2019, the Court directed Dr. Hall to “submit a declaration in support of each of the four proposed tests, explaining the importance/relevance of each.” Minute Order from Hearing on August 8, 2019 (“Min. Order”); Docket No. 131. The parties were ordered to meet and confer “to determine whether they c[ould] agree upon which test(s) will be administered and the timing/conditions of any such testing.” Id. Should an agreement not be reached, the Court permitted Plaintiff “to file a short response as to why (or which of) the four tests identified by Defendant are not warranted.” Id. An agreement was not reached by the parties, and declarations of Dr. Hall and Dr. Cecchet have been filed. See Docket Nos. 134, 136. The Court now rules on Defendants’ Motion to Compel Plaintiff’s Attendance at Medical Examination.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At bottom, the parties’ dispute is over the scope of the examination. Plaintiff has “undergone a psychological evaluation and testing by her own expert, Dr. Stacy Cecchet, who provided a serious psychological diagnosis relying heavily on her own interpretations of the test results.” Mot. at 3. Plaintiff describes this testing as “a comprehensive, 5-hour psychological evaluation of Plaintiff,” in which “Dr. Cecchet performed a variety of tests, including the Behavior Assessment System for Children – Second Edition (BASC), Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children – Second Edition (MASC-2), Child Depression Inventory – Second Edition (CDI-2), and the Traumatic Events Screening Inventory (TESI-C).” Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Compel Medical Exam (“Opp.”) at 3; Docket No. 123; see also Id. at 6. (“Dr. Cecchet has completed only a straight-forward, five-hour forensic psychological evaluation including basic psychological testing.”)

         The District is now seeking to subject Plaintiff to a psychiatric examination by Dr. Anlee Kuo and a psychological evaluation by Dr. Sarah Hall. See Mot. at 6; Docket No. 126 (“Reply”) at 2. The District characterizes the psychiatric and psychological evaluations as two components of “a single Independent Medical Exam” (“IME”). Mot. at 7. Plaintiff “consent[s] to a psychiatric examination by Dr. Kuo,” Opp. at 2–3, and objects only to the additional psychological assessment to be conducted by Dr. Hall, see Declaration of Dr. Cecchet in Opposition to Proposed Tests to Be Administered to Plaintiff (“Supp. Cecchet Dec.”) at 3–4; Docket No. 136.

         A. Dispute as to Neuropsychological Testing

         Initially, the parties appeared to disagree about whether Plaintiff was to submit to neuropsychological testing, in addition to the psychiatric evaluation that was to be conducted by Dr. Kuo. See Opp. at 2, 3. Plaintiff observed that “[t]he focus of a neuropsychological evaluation includes cognitive and motor function, memory, perception, and problem-solving,” but that Plaintiff is not making any claims related to neurological functioning deficits.” Opp. at 2 (internal citations omitted). As a result, Plaintiff denied that such testing was relevant and argued that Defendants had “failed to establish that ‘good cause’ exists or that Plaintiff has placed her neuropsychological condition ‘in controversy.’” Opp. at 2, 4. Plaintiff also added that “Plaintiff has not submitted to any neuropsychological testing, nor has Plaintiff retained any neuropsychologist experts.” Opp. at 6; see also Id. at 2 (“Plaintiff’s own expert, Dr. Stacy Cecchet PhD ABPP, did not complete any neuropsychological testing.”). Defendants responded that they do not “seek neuropsychological testing of Plaintiff, only psychological testing. The DISTRICT and its retained experts agree that neuropsychological testing is not required given Plaintiff’s current alleged injuries and diagnosis.” Reply at 2. Given the resolution of this earlier disagreement, the Court will not address the issue of neuropsychological testing.

         B. The Need for Psychiatric and Psychological Testing

         As noted above, the parties have agreed to a psychiatric examination to be conducted by Dr. Kuo. See Opp. at 2, 3. The scope of Dr. Kuo’s proposed examination is notable. Defendants describe it as follows: Dr. Kuo will “review all medical and legal records both prior and subsequent to the events giving rise to the relevant legal matters,” conduct “an in-depth interview of Plaintiff . . . including both Plaintiff’s own account of the event which she claims was the cause of her alleged current emotional injuries, along with a brief mental status examination of current mood, speech, and mental functioning at the time of the interview,” and engage in “a detailed inquiry into Plaintiff’s functioning prior to the index event . . . including a thorough personal history that includes family and trauma histories, social and environmental factors, school history, legal history, as well as medical and psychiatric histories.” Mot. at 6.

         In addition to the agreed-upon psychiatric evaluation, Defendants seek to compel Plaintiff to attend a second day of testing that would entail a psychological examination, at which Dr. Hall would “administer, score, and interpret psychological test data.” Id. at 6, 7. Defendants emphasize that Dr. Hall will “only be administering test questions,” id. at 7 (see further discussion of the tests below), in order to assess “the validity of Plaintiff’s diagnosis and symptoms,” id. at 3; see also Id. (describing the psychological testing as “necessary to evaluate the scope, severity, and existence of Plaintiff’s alleged injuries.”). Furthermore, Plaintiff will not be required-as part of the psychological testing-to “relive her trauma or discuss her alleged victimization. She will not be discussing the underlying events at issue.” Id. at 3 (internal citations omitted); see also Id. at 7. Defendants describe the two days of testing as providing “complimentary and non-overlapping analyses of Plaintiff.” Id. at 7. Defendants further contend that “[a] Psychiatric Examination and Psychological Testing are [both] necessary to assess the validity of [Plaintiff’s] alleged disorders and extent of her damage allegations. Utilization of psychological testing results along with information obtained from a psychiatric interview is the most objective approach to arriving at a reliable and valid conclusion regarding diagnoses, functional impairment, and subjective distress of an individual.” Mot. at 6.

         Plaintiff responds that this request exceeds the bounds of what is necessary, and further could harm Plaintiff by exacerbating her symptoms of trauma. See Opp. at 3 (“Plaintiff’s detailed descriptions of the abusive incidents were necessary to Dr. Cecchet’s evaluation, but additional exhaustive testing has been known to cause exacerbation of trauma symptoms, including nightmares, emotional outbursts, aggression, tearfulness, and self-harm behavior.”). More specifically, Plaintiff contends that the “agreed-upon psychiatric evaluation as described by Dr. Kuo in her declaration would have been reasonably equivalent to the evaluation [Plaintiff] underwent with her own expert, Dr. Stacy Cecchet.” Id. at 6. As a result, Plaintiff objects to the administration of psychological testing by Dr. Hall.

         C. The Scope of Psychological Testing to Be Permitted

         The parties also disagree about the scope of the psychological testing to be conducted should the Court compel Plaintiff to attend the psychological testing in addition to the agreed-upon psychiatric examination. The District proposes that Dr. Hall will “administer the following tests to complement ...

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