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Reid v. Wood

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 26, 2019

PHILLIP REID, Plaintiff,
AMANDA M. WOOD, Defendant.




         On August 15, 2019, Plaintiff Phillip Reid filed a motion to quash Defendant's subpoena duces tecum or to request that the subpoena be modified and limited to issues and dates relevant to Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. 22.) The subpoena seeks “all [of Plaintiff's] medical and mental records from January 1, 2018 to the present, ” as well as “all special incident reports, IDNs, special movement reports, team meeting notes and any other records/documents that may be stored digitally and/or electronically for [Plaintiff] … from January 1, 2018 to present.” (Id. at 18.). Plaintiff objects to the subpoena because he claims it violates the Court's July 19, 2019 order staying this case and on because it seeks information that is irrelevant and unlikely to lead to admissible evidence. (Id. at 2-3.) On August 22, 2019, Defendant Amanda M. Wood filed an opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 27). Plaintiff did not file a reply, and the Court deems the motion submitted. See Local Rule 230(1).


         a. Legal Standards

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(a)(1)(C), a party may subpoena a nonparty to produce documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things. Under Rule 26(b)(1), a party “may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to a party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” The Court must quash or modify a subpoena if it “requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter, if no exception or waiver applies.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(A)(iii).

         Courts recognize a constitutional right to privacy, as well as a doctor-patient and psychotherapist-patient privilege. See, e.g., Jaffee v. Redmond, 518 U.S. 1, 15 (1996); Marin Caesar v. Mountanos, 542 F.2d 1064, 1067 (9th Cir. 1976); Anderson v. Clawson, No. C 13-0307 LHK (PR), 2014 WL 3725856, at *2 (N.D. Cal. July 25, 2014). However, a party's right and privilege are waived when he raises an otherwise protected matter before the Court. See, e.g., Caesar, 542 F.2d at 1070. For example, a party waives the psychotherapist privilege when he elects to seek monetary damages for emotional distress, since he has placed his mental condition at issue. E.g., Enwere v. Terman Assocs., L.P., No. C 07-1239 JF PVT, 2008 WL 5146617, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2008); Doe v. City of Chula Vista, 196 F.R.D. 562, 568 (S.D. Cal. 1999). However, even when a party waives his right to privacy on a matter, the waiver is limited to information that is relevant to the lawsuit. Enwere, 2008 WL 5146617, at *2 (citation omitted). This coincides with the Federal Rules' mandate that discovery be limited to matters that are relevant to a party's claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

         b. Motion to Quash

         Plaintiff moves to quash Defendant's subpoena on two grounds. First, Plaintiff contends that the subpoena violates the Court's July 31, 2019 order staying this case, since Defendant issued the subpoena on July 31, 2019, as well as an amended version on August 1, 2019. (Doc. 22 at 3; see also Id. at 10, 14.) The Court finds that the subpoena constituted discovery in contravention of the Court's order, (see Doc. 17 at 2). However, since the Court lifted the stay on August 21, 2019, (Doc. 25), Plaintiff's objection on this ground is moot.

         Second, Plaintiff argues that the subpoena “seek[s] material that is outside the scope of this litigation, and … will potentially prejudice Plaintiff should this case be put in front of a jury.” (Doc. 22 at 4.) Plaintiff also contends that the documents sought by Defendant are “irrelevant and unlikely to … lead to … admissible evidence.” (Id.)

         The Federal Rules make clear that information “need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Thus, whether discovered material will prejudice Plaintiff at trial is not pertinent to whether discovery is allowed. If this case goes to trial, the Court will determine whether specific evidence is admissible at the trial. Thus, the question now is whether the subpoenaed materials are relevant to a party's claim or defense, whether they are privileged or otherwise protected, and whether they are subject to a waiver or exception to an implicated privilege or protection. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); 45(d)(3)(A)(iii).

         i. Medical Records

         In his complaint, Plaintiff contends that the defendant violated his right to safety as a civil detainee and failed to protect him against physical attacks by co-patients at Coalinga State Hospital. (Doc. 1 at 4; see also Doc. 9 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that he reported threats to his safety to hospital doctors, psychologists, and staff, including Defendant Supervisor Woods. (Doc. 1 at 4.) In his request for relief, Plaintiff seeks $400, 000 for “physical and mental anguish” suffered as a result of Defendant's alleged misconduct. (Doc. 1 at 5.) Consequently, Plaintiff has placed his physical and mental condition, as well as discussions with hospital doctors and psychologists, at issue in his lawsuit. See Enwere, 2008 WL 5146617, at *3. Therefore, even though Plaintiff enjoys a privacy right with respect to his medical records, and communications with his doctors and psychotherapists are privileged, Plaintiff has waived his right and privilege.

         For the same reason, Plaintiff's medical records are relevant to the parties' claims and defenses. Because Plaintiff is alleging that hospital personnel failed to protect him after he warned them he was in danger, Defendant has the right to counter this allegation by contending, for example, that Defendant was unaware of Plaintiff's warnings. Additionally, because Plaintiff is arguing that physical and mental injuries entitle him to monetary damages, Defendant has the right to counter this argument by arguing, for example, that any physical and emotional injuries were caused by ...

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