Heaphy v. Metcalf (CA2 6/18/20)

The court discusses how a medical condition is placed “at issue” to waive the doctor-patient privilege.

This is a wrongful-death case. Defendants sought discovery of Plaintiffs’ medical records, apparently arguing that their life expectancies are relevant to the value of their claim for loss of companionship. The trial court concluded that the claim waives the privilege; it allowed discovery. Plaintiffs brought this special action.

The Court of Appeals accepts it and grants relief. Placing “a particular medical condition at issue” waives the privilege. But “placing a condition ‘at issue’ means more than a possibility the condition could be relevant; upholding the privilege must instead deny the inquiring party access to proof needed fairly to resist the [privileged party]’s own evidence on that very issue.” “The bare assertion of a claim or defense does not necessarily place privileged communications at issue in the litigation, and the mere fact that privileged communications would be relevant to the issues before the court is of no consequence to the issue of waiver.” The court then analyzes a few selected Arizona cases.

Defendants had a 1986 case on point from the Southern District of New York. The Court of Appeals decides that the case is “wholly unpersuasive” because it can distinguish one of the cases the New York court cited. (The opinion is very short and doesn’t cite many cases — those were the days before District judges, even in the S.D.N.Y, had a bevy of career law clerks to do their writing — which one can’t help but feel actually had most to do with its being found “wholly unpersuasive.”)

The court doesn’t tell us whether Defendants had any special reason to question the life expectancy of the statutory beneficiaries. If they didn’t — or even if they did — then the case seems an odd context in which to pursue this argument since the decedent was 93 at his death.

(Opinion: Heaphy v. Metcalf)