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In re Warrant

filed: January 28, 1987.

IN RE: SEARCH WARRANT (SEALED)


On Appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Scranton, Misc. No. 86-041.

Author: Becker

Before: GIBBONS and BECKER, Circuit Judges, and FULLAM, District Judge*fn*

Opinion OF THE COURT

BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal by a physician being investigated for possible insurance fraud from an order of the district court denying a motion that, if granted, would in effect suppress as evidence certain of his medical records seized pursuant to a search warrant. There has been no indictment and, insofar as the record reveals, no grand jury has initiated an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing. This appeal consequently requires us to consider as threshold matters both the appealability of the district court's order at this early stage of the criminal process and the physician's standing, for he asserts his patients' privacy interests as the basis for suppression.

We find that the order is appealable because it is sufficiently independent from the anticipated criminal proceedings against the physician. Additionally, we also find that the physician has standing, for only he is in a position to protect these patients' privacy rights. We therefore reach the merits of the physician's claim, requiring us to balance the individual privacy interests in the patients' medical records against the legitimate interests of the government in securing the information contained therein. Finding that the district court did not err in performing this delicate balancing,*fn1 we affirm the district court's order denying the physician's motion.

I.

The physician with whom we are concerned is a subject of a federal criminal investigation concerning the alleged submission of multiple billings to Pennsylvania Blue Shield and Medicare for medical tests that were performed only once and that in some cases may not have been medically necessary. Believing that information relevant to this investigation was contained in the medical records of certain of the physician's patients, on February 4, 1986 a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation took a search warrant affidavit before a United States Magistrate for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Magistrate, finding probable cause, issued a warrant that authorized the FBI to search the offices of the physician and his professional corporation. The warrant also authorized the FBI to seize certain specified property:

1. Appointment books from January 1984 through October 1985.

2. For each of the following 210 named patients:

A. All medical records.

B. All account ledger cards from January 1984 through October 1985.

C. All medical insurance claim forms from January 1984 ...


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