Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal at No. CC8610999.
Kim B. Clark, Assistant District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for Com., appellant.
John Elash, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Tamilia, Popovich and Hoffman, JJ. Hoffman, J., concurs in the result.
[ 378 Pa. Super. Page 380]
This is an appeal from an order of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division which vacated a prior order entered in the current action granting the Commonwealth access to those confidential medical records of the defendant held by the Allegheny County Health Department. The order also denied the Commonwealth's petition for a rule and adjudication of civil contempt against the Health Department for failure to produce those records.
[ 378 Pa. Super. Page 381]
We reverse and remand for entry of an order directing the Allegheny County Health Department to produce those medical records of the defendant which are necessary for the administration of justice.
Instantly, the Commonwealth presents three issues for our review on appeal:
I. Whether a judge of the Court of Common Pleas has the authority to order a local health agency to turn over records which are essential to a criminal prosecution?
II. Whether the Disease Prevention and Control Act of April 23, 1956 (35 Pa.S.A. § 521.15) makes health agency records confidential to the extent that such records may never be subject to subpoena power or court order?
III. Whether 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8721 et seq. empowers the Commonwealth Court to grant access to confidential information held by local health agencies?
The pertinent facts are revealed in the record as follows: In late August of 1986, the Pittsburgh Police Department began investigating an alleged rape of a minor that occurred sometime earlier that month. The investigation was initiated after the victim, an eight-year-old female, was treated for gonorrhea in late August, subsequent to the alleged rape. Apparently, the child did not report the rape until she was questioned concerning how she contracted the venereal disease.
On September 17, 1986, the minor-victim was shown an array of nine photographs of black males. From this array, she selected the photograph of the defendant, Brian C. Moore, and identified Brian Moore as the man who raped her. Brian Moore was then arrested and charged with one count each of rape,*fn1 statutory rape,*fn2 indecent assault*fn3 and corruption of minors.*fn4
[ 378 Pa. Super. Page 382]
Upon investigation, the Commonwealth believed that the defendant had been treated for gonorrhea by the Allegheny County Health Department in August of 1986. Consequently, on January 21, 1987, the District Attorney of Allegheny County filed a petition for access to confidential information in the Commonwealth Court pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8721 et seq.*fn5 The petition was filed in response to the refusal of the Health Department to honor a subpoena duces tecum. On January 29, 1987, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the Commonwealth's petition due to lack of jurisdiction. The Commonwealth Court reasoned that the Allegheny County Health Department is a local agency, not a Commonwealth agency, as required under 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8723. Thus, the Commonwealth Court concluded it did not possess the requisite jurisdiction to order production of the defendant's medical records.
As a result of the Commonwealth Court's decision, the Commonwealth filed a similar petition with the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. However, on February
[ 378 Pa. Super. Page 38327]
, 1987, the petition became moot when the defendant pleaded guilty to all charges.
However, on April 3, 1987, the defendant was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, and the case was scheduled for trial on April 21, 1987. On the first day of trial, a hearing was held on the Commonwealth's previously filed petition for access to the defendant's medical records. The petition was granted, and the Health Department was ordered to produce the records. The Allegheny County Health Department refused to comply with the order, and the Commonwealth determined that it was unable to proceed to trial.
In response to the Health Department's noncompliance with the court order, the Commonwealth filed a petition for a rule and adjudication of civil contempt. After a hearing, the court vacated its prior medical record production order and denied the contempt petition. The court stated that, based upon its reading of the Disease Prevention and Control Act of April 23, 1956, 35 Pa.S.A. § 521.1 et seq.,*fn6 the medical records were absolutely confidential. Thus, the court believed it had no recourse but to reverse its prior order of April 21, 1987. Thereafter, the Commonwealth requested leave to appeal the order. The lower court granted the request, and this appeal followed.
Prior to reviewing the propriety of the lower court's decision to vacate its order granting the Commonwealth's petition for access to confidential information, we must determine whether it is appealable. Since the denial of the Commonwealth's petition effectively bars the prosecution's access to and use of the defendant's medical records concerning his possible treatment for gonorrhea, the order is sufficiently similar to a suppression order so as to require analysis under Commonwealth v. Dugger, 506 Pa. 537, 486 A.2d 382 (1985). In Commonwealth v. Conway, 368 Pa. Super. 488,
[ 378 Pa. Super. Page 384534]
A.2d 541 (1987), we outlined the proper application of ...