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Hahnemann University Hosp. v. Edgar

January 16, 1996

HAHNEMANN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, PETITIONER

v.

CHARLES C. EDGAR AND LAURA D.G. EDGAR, CONSERVATORS OF THE PERSON AND ESTATE OF SHANE EDGAR, AND CHARLES C. EDGAR AND LAURA D.G. EDGAR, IN THEIR OWN RIGHTS, RESPONDENTS THE HONORABLE RAYMOND J. BRODERICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE, NOMINAL RESPONDENT



On Petition for a Writ of Mandamus to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Related to D.C. Civil Action No. 94-3515)

BEFORE: GREENBERG and COWEN, Circuit Judges, and PARELL, District Judge *fn*

GREENBERG, Circuit Judge.

Argued November 30, 1995

(Filed: January 16, l996)

OPINION OF THE COURT

Respondents Charles C. Edgar and Laura D.G. Edgar sued Hahnemann University Hospital as conservators of the person and estate of their daughter, Shane Edgar, and in their own right, alleging that the hospital acted with gross negligence and willful misconduct when it failed to protect Shane Edgar from being raped forcibly by two male patients. *fn1 During discovery, the Edgars requested the patient charts of the two male patients who allegedly raped Shane Edgar. The hospital objected on the grounds that the documents were confidential and that it could not comply with the request without violating the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 50, Section(s) 7101, et seq. (Purdon's Supp. 1995) ("MHPA"). The district court entered a series of orders requiring Hahnemann to provide the court with copies of all documents in its possession concerning the two male patients for an in camera review, with possible disclosure of the information to the parties, their counsel, and their experts, for use at trial. Hahnemann

filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in this court, seeking immediate review of the district court's orders. We will grant Hahnemann's petition for mandamus.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 19, 1993, Shane Edgar was admitted to the Psychiatric Medical Care Unit of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for observation and evaluation. That same day, an involuntarily committed male psychiatric patient sexually harassed Shane; Hahnemann allegedly became aware of the incident. That night, the same male patient, along with another involuntarily committed male psychiatric patient, raped Shane in the bathroom of her room. *fn2

Charles and Laura Edgar filed an action on behalf of their daughter and themselves against Hahnemann, alleging that the hospital negligently failed to protect their daughter from the sexual assault. Because notice of the danger may be germane to their cause of action under Pennsylvania law, the Edgars sought discovery from Hahnemann of any information that would demonstrate that it was on notice of the two male patients' propensity for sexual assault. Specifically, they sought the patient charts of the two men. The hospital objected on the grounds that the documents were confidential and that it could not comply with the request without violating the MHPA. After the Edgars moved for sanctions, the district court held a conference in an attempt to resolve the dispute. On April 19, 1995, the district court denied the Edgars' motion and directed that if the dispute was not resolved they could file a more specific set of requests for documents, limited by the MHPA.

After a final pretrial conference held on May 4, 1995, the Edgars filed a motion to compel the production of various documents, including the patient charts of the two male patients and/or entries on their charts made by a mental health worker, and the incident reports regarding the rape. Again, Hahnemann objected on the grounds that the confidentiality of the documents required protection under the MHPA. At the same time, the hospital pointed out that redacting the patients' names from the charts would not protect the documents' confidentiality because the Edgars had information that would allow them to deduce which report belonged to which patient.

On May 11, 1995, the district court, pursuant to section 111 of the MHPA, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 50, Section(s) 7111, denied the Edgars' request for the records. The court also denied the motion to compel the notes and chart entries of the mental health technician on duty the night of the attack. The court did, however, order Hahnemann to produce any "incident reports" created as a result of the attack, and further ordered that:

In the event that the only incident reports prepared by [the mental health technician] are contained in one or both of the treatment records of the male patients involved in the subject incident, the defendant shall . . . submit the treatment records of these two patients to the Court, in camera, for a determination as to whether Section(s) 7111 of the MHPA prohibits the discovery of said reports. App. at 133.

Hahnemann later informed the court by letter that it had disclosed all "incident reports" to the Edgars, and that an in camera inspection would not be necessary because the mental health technician involved had not prepared such a report.

The Edgars filed a motion for reconsideration of the May 11 order, emphasizing again that they were seeking information as to whether the hospital should be held liable for the rape and that they would be willing to accept documents edited so as to obscure the identity of the patients. In response, Hahnemann argued that the MHPA was so broad that even disclosure of the records to the district court for an in camera inspection was prohibited. Further, it reiterated its argument that "[the Edgars] are in possession of information regarding these two patients which would unfailingly allow them to identify which records pertain to which man, regardless of redaction." App. at 167. On July 10, 1995, the district court entered an order stating that its May 11, 1995 ...


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