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Gates v. Gates

March 10, 2009

ANDREW P. GATES, APPELLEE
v.
NANCY J. REED GATES, APPELLANT
ANDREW P. GATES, APPELLEE
v.
NANCY J. REED GATES, APPELLANT
ANDREW P. GATES, APPELLEE
v.
NANCY J. REED GATES, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order Entered April 8, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County, Civil Division, at No. 05-1250 C.D. Appeal from the Order Entered May 16, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County, Civil Division, at No. 05-1250 C.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bowes, J.

BEFORE: BOWES, FREEDBERG, and POPOVICH, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 In these consolidated appeals Nancy Gates ("Mother") appeals (1) an April 8, 2008 order, wherein the trial court, inter alia, directed her to execute a consent to release records of her psychiatric treatment to Andrew Gates ("Father"); and (2) a May 16, 2008 order finding Mother in contempt for failing to comply with the April 8, 2008 order and summarily suspending her custodial rights to the parties' son, Jonathan. Upon review, we reverse the April 8, 2008 order in part, and we vacate the May 16, 2008 order.*fn1

¶ 2 Mother and Father were married on May 13, 1995. They are the natural parents of Jonathan, born on October 12, 1999. On August 19, 2005, Father filed a complaint for divorce seeking, inter alia, sole legal and physical custody of Jonathan. The trial court entered a divorce decree on May 16, 2006, and on October 13, 2006, the trial court entered a final custody order, dated October 9, 2006, wherein it awarded Father primary physical custody and granted Mother periods of partial physical custody. Father initially appealed the custody order; however, he subsequently abandoned that appeal. See Gates v. Gates, 933 A.2d 102, 105 n.1 (Pa.Super. 2007).

¶ 3 Thereafter, on December 31, 2007, Father filed a "petition for special relief" seeking an order directing Mother to release her mental health records. Father had recently discovered that Mother had received inpatient mental health services from Dubois Regional Medical Center between December 12, 2007, and December 27, 2007. Mother challenged the trial court's jurisdiction to consider Father's petition for special relief because a custody action was not pending. The trial court agreed and issued an order holding Father's petition in abeyance until Father filed a petition to modify the existing custody order. Father did so on February 5, 2008.*fn2

¶ 4 Mother's answer to the petition to modify challenged Father's claimed right to seek her privileged mental health records. However, during an in camera exchange with the trial court on March 28, 2008, Mother acknowledged the trial court's authority, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1915.8, to direct her to submit to a mental evaluation before a court approved expert.

Nonetheless, Mother maintained her objection to releasing the privileged medical records to Father.

¶ 5 Immediately after the in camera conference, the trial court permitted Father to question Mother, as if she was on cross-examination, about her December 2007 hospitalization generally. Specifically, Mother indicated that she went to the hospital because she believed her medication was working improperly, and upon examination, her physicians informed her that she would be required to stay for observation so they could monitor the medication. Although Mother testified without objection during the hearing, she continued to object to Father's request for her mental health records, and she noted, for the record, that Father's petition for modification did not challenge the level of care Mother provided Jonathan or allege that Mother presented any risk of harm to Jonathan. See N.T. Custody Modification Hearing, 3/28/08, at 44.

¶ 6 On April 8, 2008, the trial court entered the order directing Mother to execute a consent to release her mental health records to Father.*fn3 After Mother filed a timely notice of appeal on April 30, 2008, Father countered on May 1, 2008, with a petition for contempt alleging Mother's non-compliance with the April 8, 2008 order. On May 5, 2008, the trial court entered an order directing Mother to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b), and Mother complied on May 23, 2008. Meanwhile, following a hearing on the contempt petition on May 16, 2008, the trial court entered an order finding Mother in contempt, suspending Mother's custodial rights, and awarding Father counsel fees totaling $625.00. Mother filed a timely notice of appeal from the May 16, 2008 order on Monday, June 16, 2008. See 1 Pa.C.S. § 1908 (when last day of period falls on weekend or legal holiday, the day is omitted from the computation of time). The trial court did not direct Mother to file a second Rule 1925(b) statement.

¶ 7 On June 24, 2008, this Court granted Mother's application for supersedeas, staying both the portion of the April 8, 2008 order, wherein the trial court directed Mother to release her psychiatric records and the portion of the May 16, 2008 order, wherein the trial court suspended Mother's custodial rights. Later, on July 3, 2008, acting sua sponte, we consolidated the appeals to be briefed and argued as one.

¶ 8 Mother presents the following questions for our review:

I. Whether the trial court violated mother's right to privacy under [50 P.S. § 7111(a) (Confidentiality of records) and 42 Pa.C.S. § 5944 (Confidential communications to psychiatrists or licensed psychologists)] by ordering Mother to execute releases making her psychiatric treatment records available to the court and to Father?

II. Whether the trial court erred in holding Mother in contempt and assessing counsel fees for Mother's refusal to obey an order which violated Mother's rights to privacy under [50 P.S. 7111(a) (Confidentiality of records) and 42 Pa.C.S. § 5944 (Confidential communications to psychiatrists or licensed psychologists)]?

III. Whether the trial court violated Mother's right to due process under the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution by terminating Mother's ...


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