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Williams v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

November 4, 2014

DWIGHT WILLIAMS, ET AL.,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.,

MEMORANDUM

R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

Presently before the Court is non-party Corizon Health, Inc.’s Request to not produce mortality and sentinel event reviews requested by Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 122.) For the following reasons, Corizon’s Request will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

This is a class action brought by inmates in the Philadelphia Prison System (“PPS”) against the City of Philadelphia (“City”) seeking equitable relief under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs complain of overcrowding and triple-celling in the county-operated PPS. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs allege that the overcrowding in the PPS results in danger to the health and safety of the inmate population. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Presently before the Court is a discovery dispute centered on a supplemental discovery request that Plaintiffs’ counsel served on the City in December 2013. Plaintiffs seek “mortality and sentinel event reviews for deaths that occurred in custody from January 2012 to December 1, 2013.” (ECF No. 118 Ex. A.) The City sought to obtain the requested information from Corizon Health, Inc. (“Corizon”), the contracted provider of medical services in the PPS. Corizon objected, contending that the requested documents are not discoverable because they are privileged and protected from disclosure under Pennsylvania’s peer-review privilege law. Plaintiffs disagree, claiming that the state peer-review privilege is not recognized in federal court, and thus does not protect the documents Plaintiffs seek.

On May 12, 2014, Corizon submitted a Letter Brief in support of its position. (Corizon Ltr. Br., ECF No. 122.) Plaintiffs submitted a Letter Brief in Opposition on May 22, 2014. (Pls.’ Ltr. Br., ECF No. 123.) On July 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed supplemental authority supporting their position. (Pls.’ Supp., ECF No. 123.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Assertions of privilege in federal court are governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 501, which states:

The common law-as interpreted by United States courts in the light of reason and experience-governs a claim of privilege unless any of the following provides otherwise:
• the United States Constitution;
• a federal statute; or
• rules prescribed by the Supreme Court.
But in a civil case, state law governs privilege regarding a claim or defense for which state law supplies the rule of decision.

Fed. R. Evid. 501. Where, as here, there are both federal and state law claims in the case, “the federal rule favoring admissibility, rather than any state law privilege, is the controlling rule.” Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 66 (3d Cir. 2000). Therefore, “the mere fact that state law claims and federal law claims coexist in this action does not by itself justify application of Pennsylvania’s peer review privilege.” Weiss ex rel. Estate of Weiss v. Cnty. ...


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