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Jenkins v. Wu





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Myron T. Gomberg, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied September 28, 1984.

Plaintiff, Joanne Jenkins, filed a medical malpractice action in the circuit court of Cook County. Her husband, Roosevelt Jenkins, is also a named plaintiff. He alleges loss of consortium. The cause of action arose during the course of Mrs. Jenkins' treatment at the University of Illinois Medical Center. The defendants to the action are numerous physicians, nurses, and hospital support personnel connected with the University's Medical Center.

During the discovery process, plaintiffs served a subpoena for deposition upon the University of Illinois Medical Center's board of trustees and its executive director, Lester Rudy (respondents). Neither respondent is a party to the plaintiffs' malpractice action. Attached to the subpoena there was a five-page request for production of certain documents and records. It is undisputed that plaintiff has received her own medical records without any objections. Other documents requested were also supplied to the plaintiffs, with the exception of requests numbered three, six, and, in part, seven. Briefly, in paragraph three of the attachment to subpoena, plaintiffs requested the hospital's entire file or files relating to its accreditation for the year 1978. In paragraph six, plaintiff sought the personnel file of Dr. Cubria, a party defendant, and all reports of medical review panels, however denominated, regarding patient care provided by Dr. Cubria during 1978. This request also sought all reports or other evidence of complaints or commendations relative to the quality of health care provided by Dr. Cubria. Paragraph seven requested all reports of medical review panels, notes of all lectures given in which plaintiff's case was discussed, and all photographs, slides, or movies taken of plaintiff. This last request required a general search of all hospital files, including medical review committee files. The respondents claimed privilege for all the documents falling within requests three and six based on section 8-2101 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 8-2101 et seq.; hereinafter referred to as the Act), and for the documents falling within request seven, to the extent that the request sought information relating to the treatment of Mrs. Jenkins as found in review committee or investigative files.

Following the board's refusal to furnish all of the information requested, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel production of the documents withheld. In response to the motion, respondents made available to the trial court, for in camera inspection, the documents which it claimed were privileged under the Act. At a hearing on April 11, 1983, following the court's inspection, the trial judge acknowledged that nothing in any of the documents mentioned the plaintiff or anything dealing with the care that she received. Nevertheless, the court found that the documents could lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and were, therefore, discoverable absent the statutory privilege. Moreover, the court declared the Act invalid. It found that the provision of the statute which denied medical malpractice plaintiffs equal access to documents that would be available to physicians in other proceedings constituted a denial of equal protection. Therefore, it ordered that the documents be produced.

Respondents subsequently petitioned the trial court to vacate its order and also requested that production of the documents be stayed until such time as the court made its decision on their motion to vacate. The court allowed this request and returned the documents, previously produced for in camera inspection. Respondents further requested an extension of the briefing schedule in order to present experts' testimony regarding the need for confidentiality in the evaluation and accreditation process. However, the court denied this request.

On June 22, 1983, after arguments, the trial court denied the motion to vacate and ordered the respondents to produce the documents which they had previously claimed to be privileged. At this time, the court questioned the reasoning behind the statute, stating:

"I see no rationale for denying a medical malpractice plaintiff access to the data which can be obtained by a physician whose staff privileges are under attack * * *. The exception is what I am concerned about."

After expressing his concerns in the form of an oral ruling, the trial judge informed both sides of his intention to write a memorandum opinion explaining the basis for his ruling. The matter was then continued until the next day to ascertain whether the respondents would comply with the court's order.

On June 23, 1983, Thomas F. Tobin, attorney for the respondents, appeared before the trial judge and stated that he was in possession of the records and that he would not produce them. As a result, he was held in contempt of court and fined one dollar. Further proceedings were stayed by the trial court pending final determination by a court of review.

On October 18, 1983, the court filed its memorandum of decision which explained the basis for its earlier ruling. The court held the Act invalid under section 13 of article IV of the Illinois Constitution. More specifically, it stated:

"The issue of proper health care being provided according to the accepted community standards is the same in medical malpractice plaintiff's actions against their physicians and in hospital proceedings to decide upon a physician's staff privileges. The two classes are therefore similarly situated, and by virtue of the plaintiff being barred from this data and the exempted physician being afforded the opportunity to obtain it, plaintiff is arbitrarily and unreasonably discriminated against."

Respondents and counsel appeal from the orders of the circuit court holding the Act unconstitutional and holding Tobin in contempt of court. This court allowed direct appeal under Rule 302(a)(1) (87 Ill.2d R. ...

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