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SCOTT v. EDINBURG

May 5, 2000

PERRY L. SCOTT, SR., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PHILLIP SCOTT, DECEASED, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
RODNEY L. EDINBURG AND VILLAGE OF GLENWOOD, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schenkier, United States Magistrate Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case arises out of the May 17, 1999 shooting death of Phillip Scott at the hand of defendant Rodney L. Edinburg, who at the time was a member of the Village of Glenwood Police Department. Plaintiffs, who are the administrator of Phillip Scott's estate and various surviving family members, have filed this action against Mr. Edinburg and the Village of Glenwood alleging common law actions for survival (Count I) and wrongful death (Count II). Plaintiffs also allege a federal cause of action against Mr. Edinburg alone under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III).

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to compel production of five documents concerning psychological evaluation that Mr. Edinburg underwent after the shooting, at the direction of the Chief of Police for the Village of Glenwood Police Department [doc. # 19-1].*fn1 Defendants assert that the documents are privileged and that even if not privileged, the documents are not discoverable under Fed. R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), because the information contained in them does not appear "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." For their part, plaintiffs assert that the documents are not privileged because there was no expectation of privacy in them to begin with; that any privilege has been waived because the contents of the evaluation was disclosed to a third party (the Village police chief); and that the documents are discoverable because they are likely to contain highly relevant information.

On April 27, 2000, the Court ordered defendants to produce the five documents at issue for an in camera review, which they have done. In addition, all the parties accepted the Court's invitation to submit any supplemental argument they wished to offer on this issue by May 3, 2000. The Court has conducted an in camera review of these documents and has reviewed the supplemental briefs offered by the parties. Based on its review of the documents and the authorities, the Court concludes that the documents are not privileged, and that they do indeed contain discoverable information. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth more fully below, the motion to compel production of these records is granted.

I.

In Jaffee v. Redmond, 518 U.S. 1, 15, 116 S.Ct. 1923, 135 L.Ed.2d 337 (1996), the Supreme Court held that "confidential communications between a licensed psychotherapist and her patients in the course of diagnosis or treatment are protected from compelled disclosure under Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence."*fn2 Jaffee involved a fatal shooting of a man by a police officer, and the discoverability vel non of records concerning some fifty counseling sessions that the officer had with a clinical social worker after the shooting. The Supreme Court decision in Jaffee upheld the Seventh Circuit's recognition of a psychotherapist-patient privilege (and, indeed, strengthened that privilege by holding it is not subject to a balancing test based on the need for the protected information), and upheld the decision that the privilege protected the records from compelled production.

Significantly, there is no indication in the Jaffee decision that the records of those counseling sessions ever were disclosed to members of the police force or other third parties, or that the defendant officer had authorized such disclosure. The court of appeals opinion in Jaffee suggests the contrary, as reflected by the observation that "the officer's ability, through counseling, to work out the pain and anguish undoubtedly caused by Alan's death in all probability depended to a great deal upon her trust and confidence in her counselor . . ." Jaffee v. Redmond, 51 F.3d 1346, 1358 (7th Cir. 1995). See also Kamper v. Gray, 182 F.R.D. 597, 599 (E.D.Mo. 1998) (stating that in Jaffee, it appears that "no report regarding these [counseling] sessions were submitted by the counselor to third parties"); Barrett v. Vojtas, 182 F.R.D. 177, 179 (W.D.Pa. 1998) (stating that in Jaffee "no reports were submitted by the counselor to a third party").

Other courts also have relied on the psychotherapist patient privilege to bar compelled production of psychiatric records of officers in police shootings and other cases, where the confidential communications to the psychotherapist were not disclosed to third parties. In Caver v. City of Trenton, 192 F.R.D. 154 (D.N.J. 2000), the court held that the psychotherapist patient privilege barred production of psychological evaluation records of one of the defendants. The court explained that the defendant "clearly had an expectation of confidentiality," based on being "reassured that the psychological records and reports would be kept strictly confidential, and would not be disclosed to the City of Trenton personnel." Id. at 162. The court rejected the argument that the privilege did not apply because the purpose of the psychological evaluation was not for treatment but for diagnosis of any mental illness or emotional disorder that would render the defendant unfit to be a police officer, reasoning that there is no "bright line distinction" between psychiatric counseling for purposes of treatment rather than diagnosis. Id. Moreover, the Court found that there was no waiver of the privilege, because the only information provided by the psychologist to the police department was a one-word statement of "pass" or "fail" with respect to fitness for duty; the psychological evaluation reports themselves were kept "completely confidential." Id. at 162.

To the same effect is Williams v. District of Columbia, Civ. A. 96-0200, 1997 WL 224921 (D.D.C. Apr.25, 1997). In that case, which also involved a fatal police shooting, the plaintiffs sought to compel production of records concerning consultations by the defendant officer with a psychiatrist after the shooting. The court found that the privilege applied even though the consultation was to determine fitness to return to active duty, rather than for "treatment." 1997 WL 224921, *2. In addition, the court found that there was no waiver of the privilege, because the only information communicated by the psychiatrist to the police department was "a `Yes or No' recommendation regarding whether the officer should return to active duty." Id.

By contrast, in Siegfried v. Easton, 146 F.R.D. 98 (E.D.Pa. 1992), a pre-Jaffee decision that recognized the psychotherapist-patient privilege, the court compelled production of documents relating to the psychological or psychiatric evaluation or treatment of one of the defendant officers in a police brutality case. The particular psychiatric records at issue were various psychological records compiled when the defendant officer interviewed for a position with the police department, which were then supplied to the police department. On those facts, the court found there was no expectation of confidentiality between the psychologist and the defendant officer: "[i]t is obvious from this description that when an applicant consults with [the] psychologist, he understands that the psychologist will be reporting back to the police department." 146 F.R.D. at 101. See also Kamper, 182 F.R.D. at 599 (reports of post-shooting counseling sessions attended by police officer held non-privileged, since the officer "was aware that his evaluations would be reported to his employer"); Barrett, 182 F.R.D. at 179 (post-shooting counseling reports regarding police officer held non-privileged where the reports were submitted to public officials).

The consistent thread that runs through all of these cases is that the threshold requirement for the existence of the psychotherapist patient privilege is that there be an expectation by the patient that the communications with the psychotherapist will remain with the psychotherapist and will not be disclosed to others. Indeed, in recognizing that privilege, the Supreme Court emphasized that, "[l]ike the spousal and attorney-client privileges, the psychotherapist-patient privilege is `rooted in the imperative need for confidence and trust.'" Jaffee at 10, 116 S.Ct. 1923 (quoting Trammel v. United States, 445 U.S. 40, 51, 100 S.Ct. 906, 63 L.Ed.2d 186 (1980)); see also Kamper, 182 F.R.D. at 599 ("[t]he psychotherapist-patient privilege cannot be invoked . . . in the absence of intended confidential communications"); Barrett, 182 F.R.D. at 179 ("[t]he Court's reasoning [in Jaffee] clearly shows that confidentiality is the foundation upon which the psychotherapist-patient privilege rests").

That expectation of confidentiality is absent in this case. The documents produced for in camera review reveal that prior to the onset of his discussions with the psychologist, Mr. Edinburg was informed that "the interviews with him and the testing results would be reviewed with [the Village police chief] as they pertained to the referral questions." See Opinion: Fitness for Duty, dated August 5, 1999, at page 3. Mr. Edinburg was further informed that the psychologist's "written report and oral testimony might be subpoenaed in a civil litigation lawsuit," and the psychologist reported that Mr. Edinburg reflected his understanding of that fact: at various times during the interview, he refrained from making certain statements with the explanation that "[t]his is not confidential." Id.

Those statements make it clear that Mr. Edinburg embarked on the consultation fully aware that what he said would not be confidential, and would be shared with others. In fact, it was made clear to him that the information would not only be shared with the Village police chief, but also might be produced in civil litigation. And, in fact, the evaluation was shared with others: not only with the police chief, but also with the Village of Glenwood Mayor and members of the board of Trustees (see Pls.' 05/03/00 Mem., Ex. D). Because the defendants have failed to establish the expectation of confidentiality that is the prerequisite for the existence of the psychotherapist-patient privilege, the privilege was never established. See Kamper, 182 F.R.D. at 598. And, even if it was, the disclosures to third parties waived any privilege. See Jaffee, 518 U.S. at 15 ...


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