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Rotter v. Elk Grove Village

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 19, 2018

ROGER ROTTER, Plaintiff,
v.
ELK GROVE VILLAGE, an Illinois municipal entity, OFFICER JOHN WILLIAMS, and OFFICER RUSSELL SULLIVAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT M. DOW, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion [70] for entry of a HIPAA-qualified protective order. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion [70] is granted. The Court directs the parties to email the HIPAA-qualified order attached as Exhibit A to Plaintiff's motion in Word format to the Court's Proposed Order box, ProposedOrderDow@ilnd.uscourts.gov, by no later than April 26, 2018.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff brings Section 1983 claims against Defendants Sullivan and Williams, both Elk Grove Village police officers, for excessive force based on an encounter that occurred on September 30, 2012. [See 33.] Defendant Elk Grove Village has filed a counterclaim against Plaintiff for battery against Officer Sullivan based on the same encounter. [See 26.] Elk Grove Village brings its counterclaim pursuant to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act (the “Act”), 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. After Sullivan filed a worker's compensation claim, Elk Grove Village paid Sullivan in compliance with the Act for his necessary medical expenses in order to compensate him for his injuries sustained during this encounter. In its counterclaim, the Village seeks to recover from Plaintiff the sum that it paid to Sullivan. [See 26.] The Court already has granted summary judgment in favor of Elk Grove Village on the liability portion of the battery claim, with damages to be determined at a later date. [55, at 14.]

         In the instant motion [70], Plaintiff requests a HIPAA-qualified protective order to obtain certain medical records and health information relating to Defendant Sullivan. Plaintiff seeks records from various medical providers that relate to treatment of Sullivan's bodily injuries- specifically, prior injuries to his left arm-from 2007 to 2012. [75, at 3.] Plaintiff argues that Elk Grove's counterclaim put the nature and extent of Officer Sullivan's injuries directly at issue in this case, and he is therefore entitled to explore the extent of any of Officer Sullivan's past injuries in order to see if they are relevant to Officer Sullivan's current injuries. [75, at 2-3.]

         Defendants object on the basis that the medical records Plaintiff seeks are not relevant because they relate only to Sullivan's treatment for completely unrelated injuries. According to Defendants, the relevant physical injury that Sullivan suffered as a result of the September 30, 2012 encounter is an injury to his spine, which resulted in nerve impingement that caused radiating pain down his left arm. [See 74, at 1.] Defendants argue that the records Plaintiff seeks relating to Sullivan's two previous left-arm injuries in 2007 and 2012 are not causally connected to the spinal injury at issue here and thus are not discoverable. Defendants further contend that the requested records are not relevant to the Village's counterclaim because the Village is entitled to recover the full amount it paid for Sullivan's workers' compensation claim without regard to whether that amount is excessive or unreasonable. According to Defendants, the requested records could only be used for the prohibited purpose of reducing the amount of Elk Grove Village's recovery. [See id., at 3.]

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 26(b), the scope of discovery in civil cases encompasses “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Information that is within the scope of discovery does not need to be admissible in evidence to be discoverable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).[1] District courts have broad discretion to manage the discovery process, including through the entry of protective orders. See Geiger v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 845 F.3d 357, 365 (7th Cir. 2017).

         III. Analysis

         The Court concludes that entry of Plaintiff's requested protective order is warranted because the records Plaintiff seeks pursuant to that order are discoverable under Rule 26(b). The 2012 encounter between Plaintiff and Defendant Officers Sullivan and Williams that forms the basis of this action resulted in an excessive force claim by Plaintiff against Sullivan and a battery counterclaim by Elk Grove Village (as subrogee of Sullivan) against Plaintiff. Sullivan claims a spinal injury resulting in left arm pain as a result of the battery. The extent of any preexisting injury that Defendant Sullivan may have sustained to his left arm prior to this encounter certainly may be relevant to the damages that Elk Grove Village could recover on the battery counterclaim. It could also be relevant to the amount of force that Sullivan should have used in the encounter with Plaintiff.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not presented any medical expert that will testify about the cause of Sullivan's spinal injury, and that the previous injuries to Sullivan's left arm have no causal connection to the spinal injury that Sullivan suffered. [74, at 2.] The parties may eventually conclude-or Defendants may convince the Court-that any earlier arm injuries are not causally related to the spinal injury, but Plaintiff is entitled to at least look into whether there is any causal connection through the discovery process. The records and health information that Plaintiff seeks do not have to be admissible to be discoverable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         The case on which Defendants rely in their opposition to Plaintiff's motion, Avina v. Bohlen, 2015 WL 1756774 (E.D. Wis. Apr. 16, 2015), is distinguishable from the instant case. Avina involved an excessive force claim against a Milwaukee police officer based on an encounter that resulted in the plaintiff's minor son sustaining a broken arm. 2015 WL 1756774, at *1. Defendants sought an order compelling the plaintiff to sign a broad release for the minor's medical records covering the ten years prior to the incident. The Court held that “the Defendants' medical release form [was] overly broad” because “[n]ot all types of the minor's medical records sought by the release are relevant to this case * * * [including] speech therapy and EKG records, which have no apparent relationship to this case.” Id. at *4. Further, “[w]hile medical records regarding a seemingly unrelated problem may sometimes lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, the medical release here must be revised to eliminate medical records without any apparent connection to this case such as those relating to speech therapy or EKG tests.” Id. at *4. The Defendants were allowed to seek medical records for the ten-year time period prior to the relevant incident. Id.

         Here, unlike the release at issue in Avina, the records that Plaintiff requests pursuant to the proposed protective order are connected to the claims in the case. Sullivan claims a spinal injury leading to pain in his left arm, among other symptoms, as a result of the relevant encounter. Plaintiff seeks a protective order allowing medical providers to produce records regarding injuries to Sullivan's left shoulder and arm that he suffered prior to the encounter giving rise to this action. This is certainly a relevant topic for Plaintiff to look into. The records also comport with the proportionality principle in Rule 26. Plaintiff only requests records related to specific incidents that took place no more than five years prior to the encounter at the heart of the action, and records that have already been produced indicate that Sullivan did injure his left arm twice during that time frame. Contrary to Defendants' assertions, the Court understands Plaintiff to be seeking records regarding specific treatment of these injuries Sullivan sustained to his left arm, not records relating to Sullivan's entire medical history.

         Defendants also argue that the medical records Plaintiff seeks pursuant to the proposed order at issue here are not discoverable because under the Workers' Compensation Act (which is the basis for the counterclaim), Elk Grove Village is entitled to the full amount of money it paid out in relation to Sullivan's workers' compensation claim, and Plaintiff is not entitled to collaterally ...


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