AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law
for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities


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Medical Records


     The highest court in New York overturned the quashing of a subpoena duces tecum that the N.Y. State Commission of Corrections issued to a hospital demanding that it produce its medical records regarding the care and treatment of an inmate in the custody of New York City who subsequently died. An exception to doctor-patient privilege was necessary for the Commission to carry out its legislated responsibilities and powers to investigate inmate deaths through its Medical Review Board. The disclosure of the records was also not barred by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rules. Matter of New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., #64, 19 N.Y.3d 239, 969 N.E.2d 765 (2012).
     An HIV-positive Hepatitis-B infected inmate's claim that the disclosure of his medical records to another prisoner violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy was improperly dismissed as frivolous. The facts alleged were sufficient, if true, to prove that the defendants committed an intentional violation of his constitutional rights or fostered "an atmosphere of disclosure with deliberate indifference." Alfred v. Corr. Corp. of Am., #09-30614,2011 U.S. App. Lexis 11658 (Unpub. 5th Cir.).
     When an inmate failed to seek to obtain his medical records until just before the deadline to designate an expert medical witness for his medical malpractice claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, his failure to designate an expert justified staying discovery and then granting summary judgment to the defendant. Fujita v. United States, #10-10258, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 4218 (5th Cir.).
     A prisoner served sixteen years for crimes of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, and kidnapping for the purpose of committing rape. He was then sent to a state hospital for possible civil commitment. He sued state officials and psychologists for violation of his constitutional right to privacy in connection with their disclosure of his prison treatment records. Rejecting these claims, a federal appeals court found that a traditional Fourth Amendment right to privacy was "fundamentally incompatible" with the continual and close scrutiny of prisoners and their cells required for security reasons. Prisoners have no legitimate expectation of privacy in their prison treatment records when there is a legitimate penological interest in access to them. Access to such records is needed to protect other inmates and staff members from violence and communicable diseases, and to manage rehabilitation efforts. Whatever remaining constitutional right to privacy the prisoner may have had in his medical records, the California state law providing for a process for the civil commitment of sexually violent predators fell outside of it. Seaton v. Mayberg, #05-56894, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 13335 (9th Cir.).
     An alleged violation of Ohio correctional rules and regulations in informing a prisoner's mother that he had Hepatitis C did not constitute negligence or any other viable claim for damages under Ohio state law. The Ohio Court of Claims lacked jurisdiction over any claim concerning violation of the federal constitutional right of privacy based on the improper disclosure of medical records. Petty v. Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction, Case No. 2007-07001, 2008 Ohio Misc. Lexis 206 (Oh. Ct. of Claims).
     A New York prisoner failed to show that a nurse administrator improperly disclosed his confidential medical information without his consent and in retaliation for his past grievance concerning the alleged failure to provide him with his prescribed medication. His past grievance had been resolved in his favor, but an investigation of the grievance resulted in the writing of a report that made an indirect reference to his medical condition. That reference, the court found, did not violate his rights, because the prisoner himself placed his medical condition at issue with his grievance. Additionally, the prisoner failed to show that information about his medical condition had been improperly distributed to persons outside of the grievance process. Tatta v. State of New York, No. 503121, 2008 N.Y. App. Div. Lexis 4372 (A.D. 3rd Dept.).
     A prisoner filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552 for the release of all documents concerning a psychological examination of him by a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff psychologist. The court ruled that certain test materials, including the test protocol and extended score report were not subject to disclosure, based on the test publisher's objection that their disclosure would compromise the validity of the test and reveal trade secrets. The handwritten notes of the psychologist and other documents, such as a summary report, however, were subject to disclosure. Ruston v. Dept. of Justice, Civil Action No.: 06-0224, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 83009 (D.D.C.).
     Provisions of Virginia state Freedom of Information Act, Va. Code Ann. Secs. 2.2-3700 to 3704, under which a prisoner was denied access to medical records concerning his treatment in prison, did not constitute a violation of his rights. Provisions of the statute excluding prisoners from access to public records was supported by rational reasons and did not deny the prisoner equal protection of law. Additionally, the prisoner was not obstructed in his ability to pursue legal claims challenging his medical care while incarcerated. Giarratano v. Johnson, No. 2:06CV00004, 2006 U.S. Dist. Lexis 74882 (W.D. Va.). [N/R]
     A review of a prisoner's medical records during disciplinary proceedings did not violate his privacy rights when the prisoner put his diabetic medical condition at issue in presenting his defense to a charge that his urinalysis had come back positive for alcohol use. Stephens v. Chairman Pa. Bd. of Probation and Parole, No. 04-4344, 173 Fed. Appx. 964 (3rd Cir. 2006). [N/R]
     Documents prepared by a member of a county jail mental health services division quality assurance committee were entitled to protection against discovery in a lawsuit brought by survivors of an arrestee who hung himself in the county jail. The committee constituted a "peer review body" covered by a California statutory privilege against discovery of records of such bodies. The fact that the document had been prepared by only one member of the committee did not alter the result. County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court, No. B188909, 42 Cal. Rptr. 3d 390 (Cal. App. 2nd Dist. 2006). [N/R]
     Nebraska prisoner did not have a clear right under state law to access to his mental health records, nor a federally protected constitutional right to such access, and therefore was not entitled to a court order requiring correctional officials to provide him with a copy of the records. State ex rel. Jacob v. Bohn, No. S-04-1410, 711 N.W.2d 884 (Neb. 2006). [N/R]
     New York prisoner could proceed with his claim that he suffered mental, physical, and emotional harm because a hospital employee informed a correctional officer of his HIV positive status. Hospital employee had an obligation under state law to inform officer that unauthorized further disclosure was prohibited, andthere was a factual issue as to whether it was foreseeable that the officer would subsequently disclose the prisoner's HIV status to other non-medical personnel at the correctional facility. Melendez v. Strong Memorial Hospital, 804 N.Y.S.2d 626 (Sup. 2005). [N/R]
     New Jersey inmate could not pursue a federal civil rights claim against prison personnel for defamation on the basis of an allegedly false statement in his medical file that he was suicidal. Damage to reputation alone is insufficient for a constitutional claim. Dubois v. Vargas, No. 05-1647, 148 Fed. Appx. 111 (3rd Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Inspection and copying fees imposed on a New York prisoner by correctional authorities did not violate his right to access his medical records when the policy imposing the fees made it clear that access would not be denied solely on the basis of inability to pay and that inmates had a right of access to the records. Pratt v. Goord, 799 N.Y.S.2d 611 (A.D. 3rd Dept. 2005). [N/R]
     Investigations by the Washington state Department of Corrections into alleged medical misconduct by prison medical staff were not carried out for purposes of "law enforcement" and therefore were not exempt from disclosure to the press and public as law enforcement investigative records under the state's public disclosure act. Prison Legal News, Inc. v. Department of Corrections, No. 74890-0, 115 P.3d 316 (Wash. 2005). [N/R]
     Failure to allow prisoner information about correctional officers' physical condition or medical records in connection with disciplinary hearing against him, based on hearing officer's decision that doing so would compromise institutional security, did not deprive him of due process. The hearing concerned an altercation and the information the prisoner requested concerned the details of the officers' injuries during the incident. Withrow v. Goord, No. 03-CV-6284, 374 F. Supp. 2d 326 (W.D.N.Y. 2005). [N/R]
     Release of state inmate's medical records to Attorney General after inmate asserted a medical malpractice claim against the state for alleged administration of incorrect medication by prison staff was not authorized under New York state law, so inmate was entitled to an award of $500 in damages. Davidson v. State of N.Y., 771 N.Y.S.2d 197 (A.D. 3d Dist. 2004). [N/R]
     238:153 U.S. Supreme Court adopts therapist-patient privilege protecting disclosures during therapy sessions from compelled disclosure in court; affirms ordering of new trial in which jury awarded $545,000 in police shooting case where jury was told it could presume withheld therapy records would be unfavorable to officer. Jaffee v. Allen, 116 S.Ct. 1923 (1996).
     Bureau of Prisons' policy restricting release of own medical records to inmates violated Federal Privacy Act. Benavides v. Bureau of Prisons, 771 F.Supp. 426 (D.D.C. 1991); decision withdrawn after initial publication.
     Inmate can sue the State of New York for damages under state law for unauthorized access to his medical records and unauthorized disclosure of his affliction with AIDS. V. v. State, 566 N.Y.S.2d 987 (Ct. Cl. 1991).

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