Personal representative could not compel production of a minor’s medical records without proving they were withheld in bad faith.
Frank Vilches, the guardian of his minor daughter, hired therapist Michelle Leao to treat his daughter. Vilches later requested copies of his daughter’s therapy records. Leao denied the request based on her determination that releasing the records would adversely affect the daughter’s well-being and the patient-counselor relationship. Vilches sued, alleging that Leao violated Health and Safety Code section 123110, which grants a minor’s personal representative access to patient records. Vilches sought injunctive relief directing Leao to release the requested records and an award of attorney fees, but did not seek damages. Leao moved for summary judgment on the ground that she made the statutory determination required to prevent disclosure of the records under section 123115, subdivision (a)(2), an exception to the right of access in section 123110. The trial court granted Leao’s motion, and Vilches appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. The court explained that the right of access to patient records in section 123110 is subject to the exception in section 123115, subdivision (a)(2), which allows healthcare providers to deny access if it would detrimentally affect the minor. The court held, as a matter of first impression, that a representative seeking to compel disclosure must establish that the provider acted in bad faith in denying access. Here, Leao presented uncontradicted evidence that her decision to block access was based on her clinical judgment that disclosure would have a detrimental effect on the minor daughter’s well-being, particularly if Vilches used the notes to “coach” his daughter for an upcoming custody proceeding. The court rejected Vilches’ argument that the section 123115 exception applied only to actions seeking damages, construing it to apply equally to actions seeking injunctive relief. The court also declined to second-guess Leao’s clinical judgment: “untrained members of the judiciary should not be second-guessing the clinical judgment of therapists concerning their minor patients’ well-being and the patient-counselor relationship.”
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson, Peder K. Batalden, and Lacey Estudillo at the appellate firm Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.
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