Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Peter's Bakery

Filing 47

Order granting 38 Motion for Relief from Nondispositive Pretrial Order of Magistrate Judge. Signed by Hon. Beth Labson Freeman on 9/17/2014.(blflc2, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 9/17/2014)

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1 2 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 4 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 5 SAN JOSE DIVISION 6 7 EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff, 8 v. 9 10 PETERS' BAKERY, ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM NONDISPOSITIVE PRETRIAL ORDER OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE [Re: ECF 38] Defendant. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No. 13-cv-04507-BLF 12 Before the Court is the Motion for Relief from Nondispositive Pretrial Order of Magistrate 13 14 Judge filed by plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 19, 2014. Pl.’s 15 Mot., ECF 38. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72 and Civil Local Rule 72-2, Plaintiff 16 challenges the portions of the magistrate judge’s August 6, 2014 order denying its motion to quash 17 defendant Peters’ Bakery’s subpoena of charging party Marcela Ramirez’s psychotherapy and 18 medical records. Order at 2-7, ECF 37. The undersigned ordered further briefing on Plaintiff’s 19 Motion for Relief on August 22, 2014. ECF 40. Having carefully reviewed the parties’ respective 20 written submissions, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for the reasons stated herein. 21 22 I. BACKGROUND This is a Title VII lawsuit brought by Plaintiff on behalf of the charging party, Marcela 23 Ramirez, for employment discrimination and other unlawful employment practices. See Compl., 24 ECF 1. The parties presently dispute whether, by seeking damages for emotional distress caused 25 by such practices, Plaintiff has effectively waived Ms. Ramirez’s psychotherapist-patient privilege 26 and should be required to produce her psychotherapy and medical records for the calendar year 27 2011. Def.’s Opp. 2, ECF 41. After surveying the law surrounding waivers of the privilege and 28 noting that there is “considerable disagreement among the district courts” regarding the applicable 1 waiver standard, the magistrate judge determined here that Plaintiff had waived the privilege. See 2 Order at 2-6. 3 Specifically, the magistrate judge found that though she was initially terminated from her 4 job, Ms. Ramirez has been financially compensated through union arbitration and has since been 5 reinstated to her position. Order at 5-6. As such, Plaintiff in this lawsuit is only seeking “damages 6 for stress and anxiety on behalf of Ramirez that were treated immediately after her termination.” 7 Id. at 6. Based on these findings, the magistrate judge reasoned that this case is most similar to the 8 situation in EEOC v. California Psychiatric Transitions, 258 F.R.D. 391 (E.D. Cal. 2009), an out- 9 of-district case wherein the court found that the psychotherapist-patient privilege had been waived. The magistrate judge thus concluded that Ms. Ramirez’s psychotherapy records should be 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 produced because they “are at the heart of EEOC’s theory of recovery.” Order at 6. The 12 magistrate judge also concluded that Ms. Ramirez’s medical records were likewise “in 13 controversy” and should be produced. Order at 7. Plaintiff seeks relief from both of these rulings. 14 II. LEGAL STANDARD 15 A district court may refer nondispositive pretrial issues to a magistrate under 28 U.S.C. § 16 636(b)(1)(A).1 “A judge of the court may reconsider any pretrial matter under this subparagraph 17 (A) where it has been shown that the magistrate judge’s order is clearly erroneous or contrary to 18 law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); Civ. L.R. 72-2; Bhan v. NME 19 Hospitals, Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1414 (9th Cir. 1991). On review of a nondispositive order, “the 20 magistrate’s factual determinations are reviewed for clear error,” and the district court may only 21 set aside those factual determinations if it is left with a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake 22 has been committed.” Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 268 F.R.D. 344, 348 (N.D. Cal. 2010); see also 23 Wolpin v. Philip Morris Inc., 189 F.R.D. 418, 422 (C.D. Cal. 1999); Burdick v. Comm’r Internal 24 Rev. Serv., 979 F.2d 1369, 1370 (9th Cir. 1992). “[T]he magistrate’s legal conclusions are 25 1 26 27 28 Subparagraph (A) exempts certain dispositive motions from reference. “[A]ny motion not listed, nor analogous to a motion listed in [§ 636(b)(1)(A)], falls within the non-dispositive group of matters which a magistrate may determine.” Maisonville v. F2 Am., Inc., 902 F.2d 746, 748 (9th Cir. 1990). The parties have not argued that the discovery dispute decided by the magistrate judge is subject to any standard of review other than that applicable to a nondispositive pretrial matter referred pursuant to § 636(b)(1)(A). 2 1 reviewed de novo to determine whether they are contrary to law.” Perry, 268 F.R.D. at 348. When a discovery order centers on a magistrate’s determination of relevance, “the standard 2 of review in most instances is not the explicit statutory language, but the clearly implicit standard 4 of abuse of discretion.” Geophysical Sys. Corp. v. Raytheon Co., Inc., 117 F.R.D. 646, 647 (C.D. 5 Cal. 1987). The court should not disturb the magistrate’s relevance determination except where it 6 is based on “an erroneous conclusion of law or where the record contains no evidence on which 7 [the magistrate] rationally could have based that decision.” Wolpin, 189 F.R.D. at 422 (citation 8 omitted). The implicit abuse of discretion standard does not apply to portions of a magistrate 9 judge’s discovery order not concerned with relevance. Perry, 268 F.R.D. at 348; accord Wolpin, 10 189 F.R.D. at 422-23; Al-Kidd v. Gonzales, No. CV:05-093-S-EJL-MHW, 2008 WL 2788418, at 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 3 *2 (D. Idaho July 17, 2008). 12 III. DISCUSSION 13 A. 14 Here, Plaintiff does not challenge any of the magistrate judge’s factual findings. As such, 15 the only question is whether the waiver standard that the magistrate applied in denying Plaintiff’s 16 motion to quash Defendant’s subpoena of Ms. Ramirez’s psychotherapy and medical records is 17 contrary to law. Plaintiff contends that the standard the magistrate judge applied is contrary to law 18 because it does not comport with the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Jaffee v. Redmond, 518 U.S. 1 19 (1996), which recognized a psychotherapist-patient privilege protectable under Federal Rule of 20 Evidence 501 but did not address the question of waiver. Pl.’s Mot. 2. Defendant argues that 21 because there is no binding authority from the Ninth Circuit and considerable disagreement among 22 the districts concerning the appropriate standard to apply when determining whether the 23 psychotherapist-patient privilege has been waived, the magistrate judge’s application of a broader 24 test for waiver is not “contrary to law.” Def.’s Opp. 3-5. 25 Psychotherapy Records The magistrate judge carefully described the various interpretations of the waiver issue 26 post-Jaffee. Order at 2-4. The description of the broad, narrow, and middle ground waiver 27 standards need not be repeated here. See id.; see also Stallworth v. Brollini, 288 F.R.D. 439, 443- 28 44 (N.D. Cal. 2012) (collecting cases). 3 1 Considering our Supreme Court’s holding in Jaffee, it is this Court’s determination that the 2 magistrate judge applied a standard that is contrary to the law in his determination of whether the 3 psychotherapist-patient privilege had been waived. In holding that confidential communications 4 between a psychotherapist and his patients is protected from compelled disclosure, the Supreme 5 Court expressly rejected any sort of balancing test that would pit the relative importance of the 6 privacy interest against the evidentiary need for disclosure. The Supreme Court stressed: 7 8 9 10 “[I]f the purpose of the privilege is to be served, the participants in the confidential conversation ‘must be able to predict with some degree of certainty whether particular discussions will be protected. An uncertain privilege, or one which purports to be certain but results in widely varying applications by the courts, is little better than no privilege at all.’” United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Jaffee, 518 U.S. at 18 (quoting Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 393 (1981)). 12 Accordingly, numerous cases in this district have adopted either a narrow waiver standard 13 requiring affirmative reliance on privileged communications or a “limited broad” standard finding 14 no waiver where a plaintiff seeks only garden variety emotional distress damages. See Stallworth, 15 288 F.R.D. at 443 (collecting cases). Under these narrower standards, the primacy of the privacy 16 interest inherent in the privilege and Jaffee’s rejection of the balancing approach are the primary 17 considerations. 18 19 20 “After Jaffee, a court cannot force disclosure of [psychotherapistpatient] communications solely because it may be extremely useful to the finder of fact. Giving weight to the usefulness of the evidence as a factor in a decision regarding the scope of the privilege would be a balancing exercise that was barred by Jaffee.” 21 Fitzgerald v. Cassil, 216 F.R.D. 632, 636-37 (N.D. Cal. 2003) (quoting Vanderbilt v. Town of 22 Chilmark, 174 F.R.D. 225, 229 (D. Mass. 1997)); see also Stallworth, 288 F.R.D. at 443. 23 By contrast, under a broad waiver standard, the privilege is waived whenever the patient 24 places his mental condition at issue. See Sanchez v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 202 F.R.D. 131 (E.D. Pa. 25 2001). Waiver occurs even where there is no claim for specific or severe emotional injury or 26 claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Fairness to the defendant in rebutting the 27 claim for garden variety emotional distress damages becomes the primary focus. California 28 Psychiatric Transitions, 258 F.R.D. at 399-400. 4 1 Relying on the factually similar case of California Psychiatric Transitions, where the court 2 found that the emotional distress claim was the “crux of Plaintiff’s claim,” 258 F.R.D. at 400, the 3 magistrate judge applied the fairness considerations inherent in the broad waiver standard, which 4 balances the need of the defendant to obtain evidence to rebut the plaintiff’s claim against the 5 plaintiff’s privacy interests that are the essence of the privilege. See Order at 5-6. In this Court’s 6 view, application of the broad waiver standard would violate the express holding of Jaffee 7 precluding any balancing of interests in determining whether the privilege has been waived and 8 would therefore be contrary to law. 9 In this case, it is true that the only claim asserted is for emotional distress damages. However, the mere fact that Plaintiff asserts a single claim for relief does not alter the privilege 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 considerations. Moreover, in its Motion to Quash, Plaintiff confirmed that the claim is only for 12 “garden variety” emotional distress damages and expressly stated that “there is no claim for a 13 specific psychiatric injury or disorder; there is no claim of unusually severe distress, and Plaintiff 14 will not have a mental health expert testify in its case.” Pl.’s Mot. to Quash 6, ECF 24. Applying 15 either the narrow or limited broad waiver standards adopted in the vast majority of cases decided 16 in this district, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not waived the psychotherapist-patient privilege. 17 Plaintiff has made clear that no psychotherapist-patient communications will be affirmatively 18 relied upon to prove damages, nor will any expert testimony be submitted in support of the claim. 19 Furthermore, Plaintiff has not asserted a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or 20 any such claim for unusual or special damages. These facts are consistent with the facts relied 21 upon by the magistrate judge in the underlying order and are not in any way contradicted by 22 Defendant. 23 Defendant retains the opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Ramirez concerning other 24 stressors in her life that may have contributed to her alleged emotional distress. Defendant may 25 also discover the occurrences and dates of other psychotherapy prior to the incidents alleged in the 26 Complaint. Defendant is further free to examine percipient witnesses or submit other evidence to 27 show that the claim is exaggerated or false. All of these avenues of discovery provide ample 28 fairness to marshal evidence to defeat Plaintiff’s claims, which have variously been described by 5 1 the courts as “ordinary or commonplace emotional distress” or “simple or usual.” Fitzgerald, 216 2 F.R.D. at 637. Accordingly, the Court finds that there has been no waiver of the psychotherapist- 3 patient privilege in this case, and Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief is GRANTED with respect to the 4 portion of the magistrate judge’s order denying Plaintiff’s motion to quash production of Ms. 5 Ramirez’s psychotherapy records. Plaintiff is not required to produce those documents. 6 B. 7 The subpoenas in question relate to both psychiatric and medical records from Kaiser Medical Records 8 Permanente. See Def.’s Opp. to Mot. to Quash Exh. A, ECF 34. The magistrate judge ruled that 9 Plaintiff and Ms. Ramirez’s claims have placed her medical records “in controversy” and thus ordered that they be turned over in compliance with the subpoena. Order at 7. No further 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 elucidation of that ruling is provided. To the extent that the medical records contain discussions 12 regarding Ms. Ramirez’s psychological well-being, this Court’s order supra applies equally to 13 those portions of the medical records. 14 In regard to the purely medical records, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the underlying 15 order provides no discussion of the rationale for ordering disclosure of the records. Thus, this 16 Court will review Plaintiff’s Motion to Quash de novo as to those records. See Hirsch v. Zavaras, 17 920 F. Supp. 148, 150 (D. Colo. 1996) (acknowledging lack of authority on this issue but applying 18 de novo review when magistrate judge ruled without any discussion of his rationale). Defendant 19 has stated no opposition to Plaintiff’s arguments for relief from the underlying order with respect 20 to medical records. 21 Upon de novo review of Plaintiff’s Motion to Quash and opposition and reply briefs on the 22 issue of Ms. Ramirez’s purely medical records, the Court determines that although the records are 23 relevant for discovery purposes, i.e. reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible 24 evidence, Plaintiff has not placed her physical medical condition at issue so as to effect a waiver of 25 her right to privacy. EEOC v. Lexus Serramonte, 237 F.R.D. 220, 224 (N.D. Cal. 2006). 26 Although the court in Lexus was faced with a subpoena seeking the plaintiff’s lifelong medical 27 28 6 1 records, that fact does not appear to have been determinative of the court’s ruling.2 Instead, and 2 relevant to the instant inquiry, the Lexus court found that there was a right to privacy in medical 3 records found in the federal and California constitutions that was not waived by assertion of a 4 garden variety claim for emotional distress. Significant in Lexus, as here, was the fact that the 5 plaintiff confirmed that she did not intend to offer the testimony of any medical expert and did not 6 assert damages for any physical injury. See id. at 224-25; see also Stallworth, 288 F.R.D. at 444- 7 45; Fitzgerald, 216 F.R.D. at 635. Moreover, in this case, the Court is concerned with the breadth of Defendant’s subpoena in 8 light of the claims at issue here. Though it is limited to records from 2011, there is no limitation 10 in scope. The Court is aware that in the ordinary course of a person’s medical history, ordinary 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 9 medical records could contain treatment for physical conditions wholly unrelated to any 12 conceivable claim in this case, such as gynecological records, screening and/or treatment for 13 cancer, injuries, and other common but unrelated matters. Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff’s 14 Motion for Relief is GRANTED with respect to the portion of the magistrate judge’s order 15 denying Plaintiff’s motion to quash production of Ms. Ramirez’s medical records. Plaintiff is not 16 required to produce those documents. 17 IV. For the foregoing reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief 18 19 ORDER from Nondispositive Pretrial Order of Magistrate Judge is GRANTED in its entirety. 20 21 Dated: September 17, 2014 ______________________________________ BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge 22 23 24 25 26 27 2 28 The Lexus court surely would have simply narrowed the scope of the subpoena to the relevant time period had that been the only stumbling block to disclosure. 7

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