In Marquez v. Estate of Garcia

Brief Filed: 3/10
Court: Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven
Year of Decision: 2010

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 3MB)

Issue

Confidentiality of patient records and the deposition of a psychotherapist who handled a patient’s case

Index Topic

Confidentiality/Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege

Facts

In this wrongful death action, the plaintiffs allege the defendant employee operated a forklift while under the influence of alcohol, killing the decedent as a result. The plaintiffs further allege the defendant had a history of coming to work under the influence, and his employer knew or should have known he was not fit to operate a forklift safely. The defendant's urine sample, provided on the night of the incident, tested positive for alcohol. The defendant later sought treatment at the Betty Ford Center.

The plaintiffs then subpoenaed the defendant's medical and psychiatric records from the Betty Ford Center and sought to depose the person most qualified regarding the defendant's treatment there. The Center responded that, as a drug and alcohol treatment program governed by federal laws and regulations addressing the confidentiality of such records, it would be unable to comply with the request for information, and the defendant moved to quash the subpoenas. After an in camera inspection, the trial court ordered disclosure of the defendant's intake information regarding his prior history as well as the deposition of the case worker who had received this information from the defendant.

APA’s Position

APA and the California Psychological Association came together to urge the California Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court decision that would have allowed for the disclosure of intake records from the Betty Ford Center and the deposition of the psychologist who handled the case. The brief explained confidentiality's essential role in psychotherapy and the dire consequences of weakening psychotherapy-patient privilege.

Results

Citing APA and CPA’s brief, the court acknowledged that psychotherapy depends on patients' willingness to share the most intimate details of their lives and reversed the lower court decision.