Ellison v. Ellison

Decision Date21 May 1996
Docket NumberNo. 86696,86696
Citation919 P.2d 1,1996 OK 64
PartiesSherry Lou ELLISON, now Eldridge, Plaintiff/Respondent, v. Donald Wayne ELLISON, Defendant/Petitioner.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

J. Mark Dobbs, Dobbs & Crowder, Eufaula, for Petitioner.

Joseph L. Layden, Layden, Inc., McAlester, for Respondent.

SUMMERS, Justice.

The question before us is whether a parent may invoke a child's psychotherapist-patient privilege to prevent a psychologist from testifying in a proceeding to modify custody based upon allegations of physical and mental abuse suffered by that child. We conclude that she may not.

The father and mother were divorced in 1990 in McIntosh County. They have two minor children and the mother is the custodial parent. The children visit the father at his residence in Missouri according to the divorce decree. In 1995 while the children were visiting the father he took them to a child psychologist. The child psychologist examined the children and made a child abuse hotline call to report possible abuse. 1

The father then filed in McIntosh County a motion to modify the divorce decree and change the custody of the children from the mother to himself. He alleged that the mother's conduct constituted abuse or neglect and amounted to a significant change in circumstances warranting the change in custody.

A hearing was held on the motion and the father called the psychologist to testify. The mother objected to his testimony, relying upon 12 O.S.1991 § 2503, the statute providing for a privilege for communications between a psychotherapist and his patient. The trial court sustained the objection, stayed further proceedings, and certified for our review the question of whether a custodial parent could invoke the privilege on behalf of a child-patient when the non-custodial parent offered the testimony.

Certiorari is used by this Court to review certain interlocutory trial court orders. The order must affect a substantial part of the merits of the controversy and be certified by the trial judge that an immediate appeal may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. 12 O.S.1991 § 952(b)(3). We have said that the term "merits" includes the real or substantial grounds of action or defense, and excludes matters of practice, procedure, and evidence. Pierson v. Canupp, 754 P.2d 548, 552 n. 8 (Okla.1988). This evidentiary ruling does not technically go to the merits of the case, although it might well be determinative of the outcome.

We have recast petitions for interlocutory certiorari as applications for extraordinary relief. Bilecki v. Service Collection Association, Inc., 732 P.2d 452, 453 (Okla.1986); White v. Wensauer, 702 P.2d 15, 16 (Okla.1985). Rulings prior to trial on motions in limine are advisory, and thus not proper for prohibition since the trial court may make the correct ruling when the objection is made in the course of trial. See Watchorn Basin Association. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 525 P.2d 1357, 1359 (Okla.1974) where we said that prohibition is an extraordinary writ and cannot be used in place of the usual and ordinary remedies. The ruling here was made in the course of trial. Evidentiary rulings during trial are reviewable when the subsequent judgment or appealable order is appealed, and prohibition does not ordinarily take the place of an appeal that is adequate in the particular circumstances to give complete relief to the parties. Moses v. Hoebel, 646 P.2d 601 (Okla.1982).

But the circumstances of this dispute weigh in favor of immediate extraordinary relief. The father simply seeks an opportunity to present his full case before the trial court. The issue certified for our review is one of first impression for this jurisdiction. The trial involves the right to custody of minor children and allegations of child abuse. There is a strong public policy toward disclosing allegations of child abuse in this jurisdiction, and we view the Court's order as being contrary to that policy. The chance of reversal on subsequent appeal is great. We therefore recast this proceeding to one for prohibition and assume original jurisdiction pursuant to Okla. Const. Art. 7 § 4.

The physician and psychotherapist-patient privilege provided by 12 O.S.1991 § 2503 prohibits the disclosure in judicial proceedings of confidential information communicated to the physician or psychotherapist by the patient. One author has stated that the statutory definition for a patient in § 2503(A)(1), combined with § 2503(B) setting forth the privilege, suggests that the patient is "a competent, conscious adult". 2 L. Whinery, Oklahoma Evidence, § 37.02 at 810 (1994). However, the author does not rule out application of the privilege to patients of minor age.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the privilege applies to children, there are circumstances when the child's parent is not free to invoke it. One court has held that when the parent's interests in suppressing the evidence are obviously adverse to the interests of the child-patient, as in the alleged commission of a crime against the child by the parent, that parent does not possess the authority to invoke the privilege. State v. Hunt, 2 Ariz.App. 6, 406 P.2d 208, 220 (1965). Another has held that although normally a parent would have the right to claim her child's privilege, that right exists only when it is in the child's best interest to do so. Where excluding the physician's testimony is in the mother's best interest but contrary to the child's, the mother may not raise the privilege. State v. Evans, 802 S.W.2d 507, 511 (Mo. banc 1991).

Our Legislature has also recognized that the privilege does not apply in certain cases. In the Oklahoma Child Abuse Report and Prevention Act 10 O.S.Supp.1995 § 7113 (formerly found at 21 O.S.1991 § 848) states:

Admissibility of evidence.

In any proceeding resulting from a report made pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Child Abuse Report and Prevention Act or in any proceeding where such a report or any contents of the report are sought to be introduced into evidence, such report, contents, or other fact related thereto or to the condition of the child or victim who is the subject of the report shall not be excluded on the ground that the matter is or may be the subject of a physician-patient privilege or similar privilege or rule against disclosure.

(Emphasis added).

The Legislature, which in its Evidence Code at 12 O.S.1991 § 2503, created the psychotherapist-patient privilege invoked by the mother, has expressly revoked that privilege in its adoption of the Oklahoma Child Abuse Reporting and Prevention Act, 10 O.S.Supp.1995 §§ 7101 et seq.

The facts before the Court show that a child abuse hotline report was made. We cannot tell whether the report was made in Oklahoma pursuant to Oklahoma Child Abuse Report and Prevention Act, or in Missouri pursuant to some other authority. However, the Oklahoma Act states: "It is the policy of this State to provide for the protection of children who have had physical injury inflicted upon them and who, in the absence of appropriate reports concerning their condition and circumstances, may be further threatened by the conduct or persons responsible for the care and protection of such children." 10 O.S.Supp.1995 § 7102.

We conclude that the policy underlying 12 O.S.1991 § 2305 is supplanted by that expressed in the Oklahoma Child Abuse Reporting and Prevention Act. A...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 cases
  • Sommer v. Sommer
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • 14 octobre 1997
    ...includes the real or substantial grounds of an action or defense, and excludes matters of practice, procedure, and evidence. Ellison v. Ellison, 1996 OK 64, p5, 919 P.2d 1, 2; Pierson v. Canupp, 1988 OK 47, 754 P.2d 548, 552 n. ¶6 The trial court order does more than exclude evidence used t......
  • Christian v. Gray
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • 11 février 2003
    ...usual procedure for reviewing the correctness of an order that limits testimony to be presented at a subsequent trial. Ellison v. Ellison, 1996 OK 64, 919 P.2d 1, 2. Our assumption of jurisdiction in this matter is tied to the importance of this first-impression issue for a procedure to be ......
  • Andrew v. Depani-Sparkes
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • 16 mai 2017
    ...and Court explained "it will not serve as a pre-trial reviewing court for orders adjudicating motions in limine."). Cf. Ellison v. Ellison, 1996 OK 64, 919 P.2d 1, 2 ("Evidentiary rulings during trial are reviewable when the subsequent judgment or appealable order is appealed"); Collier v. ......
  • Barnes v. Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mut. Ins.
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • 18 juillet 2000
    ...985 n. 25. The word "merits" has a well-defined meaning in law. See, e.g., Shamblin v. Beasley, 1998 OK 88, 967 P.2d 1200, 1206; Ellison v. Ellison, 1996 OK 64, ¶ 5, 919 P.2d 1, 2; Pierson v. Canupp, 1988 OK 47, 754 P.2d 548, 552 n. 8; Pryse Monument Company v. District Court of Kay County,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT