Harston v. Campbell County Memorial Hosp.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Citation913 P.2d 870
Docket NumberNo. 95-90,95-90
PartiesCarma Christensen HARSTON; Dane Harston, by Carma Christensen Harston, her Mother and Next Friend; and Paul C. Harston, by Carma Christensen Harston, his Mother and Next Friend, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. CAMPBELL COUNTY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, Appellee (Defendant).
Decision Date02 April 1996

Page 870

913 P.2d 870
64 USLW 2692
Carma Christensen HARSTON; Dane Harston, by Carma Christensen Harston, her Mother and Next Friend; and Paul C. Harston, by Carma Christensen Harston, his Mother and Next Friend, Appellants (Plaintiffs),
No. 95-90.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
April 2, 1996.
Rehearing Denied April 23, 1996.

Page 871

Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County; The Honorable Terrence L. O'Brien, Judge.

Walter Urbigkit of Frontier Law Center, Cheyenne, for Appellants.

John A. Sundahl and John Coppede of Sundahl, Powers, Kapp & Martin, Cheyenne, for Appellee.

J. Kent Rutledge of Lathrop & Rutledge, P.C., Cheyenne, for Amicus Curiae The Wyoming Hospital Association.

Richard Rideout of Herschler, Freudenthal, Salzburg, Bonds & Rideout, P.C., Cheyenne, for Amicus Curiae Wyoming Medical Society.

THOMAS, Justice.

The essential issue in this case addresses the scope of discovery of hospital information, documents, or other records in an action against a hospital for independent negligence in credentialing and reviewing the staff privileges of a physician, as well as the responsibility of the hospital for patient injuries. The district court limited Carma Christensen Harston's (Harston) efforts to obtain discovery with respect to incident reports relating to her care and materials relating to the appointment, reappointment, credentialing, and privileges of her treating physician. The district court then granted a summary judgment in favor of Campbell County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) after ruling that Harston, in both her individual and representative capacities, had failed to meet her burden to demonstrate any genuine issue of material fact in response to a motion for summary judgment. In resolving these issues, we revisit Greenwood v. Wierdsma, 741 P.2d 1079 (Wyo.1987), and hold that the trial court erred in limiting discovery. We cannot know how the information sought by the discovery would have benefited Harston in countering the motion for summary judgment but, since Harston never had the opportunity to utilize information that should have been made available, the Order Granting Summary Judgment for Campbell County Memorial Hospital must be reversed. The case is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

In the Brief of Appellants, filed on behalf of Harston in both her individual and representative capacities, the issues are articulated in this way:

A. The Court erroneously denied Plaintiffs' discovery efforts by sustaining objections and granting protective orders limiting or foreclosing access by interrogatories, document production and deposition interrogation directed to obtain information, documents and testimony of witnesses from Campbell County Memorial Hospital and its employees and representatives.

B. Waiver of privilege or confidentiality should have been applied if, following Campbell County Memorial Hospital's objection to document production and interrogatories for witness testimony for which confidentiality could have properly existed, the document or information which was subjected to the objection was then used by CCMH as the underlying factual basis for tendered expert witness testimony or for stated opinions in affidavits filed to support the CCMH Motion for Summary Judgment.

C. Summary Judgment was improperly granted to Defendant, Campbell County Memorial Hospital.

1. Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Appellee in this alleged medical malpractice action where after having discharged its summary judgment burden, the Appellants failed to offer competent expert testimony refuting the facts established by the experts of the Appellee.

2. Whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the Appellants access to documents that were statutorily privileged from discovery, related to the credentialling, peer review and quality management functions of the hospital. In any event, assuming the district court abused

Page 872

its discretion, whether the denial of said discovery constituted harmless error where the Appellants failed to designate an expert witness on these issues.

3. Whether the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this action because of the Appellants' failure to submit a sufficient notice of claim in compliance with the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act.

4. Whether this Court has appellate jurisdiction over this appeal where prior to filing their notice of appeal the Plaintiffs entered into a release of all claims that included this Appellee.

In its Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Appellee Campbell County Memorial Hospital, the Wyoming Medical Society offers this Statement of the Issue:

The issue presented here, as stated by the Appellee, Campbell County Memorial Hospital, is whether the district court properly sustained the Hospital's objections to the Plaintiff/Appellant's broad discovery requests which sought to obtain credentialing, peer review, and quality assurance documents and information regarding one of its staff physician's [sic] as well as from the Hospital itself. Amicus accepts this statement of the issue presented for review.

In a Brief of Amicus Curiae, The Wyoming Hospital Association, no separate statement of the issues appears. The Wyoming Hospital Association, after articulating its composition and interest in high quality medical care, sets forth its concerns about this case. It argues that the application of our statutes protecting peer review and quality management is important to it and its members, and limiting the application of those statutes, as Harston seeks to do, would have an adverse impact on its members.

Harston brought her action against CCMH seeking recovery for injuries attributable to medical treatments in the hospital and asserting the failure to develop and provide adequate protocols for emergencies during surgery; failure to develop adequately and provide requirements for competency of surgeons in surgical treatment in the event that emergencies during surgery develop; failure to require appropriate pre-surgical testing; failure to manage, maintain, and require adequate maintenance of medical records documenting the events occurring during medical care at the hospital; and responsibility for the negligence of its employees, agents, representatives, and persons provided staff privileges. CCMH sought dismissal of Harston's claims against it because of insufficient notice under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, WYO.STAT. §§ 1-39-101 to -120 (1988) (as amended June 1995 Supp.), but the district court denied that motion. No appeal was taken by CCMH from that ruling. There followed extensive discovery on the part of all parties. A number of the claims against various parties were disposed of by summary judgment or settled by February 28, 1995. These events left the focus of the lawsuit on the claims by Harston against CCMH.

The discovery dispute between these parties commenced with Plaintiffs' Request for Production. In particular, Request No. 19 asked for:

Minutes and records except for information regarding any deliberation relating to consideration, decision and actions of the Campbell County Memorial Hospital Credentials Committee in considering the original accreditation of [treating physician] and any periodic extensions of hospital privileges since the original accreditation and granting of hospital privileges in Campbell County Memorial Hospital as a hospital license under the laws of the State of Wyoming not specifically designated to be privileged by statute.

CCMH objected to producing any studies, reports, statements, notes, diaries, memoranda, data, or other information regarding: any pertinent event or happening concerning Harston's care as related by an employee or agent of the hospital; the character and maintenance of medical care at the hospital; the care provided to other patients by Harston's treating physician; and the personnel, vitae and accreditation information furnished by the treating physician to the hospital to secure hospital staff privileges. The premise for the objection to the request for production was "such information is confidential and

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prohibited from disclosure by Wyoming Hospital Records and Information Act, W.S. § 35-2-606, 609, and W.S. § 35-17-105; § 35-2-910, 35-2-103; W.S. § 16-4-203(a); and 42 U.S.C. §§ 11101-11152."

While it may be an oversimplification, the position of the hospital was that the CCMH credentials committee came within the definition found in WYO.STAT. § 35-17-101 (1994) as a committee of a medical staff with the responsibility of evaluation and improvement of the quality of care rendered in a hospital. CCMH contended this information was confidential and privileged pursuant to the provisions of WYO.STAT. § 35-17-105 (1994):

All reports, findings, proceedings and data of the professional standard review organizations is confidential and privileged, and is not subject to discovery or introduction into evidence in any civil action, and no person who is in attendance at a meeting of the organization shall be permitted or required to testify in any civil action as to any evidence...

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