Swickard v. Wayne County Medical Examiner, Docket No. 127076

Citation459 N.W.2d 92,184 Mich.App. 662
Decision Date24 October 1990
Docket NumberDocket No. 127076
PartiesJoe SWICKARD, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. WAYNE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER, Defendant-Appellant. 184 Mich.App. 662, 459 N.W.2d 92, 17 Media L. Rep. 2165
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

[184 MICHAPP 663] Honigman, Miller, Schwartz & Cohn by Herschel P. Fink and Kenneth R. Chadwell, Detroit, for Joe Swickard.

Saul A. Green, Corp. Counsel, and Ellen E. Mason, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Detroit, for Wayne County Medical Examiner.

Bell & Gardner, P.C. by Samuel C. Gardner, Detroit, for Dorothy Quinn.

Before CAVANAGH, P.J., and McDONALD and MARILYN J. KELLY, JJ.

CAVANAGH, Judge.

Defendant appeals as of right the [184 MICHAPP 664] March 23, 1990, order of the circuit court compelling defendant to disclose the autopsy report and the toxicology test results of Longworth Quinn, Jr. Dorothy Quinn, the decedent's mother and the temporary personal representative of his estate, has intervened with this Court's permission. Both parties have raised various arguments. We affirm.

On January 4, 1990, Longworth Quinn, Jr., the Chief Judge of 36th District Court, was found shot to death in his mother's home, the victim of an apparent suicide. On January 23, 1990, plaintiff, a Detroit Free Press staff writer, requested under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, M.C.L. Sec. 15.231 et seq.; M.S.A. Sec. 4.1801(1) et seq., that the Wayne County Medical Examiner make available the autopsy report on Judge Quinn and the results from any toxicology tests. When defendant replied that the requested information would be made available only after plaintiff presented a duly executed authorization, this lawsuit was filed.

Defendant claims on appeal that the trial court erred in ordering disclosure because the information requested is subject to a number of exemptions under the act, and because the trial court's decision was made without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing. The intervenor also relies on the statutory exemptions in arguing that the information should be withheld and, in addition, claims that disclosure would violate the family's constitutional right to privacy.

Under the act, an individual has the right to receive, upon proper request, copies of public records not subject to exemption from disclosure. M.C.L. Sec. 15.243(1); M.S.A. Sec. 4.1801(13)(1). The exemptions must be narrowly interpreted, Post-Newsweek Stations, Michigan, Inc. v. Detroit, 179 Mich.App. 331, 335, 445 N.W.2d 529 (1989), and the burden of proof is on the party claiming an exemption, The Evening[184 MICHAPP 665] News Ass'n v. City of Troy, 417 Mich. 481, 503, 339 N.W.2d 421 (1983), reh. den. 418 Mich. 1202 (1984).

Section 13(1)(d) of the act exempts from disclosure "records or information specifically described and exempted from disclosure by statute." Section 13(1)(i) exempts from disclosure "information subject to the physician-patient privilege." Both the defendant and the intervenor rely on these sections of the act to argue that, because the requested information is shielded by the physician-patient privilege found in M.C.L. Sec. 600.2157; M.S.A. Sec. 27A.2157, the information is exempt from disclosure. We disagree.

M.C.L. Sec. 600.2157; M.S.A. Sec. 27A.2157 provides, in pertinent part:

No person duly authorized to practice medicine or surgery shall be allowed to disclose any information which he may have acquired in attending any patient in his professional character, and which information was necessary to enable him to prescribe for such patient as a physician, or to do any act for him as a surgeon....

This Court has already addressed the issue, albeit in a different context, and found it very clear that "the performing of an autopsy ... by the county medical examiner" was not an action taken while attending the deceased "as a patient or for the purpose of treatment, advice or surgery." Estate of Green v. St. Clair Co. Road. Comm., 175 Mich.App. 478, 489, 438 N.W.2d 630 (1989). Also see Osborn v. Fabatz, 105 Mich.App. 450, 306 N.W.2d 319 (1981). Furthermore, because a confidential relationship between physician and patient cannot arise when the patient is deceased, this Court was convinced that the physician-patient privilege never came [184 MICHAPP 666] into existence. Green, supra, 175 Mich.App. at 489, 438 N.W.2d 630. The same reasoning applies in the present case.

Both the defendant and the intervenor also rely on Sec. 13(1)(a) which exempts "[i]nformation of a personal nature where the public disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy." They argue that the autopsy report and the toxicology test results are information of a personal nature, the disclosure of which would violate the decedent's common-law right to privacy. In addition, they argue that disclosure would violate the Quinn family's constitutional right to privacy.

While neither a balancing of the interests involved nor consideration of the purpose behind the request to disclose is appropriate, the courts must apply "the principles of privacy developed under the common law and our constitution" in determining whether a release of information is statutorily barred. State Employees Ass'n v. Dep't of Management & Budget, 428 Mich. 104, 123, 404 N.W.2d 606 (1987). The facts of each case must be examined "to identify those in which ordinarily impersonal information takes on 'an intensely personal character' justifying nondisclosure under the privacy exemption." Id., quoting from Kestenbaum v. Michigan State Univ., 414 Mich. 510, 327 N.W.2d 783 (1982), reh. den. 417 Mich. 1103 (1983).

The right protected is a personal right, peculiar to the person whose privacy is invaded. Consequently, after that...

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4 cases
  • Swickard v. Wayne County Medical Examiner
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • September 19, 1991
    ...documents. The Court also determined that the trial court properly ruled that there was no need for an evidentiary hearing. 184 Mich.App. 662, 459 N.W.2d 92 (1990). Defendant appealed the Court of Appeals decision, and this Court granted leave to appeal on October 24, 1990. 436 Mich. II. IN......
  • People v. Jensen
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • August 28, 1998
    ...after a finding that the societal interest in disclosure outweighs the individual's privacy interest." Swickard v. Wayne Co. Medical Examiner, 184 Mich.App. 662, 667, 459 N.W.2d 92 (1990), aff'd. 438 Mich. 536, 475 N.W.2d 304 Here, requiring defendant to disclose that she has a sexually com......
  • Oakland County v. Oakland County Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • February 3, 2009
    ...circumstances, the referee did not abuse his discretion by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing. See Swickard v. Wayne Co. Med. Examiner, 184 Mich.App. 662, 668, 459 N.W.2d 92 (1990) (observing that "since there were no disputed issues of fact, an evidentiary hearing would have served no ......
  • Swickard v. Wayne County Medical Examiner, Docket No. 148653
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • September 21, 1992
    ...to make autopsy reports available only pursuant to authorization. For the results of that litigation see Swickard v. Wayne Co. Medical Examiner, 184 Mich.App. 662, 459 N.W.2d 92 (1990), aff'd 438 Mich. 536, 475 N.W.2d 304 (1991). Although plaintiff had requested attorney fees and costs in h......

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