Documents and Information Sought By Plaintiff Held as Privileged Under Ala. Code §§ 6-5-551 and 22-21-8 (Medical Malpractice / Discovery Practice)
Ex parte Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center
The Plaintiff filed an action in his capacity as the administrator of his wife’s estate against the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center (MIMC), alleging a single count of negligence pursuant to the Alabama Medical Liability Act. The Plaintiff served MIMC with a combined set of “First Interrogatories and Requests for Production” alongside the complaint. Among other things, the Plaintiff sought documents related to MIMC policies, including all procedural rules governing the administration of opiate medication and monitoring of patients suffering from sleep apnea, obesity, or obstructed airways. MIMC objected, arguing that the information requested was not discoverable in accordance with statutory provisions which prohibited discovery of facts outside the act or omission complained of, and provided that certain accreditation, quality assurance, and credentialing materials are not subject to discovery. Ala. Code §§ 6-5-551; 22-21-8 (1975). The Plaintiff moved to compel “full and complete responses” to the discovery requests. MIMC filed a subsequent response and accompanying motion for protective order. The trial court entered an order compelling MIMC to respond to the Plaintiff’s discovery requests.
The Plaintiff then propounded second, third, and fourth sets of discovery requests upon MIMC, seeking information regarding MIMC’s accreditation status, any documentation concerning MIMC’s response to “The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert #49, Safe Use of Opioids in Hospitals,” and any correspondence between MIMC, its employees, or other healthcare providers regarding the dispensation of narcotics, opioids, Dilaudid and/or Hydromorphone. MIMC objected on the same grounds it objected to the Plaintiff’s first discovery requests. After the trial court entered an order requiring MIMC to produce the documents requested by the subsequent discovery requests, MIMC moved for a protective order. The trial court denied the motion. MIMC sought mandamus review of the trial court’s order requiring it to produce certain information which it argued was privileged under sections 6-5-551 and 22-21-8 of the Alabama Code.
MIMC argued that the trial court exceeded its discretion in compelling production of "policies and procedures, educational/training material and physician orders that are not related to the acts and/or omissions alleged in [Connie's] complaint." MIMC argued that the trial court erroneously required it to produce evidence of such policies and procedures implemented after the date of the act giving rise to the complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed. MIMC also argued that the trial court erroneously required it to produce MIMC's "Medical/Healthcare Errors Response Policy" and the "Quality and Patient Safety Program Plan.” MIMC argued that requiring it to produce such information violated the quality-assurance privilege found in Ala. Code § 22-21-8. The Court held that the disputed documents “clearly” fell under the quality-assurance privilege. The Court also held that the trial court erred in requiring MIMC to produce information regarding its Joint Commission accreditation. Thus, the Court issued a writ of mandamus requiring the trial court to vacate its orders requiring MIMC to produce documents which were privileged under §§ 6-5-551 and 22-21-8.