Summary of Jaffee v. Redmond
Citation: 518 U.S. 1
Relevant Facts: After she shot and killed a suspect while on the job (Mary Lu Redmond was a former police officer), Redmond began receiving counseling from a LCSW. The special administrator (Carrie Jaffee) for the person Redmond killed filed suit against her in federal district court alleging that by killing Allen, Redmond violated Allen’s constitutional rights, specifically because she use excessive force. During the civil trial, Jaffee attempted to obtain notes from Redmond’s counseling sessions. Redmond’s counsel argued that such disclosure was improper since the conversations were protected because they were part of psychotherapist-patient privilege. The district court judge disagreed, but the notes were not released or brought into the trial. During the jury instructions, the judge advised the jury that they could presume that notes from Redmond’s therapy sessions could be unfavorable to her. Subsequently, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and damages were awarded. The Court of Appeals reversed the jury’s decision and ruled that the Federal Rule of Evidence 501 applied to the recognition of psychotherapist-patient privilege, and thus the fact that Redmond had sought therapy should have had no bearing on the matter, no less as a negative jury instruction. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court
Issues: The legal question presented was whether mental health providers – in this case a psychotherapist – could be compelled to provide evidence about their patients in federal court cases?
Holding: The Supreme Court held that no, mental health providers cannot be compelled to provide evidence about their patients in federal court cases.
Reasoning: In a sweeping majority, Justice John Paul Stevens reasoned that Federal Rule of Evidence 501 protected the conversations between Redmond and her psychotherapist from being compelled to provide information against Redmond. The Court reasoned that the rule includes mental health providers, e.g. psychotherapists, who are no different in the requirement for confidence than physicians.
Concurrence/Dissent: Justice Scalia provided the dissenting opinion which was based on two arguable flaws with the Court’s ruling. First, Scalia believed the Court (majority) erred by putting too much stock in the presumption that psychotherapist privilege was actually part of the federal law (as intended). States with laws putting forth such a protection did so legislatively, but in this case there was no explicit federal protection. Consequently, the Court was legislating from the bench – committing judicial activism. Additionally, since social workers perform various functions, such disclosure issues should be assessed on a case by case basis and not with a one size fits all approach as the majority had done. Scalia therefore effectively challenged the validity of social work vs. psychiatry or psychology, for instance with respect to disclosure.
Conclusion: This case was important because the Court provided federal recognition of privileged communications for psychotherapy patient-mental health provider relationships.