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Santelli v. Electro-Motive Case Brief

Summary of Santelli v. Electro-Motive, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of IL (1999)

Cause of action: The following is a cause of action seeking to overturn an overruled motion to compel.

Procedural History: Objection raised at trial, and objection overruled at trial.  Affirmed in this court.

Facts: PL alleged sexual discrimination, and sued for damages relating to compensation for emotional distress as to seeing a psychotherapist.  DF asked for PL’s medical records in discovery.  Denied.  Objection raised as to its relevance by DF, saying they are essential to proving its case.  PL says she is not seeking damages as a result of her condition, but just for the time and money spent at her shrink’s.

Issue(s): Under FRCP and USC §1981(a), may DF correctly raise a motion to compel PL’s privileged medical records when PL puts her communications with her psychotherapist at issue in the trial court? (does a Title VII PL put their privileged communications at issue and thus waiving her privilege by seeking to recover damages for emotional distress?)

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Although communications between a psychotherapist and patient may be relevant to a particular issue in a case or significant to the party opposing the privilege, that alone is not enough to deprive a party of this privilege.  It can be waived by affirmatively putting the privileged communications directly at issue in a lawsuit.  The narrow view of this waived privilege would take place only in PL called the doctor to the stand or introduced the communications directly into evidence, but the court found this unacceptable as the privilege holder could “thwart the truth.”

The court, after holding that the testimony offered in support of her claim was not relevant to her actual medical records, insomuch as documentation she was just generally there, advised PL that it might be in her best interest to actually disclose her records to DF if she were to try and recover more compensatory damages.  However, the court leaves this choice in PL’s hands.

Rule Privilege is deemed waived when PL introduces privileged communications in evidence either directly or by calling the particular psychotherapist as a witness.  However, compensatory damages may be awarded for humiliation, either inferred from circumstances or established by testimony, and medical evidence of mental or emotional impairment is not necessary to sustain such an award.

Holding: No.  PL’s communications to her psychotherapist are no longer relevant, or if relevant are barely so.



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