Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Discovery Orders in Nursing Home Abuse Case and Vacates Order of Contempt

The Illinois Appellate Court for the First District has affirmed in part and vacated in part a decision of the Circuit Court of Cook County. In January 2011, Robert Holman was a resident at a long-term care facility in Chicago called the Renaissance at Midway. On or near Jan. 22, 2011, he was assaulted by another resident of the long-term care facility. His left eye was injured, which severely impaired his vision.

Johnnie Stuckey, Holman’s sister, as well as his attorney, filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health. On April 13, 2012, the department report showed that Holman had been assaulted by his roommate who had “become physically aggressive toward staff and pushed staff on [a] bed” in early January. The roommate, identified only as John Doe, was described in the report as “severely demented.”

Stuckey sent several discovery requests seeking information about John Doe. The defendant, the Renaissance at Midway, refused to comply, arguing that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevented Renaissance from responding to the discovery requests, which in addition to his name included requests for Doe’s address, criminal background and history in the facility as well as his medical charts.

The Renaissance objected, noting that much of this information was protected. Stuckey responded that she was not interested in John Doe’s name or identifying information but only and whether there was a history of aggressive behavior.

Stuckey proposed redacting any identifying information following an in-camera examination of the records. The court agreed. Renaissance moved to reconsider, claiming that the court misapplied Illinois law. On Sept. 11, 2014, at a Circuit Court hearing, it was revealed that John Doe had died.

The Circuit Court found that a small portion of the records were discoverable if redacted and ordered Renaissance to produce any non-medical nurses’ notes that accounted for John Doe’s actions. Renaissance refused and the court issued an order holding counsel for Renaissance in “friendly contempt” and fined it $100 for failing to provide the records. Renaissance appealed.

The appellate court found that the Circuit Court had indeed ordered Renaissance to turn over records that were protected by the confidentiality act. However, the act specifically provided that records would remain confidential “unless disclosure is authorized by court order after in-camera examination and upon good cause shown.”

Because there was an in-camera examination and good cause was shown to examine those records which might have indicated a history of violent or dangerous behavior by John Doe, the Circuit Court was authorized to demand the records.

However, the appellate court did not find that the Circuit Court was authorized to issue the “friendly contempt” order. The appellate court first noted that where a discovery order is found to be improper, any finding of contempt for refusing to comply must be reversed. This alone would be sufficient to warrant reversal, but the appellate court noted that in this case, defense counsel “only refused to comply with the Circuit Court’s discovery in order to effectuate his appeal,” the friendly contempt may be vacated if Renaissance had been incorrect.

The appellate court therefore affirmed the discovery order of the Circuit Court and vacated the order of contempt.

Johnnie Stuckey for Robert Holman v. The Renaissance at Midway, et al., 2015 IL App (1st) 143111-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling nursing home abuse cases, nursing home negligence cases and long-term facility negligence cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including Wicker Park (Chicago), Antioch, Elmhurst, Franklin Park, Gurnee, Grayslake, Crystal Lake, Frankfurt, Franklin Park, Hickory Hills, Inverness, Winfield, Zion and Mundelein, Ill.

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