PROCEDURE-DISCOVERY-PEER REVIEW-ATTORNEY-CLIENT

September 14th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Procedure

Williams v. Geo Group, 2022 Pa. Super. LEXIS 365 (Pa. Super. August 24, 2022) (McLaughlin, J.)  The GEO Group, Inc., GEO Corrections and Detentions, LLC., Tiffany Thomas, Community Education Centers Inc., GEO Correctional Holdings Inc., GEO Operations Inc., and Geo Reentry Services, LLC (collectively “GEO”) appeal from the order granting Tineika Williams’ (“Williams”) discovery motion and compelling the production of evidence. GEO challenges the trial court’s finding that the evidence was relevant and not privileged. We affirm. The underlying cause of action in this case is one sounding in negligence in connection with a prison inmate’s suicide. In February 2018, Williams’ son, Nick-A-Leen Bishop Williams (“Decedent”) committed suicide in his cell at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (“Prison”) in Delaware County. The Prison is a private prison operated by the GEO Group, Inc. Williams alleges that Decedent covered the window of his cell and the officer on duty, Tiffany Thomas, failed to intercede. Williams filed two suits against the various defendants and the trial court consolidated the cases. In January 2019, Williams served GEO with interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Ultimately, GEO provided all requested materials except a report called a “psychological autopsy” (“Report”). GEO asserted that the Report was privileged as a peer review document, as a work product document, and due to the attorney-client privilege. Williams filed a motion to compel in November 2019, seeking the Report. After a hearing, the trial court ordered GEO to provide an affidavit setting forth any factual basis for its claims of privilege. GEO provided the affidavit of Dr. Eugene Hermann, who helped author the Report. Dr. Hermann stated that GEO Group’s Director of Behavioral Health Services, its Chief Medical Officer, its Manager of Behavioral Health Services, and Vice President of Health Services conducted a peer review of the circumstances surrounding Decedent’s death. According to Dr. Hermann, this committee reviewed Decedent’s records, the critical incident report, and the written statements of prison staff and inmates. Dr. Hermann admitted that the Report was prepared following Williams’ request for the preservation of evidence should she institute a lawsuit. Dr. Hermann noted that legal counsel was consulted regarding the Report. Williams responded by submitting a transcript of the deposition testimony of the Prison’s mental health coordinator, Raequel Madara, LCSW. She had testified that the preparation of the Report was required under the Prison’s suicide prevention policy. Madara explained that the policy required the preparation of a “psychological autopsy” following any suicide and that she had previously prepared such a report regarding another inmate’s suicide. According to Madara, she had never heard anyone refer to a “psychological autopsy” as a product of peer review. Instead, she asserted that the Report was prepared in accordance with the Prison’s own internal process.  In this case, the trial court found that the Report was not prepared as a function of peer review and therefore was not privilege under the PRPA.  The Superior Court concurred.  Here, the trial court credited the deposition testimony of an individual who stated that the report was not the product of peer review but instead resulted in the prison’s routine internal policies following an inmate’s death.  The motivation behind the drafting of the incident report is irrelevant.  The next question was whether it is privileged under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 4003.5.  The lower court found that it was not protected by that Rule.  We agree with the trial court that the report was relevant for discovery purposes pursuant to Rule 4003.1.  The order of the trial court is therefore affirmed.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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