What’s Up Doc with Medical Records in FCRA Cases?
Are medical records discoverable in FCRA cases? Like most legal questions, it depends. The Northern District of California recently grappled with this issue in the case of Prado v. Equifax Information Services LLC, No. 18-CV-02405-PJH (LB), 2019 WL 88140 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2019). In that case, the plaintiff alleged that Equifax mixed up her credit history with that of her sister’s, which contained several delinquencies. The plaintiff claimed that Equifax failed to respond adequately to her attempts to correct these errors, resulting in FCRA violations and causing plaintiff emotional distress. However, the plaintiff did not assert a separate cause of action for this supposed infliction of emotional distress.
In light of plaintiff’s general allegation that she suffered emotional harm, Equifax issued a request for production seeking all documents relating to “any medical or mental treatments” plaintiff “received in the past seven years.” Id. at *1. The plaintiff served objections, asserting, among other things, that this discovery was overly broad, irrelevant, and constituted an invasion of plaintiff’s privacy.
Equifax, citing non-FCRA cases outside the Ninth Circuit, argued that plaintiff’s medical records were relevant based on plaintiff’s generic allegation of emotional distress. Equifax also highlighted the distinction between its document request and a request for a medical examination under Federal Rule 35, which specifically requires in the rule that the party’s mental or physical condition be in controversy before a court orders such an examination.
The court in Prado, however, was not swayed by Equifax’s arguments and sustained the plaintiff’s objections. The court’s decision mirrored the reasoning of other courts in the Northern District of California:
when a plaintiff alleges only ‘garden variety’ distress and does not allege emotional distress as a separate claim, does not allege unusually severe emotional distress, and does not intend to rely on experts or medical records to prove emotional-distress damages, she does not place her medical history so at issue as to warrant compelling production of her medical records.
Id. (citing Basich v. Petanaude & Felix, APC, No. C 11-04406 EJD (HRL), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91634, at *3–4 (N.D. Cal. July 2, 2012)). The court further disagreed with the distinction Equifax attempted to draw between a request for documents versus a medical examination, stating that “delving into a plaintiff’s medical or psychiatric records is even more invasive than conducting a medical or psychological examination[.]” Id.at *2 (quoting EEOC v. Lexus of Serramonte, 237 F.R.D. 220 (N.D. Cal. 2006). While the result may have been different before a different judge or under different circumstances, the court in Prado clearly did not believe that a general allegation of emotional distress was enough to trigger discovery of a plaintiff’s medical records.