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Rutledge v. Elliot Health System

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 7, 2018

Lonnie Rutledge
v.
Elliot Health System and Elliot Hospital

          Debra Weiss Ford, Esq.

          Samuel V. Maxwell, Esq.

          Leslie C. Nixon, Esq.

          David P. Slawsky, Esq.

          Martha Van Oot, Esq.

          ORDER

          Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge

         Lonnie Rutledge brings claims against her former employer, Elliot Health System and Elliot Hospital, for age discrimination and wrongful termination. Rutledge moves to compel the defendants to produce a patient chart with personal identifiers redacted and records generated by the Exceptional Beginnings Quality Review Committee. The defendants represent that they agreed to produce the patient chart at issue after a “Qualified Protective Order was in place” but object to producing records of the Exceptional Beginnings Quality Review Committee.

         Background

         In support of her motion to compel, Rutledge states that she was a nurse in the labor and delivery department at Elliot Hospital from 1990 until she was terminated on June 11, 2014. She states that she had outstanding reviews every year. The reasons given for her termination by Elliot Hospital included the care given to a patient on May 22, 2014.

         Paula Wellde, Elliott Hospital's Clinical Nurse Educator, told Rutledge that a review of the care provided to the patient on May 22 was being done by the Exceptional Beginnings Quality Review Committee (“Committee”). The review was begun because of the length of time the patient's fetal monitor strip was of poor quality and the documentation during the second stage of the patient's labor. Rutledge continued to work full time while the Committee conducted its review.

         On June 11, Rutledge met with Sarah Meade, director of the women's and children's division at Elliot Hospital, and Nicole Dawson, from the human resources department. At the meeting, Rutledge was told that her employment was terminated. Elliot Hospital then sent a report to the New Hampshire Board of Nursing, accusing Rutledge of unprofessional conduct. Elliot Hospital also opposed Rutledge's claim for unemployment benefits, but Rutledge prevailed after a two-day hearing.

         This is the third discovery dispute that the parties have failed to resolve and have instead involved the court. In the prior two disputes, the court denied the motions to compel without prejudice and directed counsel to confer and to use their good faith efforts to resolve those matters without further involvement of the court. One of the issues raised in the current motion, privilege under RSA 151:13-a, was raised previously, but not decided, because Rutledge had not complied with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(1). Despite the court's expectation that the parties would resolve these matters, a third motion to compel has been filed.

         Standard of Review

         “Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). When disputes arise, a party may move to compel discovery, after first attempting in good faith to resolve the problem without court action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a). Initially, the party moving to compel bears the burden of showing that the discovery it seeks is relevant. Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Wangs Alliance Corp., 2018 WL 283893, at *1 (D. Mass. Jan. 2, 2018) (citing Continental Western Ins. Co. v. Opechee Constr. Corp., 2016 WL 1642626, at *1 (D.N.H. Apr. 25, 2016)). If that burden is met, “the objecting party bears the burden of showing that a discovery request is improper.” Continental Western, 2016 WL 1642626, at *1.

         Discussion

         Rutledge moves to compel the defendants to produce the patient chart for care provided by Rutledge on May 22, 2014, and filed a proposed protective order to comply with the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”).[1] Rutledge also moves to compel production of records of the Committee's investigation into her care provided on May 22, and to require the defendants to produce a summary of other Committee records. The defendants object to those requests on the grounds that the proposed protective order does not comply with HIPAA requirements, ...


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