A Child’s Mental Health Records May Be Open to Parties in Custody Battle Even if Doctor Objects

By Richard Mann, Richard A. Mann, P.C., Indianapolis

The Indiana Court of Appeals in Meridian Health Services Corporation v. Thomas Martin Bell just ruled that a provision of Indiana Law that allows a mental health professional to deny the patient access to his or her records does not apply to a parent obtaining those records.

This was a custody and parenting time case where Father was seeking access to the child’s mental health records. The counselor in this case obtained a letter from a medical doctor stating that it was “medically necessary that the records of [the child’s] therapy sessions not be released to her parents.” The doctor and counselor took the position that I.C. 16-39-2-4 prevented the release of the records based upon the providers’ opinions.

The counselor failed to appear at a deposition and produce the records as Meridian Health had filed a motion to quash the subpoena 3 days before the deposition. The court had not yet ruled on the motion to quash. After which father filed a motion for rule to show cause and the court held a hearing on all pending motions. The court denied Meridian’s motion to quash and for a protective order and father subpoenaed the counselor for deposition again. The counselor again failed to appear at the deposition with the records and Meridian then filed the records with the court and asked the court to hold them under seal pursuant to Indiana Administrative Rule 9(G)(2). The trial court ordered that the attorneys could review the records in camera but subsequently ordered that the counsel could copy the records.

On appeal Meridian argued that 16-39-2-4 supported the refusal to deny the release of records and if not then the release was prevented by HIPPA. The Court of Appeals found under HIPPA there are 3 exceptions to the general rule that health care providers may release records to the parents and that none of the exceptions applied. The court went on to find that 16-39-2-4 only applies to a provider’s denial of access to records to the patient and a parent has access to the records unless there is a court order limiting such. The trial court ordered that Meridian pay attorneys’ fees and found that the Father should not have had to file the various legal pleadings to obtain the records as he was allowed those records under Indiana law but that he was not to disclose the information to the child. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court.

It has commonly been believed by many in the mental health community and the legal community that Meridian’s position was correct as far as the release of the records. In advising clients who are parents or providers, counsel should read this case carefully and review the citied material in the case as while the Father was given the records in this case there may be other ways hinted at in the opinion to protect the information if that is your client’s position.

In affirming the award of attorneys’ fees the court referenced the trial court’s finding about Meridian filing of the motion to quash shortly before the deposition and then not appearing for the deposition when the court had not granted or ruled upon the motion. The court made clear that the counselor was required to appear and put their objection on the record. You cannot simply choose to ignore the subpoena without court order

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Richard A. Mann has been practicing Family Law for more than 36 years in the Indianapolis area and throughout the State of Indiana. He is a Certified Family Law Specialist as certified by the Family Law Certification Committee, a Registered Family Law and Civil Law Mediator and Guardian ad Litem and Parenting Coordinator. Mr. Mann and his firm, Richard A. Mann, P.C. Attorneys at Law, are proud to have been one of the firms who represented Same-Sex couples who were successful in overturning Indiana’s ban on Same-Sex marriage. He continues to fight discrimination in the law.

While a large portion of Mr. Mann’s practice is in the Family Law area he also represents several corporations on contract, personnel and other matters. He also has a varied General Practice in wills, estates, juvenile matters, collections, probate throughout the state of Indiana. Mr. Mann has tried murder cases as well as a death penalty case.

Mr. Mann has been selected for inclusion in Super Lawyers SuperLawyers Edition for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016.

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This blog does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney client relationship. This is for general information purposes as in most legal situations the facts and terms of an agreement between the parties can affect the result.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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