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Brooks v. Brooks

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

February 23, 2018

Michael H. Brooks, Petitioner,
Emily H. Brooks, Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

         Petition for Writ of Certiorari-Original Proceeding. Circuit Court of Walton County; Jeffrey E. Lewis, Judge.

          Daniel W. Uhlfelder and Nicola J. Pappas of Daniel W. Uhlfelder, P.A., Santa Rosa Beach, for Petitioner.

          Clay B. Adkinson of Adkinson Law Firm, LLC, DeFuniak Springs, for Respondent.

          Kelsey, J.

         Petitioner, the husband in a pending dissolution proceeding, asks us to quash an order allowing Respondent wife to subpoena husband's medical, psychotherapist, pharmacy, and employment records from five non-parties. The order directs that the documents be provided to husband's counsel and then to the trial court for an in-camera inspection to determine what documents will be furnished to wife. We grant the petition in part and quash three of the five subpoenas.

         I. Facts

         The parties lived together from 2005 to 2015, and were married in 2014. They had a daughter early in 2015. Husband filed for dissolution that September. The court ordered 50/50 timesharing and equal decision-making authority while the dissolution was pending.

         Wife claims she left the marital home during the summer of 2015 after husband committed an act of domestic violence against her. She also claims husband was on disability for parts of 2011, 2012, and 2014 due to emotional instability. Her present concerns about his mental health stem from his lack of employment and his alleged angry, expletive-laced tirades when they exchange custody of their daughter. She does not, however, assert any issues with husband's care or parenting of the child.

         Wife notified husband that she intended to subpoena his medical and personnel files to gather information about his past mental instability. Her subpoenas sought medical records from husband's psychotherapist, a medical facility where he was treated, and records from 2012 to the present from a pharmacy where he filled his prescriptions. She sought his entire personnel file from his 2013-2014 employer, and his application and offer letter from his 2015-2016 employer.

         Wife argues that husband's mental health is relevant to child custody, which is why she is seeking his medical records from his psychotherapist and the organizations that participated in his treatment. She also claims that his personnel file from his 2013- 2014 employer may contain parts of his medical record and his application for disability, also relevant to his mental health. She asserts that this personnel file could also be relevant to whether husband is voluntarily underemployed, which could affect his child support obligation. Finally, she argues that husband's application and offer letter from his 2015-2016 employer will be relevant to establishing his child support obligations because it will contain salary information.

         II. Certiorari Standards

         Certiorari is the proper vehicle for reviewing a discovery order. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Langston, 655 So.2d 91, 94 (Fla. 1995). "[R]eview by certiorari is appropriate when a discovery order departs from the essential requirements of law, causing material injury to a petitioner throughout the remainder of the proceedings below and effectively leaving no adequate remedy on appeal." Id. Because irreparable harm is a jurisdictional threshold for certiorari review, we must first determine whether a petitioner has made a prima facie showing that the order will cause such harm. O'Neill v. O'Neill, 823 So.2d 837, 839 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002); Morgan, Colling & Gilbert, P.A. v. Pope, 798 So.2d 1, 3 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001). If the petitioner demonstrates irreparable harm, we proceed to determine whether the order departed from the essential requirements of law. O'Neill, 823 So.2d at 839.

         Not all erroneous discovery orders cause irreparable harm, but irreparable harm can come from discovery of "cat out of the bag" type information that "could be used to injure another person or party outside the context of the litigation." Allstate, 655 So.2d at 94. Because personnel files often contain sensitive, personal information that can be used to harm a party outside the context of the litigation, the discovery of irrelevant portions of the file can cause irreparable harm. See Alterra Healthcare Corp. v. Estate of Shelley, 827 So.2d 936, 945-46 (Fla. 2002). Therefore, courts should conduct in-camera inspections of personnel files to separate relevant information from ...

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