COA reaffirms decision imposing sanctions on mental health service provider

December 9, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reaffirmed an earlier decision finding that sanctions against a mental health provider were warranted, making clear Friday that it fully understood why the sanctions were imposed.

In Meridian Health Services Corporation v. Thomas Martin Bell, 71A04-1511-DR-2005, Angela Bell began taking the child she shared with her ex-husband, Thomas Bell, to Meridian Health Services. In March 2015, Thomas Bell contacted Meridian to request the child’s therapy records.

Upon the father’s request, Meridian told him that it would first need a signed medical release, but before receiving the release, sought and obtained a letter from the child’s physician stating that it was in the child’s best interest to keep the records sealed. Based on the letter, Meridian refused to give Thomas Bell the medical records, even though he produced a signed medical release.

Around the same time, a hearing was scheduled for July regarding a parenting time dispute, so Thomas Bell served the child’s therapist with a notice of deposition and subpoena duces tecum to produce her complete file. Three days before the deposition, Meridian filed a notice to quash and moved for a protective order, arguing that it was prohibited by law from disclosing the requested information without a court order.

The St. Joseph Superior Court did not rule on the motions and the therapist did not appear, so Thomas Bell filed a motion for rule to show cause against the therapist. At a September hearing at which both the child’s physician and therapist testified, the trial court denied Meridian’s motions and found that it was not required or entitled to withhold the records from the father.

Meridian then filed a motion to correct error while Thomas Bell served a second deposition notice and subpoena on the therapist. The therapist again did not appear, but instead Meridian tendered the therapy records to the trial court and moved to seal the records.

Eventually the St. Joseph Superior Court decided it would make the records available for in-camera review by the parties’ attorneys and issued an order finding Meridian “in contempt of Court for failure to comply with the subpoena duces tecum and failure to appear at the deposition.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that decision in September, but Meridian petitioned for a rehearing, contending that the decision was based upon “a misunderstanding or misreading of the trial court’s order.” Specifically, Meridian contended that the sanctions were imposed based on Thomas Bell’s initial subpoena, not both of them.

But the appellate court rejected that argument, writing Friday that it did not misunderstand the trial court’s order in its decision.

“It is clear from the entire record of the proceedings that the trial court’s decision to impose sanctions against Meridian only after the records had finally been released to the parties was based on the total sum of Meridian’s actions throughout the litigation and not just on the original failure to comply with a subpoena and appear for a deposition,” the appellate court wrote. “We did not misread or misunderstand the substance of the trial court’s order.”


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