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New York Appellate Court Discusses Issue of Parental Drug Use

The Facts:

A neglect proceeding has been initiated pursuant to Article 10 of the Family Court Act (“F.C.A.”).

A Medical Center (“Medical Center”) moves to quash a subpoena, served upon it by the petitioner, for all records of its contact with either or both respondents in the proceeding. The Medical Center argues that in the absence of a court order issued for good cause shown, disclosure of its records is prohibited.

The Ruling:

In a case decided by the Court of Appeals, the court identified the injury to the patient and treatment services resulting from disclosure of such records as the deterrence of the patient in question, as well as of other present and potential patients, from participation in treatment services due to fear, prompted by knowledge of record disclosures, that confidentiality will not be available to them at the treatment facilities and that the assurances given them are not to be relied on. A New York Injury Lawyer said the court ruled that while there is no evidence that respondents are currently in a drug treatment program and, thus, it does not appear that disclosure would harm a physician-patient relationship or result in respondents’ termination of treatment services, the impact on other present patients as well as all potential future patients must be given substantial weight. On the other hand, the court must consider the public interest in protecting children (in resolving child custody) from injury or mistreatment and in safeguarding their physical, mental and emotional well-being. This interest is reflected in such New York State legislative determinations as those embodied in F.C.A. setting forth the purpose of child protective proceedings, requiring hospitals and other agencies to supply to the court records in their custody relating to abuse or neglect for use in Article 10 proceedings, and barring application of the physician-patient and related privileges in child protective proceedings. Prior courts which have been called upon to apply the federal statute in child protective proceedings have held that where the information is material and its disclosure is necessary to establish an allegation of neglect or abuse, the public interest in protecting children from mistreatment and in safeguarding their well-being outweighs the interest in protecting from injury the patient, physician-patient relationship and the treatment services.

The court agrees with the aforesaid conclusion. However, in view of the high priority assigned to the maintenance of the confidentiality of drug treatment program records, it is incumbent upon the court to scrutinize the extent of petitioner’s need for the records.

Here, the petition stated four allegations of neglect. A Queen Personal Injury Lawyer said the one to which the records in issue would be most relevant is that the mother is unable to adequately care for the child due to her misuse of drugs.

Petitioner argues that proof that the respondents are or were in a methadone program will help in proving they are or were drug addicts.

Since there is no allegation in the petition that the child is neglected due to the father’s drug use, the court grants the motion to quash the subpoena insofar as it pertains to any records of his which may exist.

Moreover, a Staten Island Personal Injury Lawyer said a review of the evidence adduced at trial and an in camera inspection of the period of time covered by the records in issue also leads the court to conclude that the need for the records of the respondent mother is not sufficient to establish good cause for their release.

The records in issue do not cover any period of time subsequent to the birth of the child who is the subject of the proceeding, and there is testimony by the child’s paternal grandmother that the respondent mother once admitted to her that she was in a methadone program. Further, there is evidence that the respondent mother admitted to the child-care agency caseworker that she was mainlining by the age of eighteen and there is a finding by a Family Court judge at a foster care review proceeding on 2 October 1981, concerning a sibling of the child in the herein proceeding that there was evidence of drug addiction by the respondent mother.

Additionally, a social worker at Mary Immaculate Hospital testified without objection that the respondent father told her that the mother had been on drugs and in many drug rehabilitation programs. Thus, it is evident that the records in question, even if they were to show that the mother had been in a methadone treatment program for drug addiction at the Medical Center, would be merely cumulative.

Various courts have held that where drug treatment program records would be cumulative only, they will not be ordered disclosed. This is true when they are sought for the purpose of impeaching a witness’ credibility and the fact of drug use has already been disclosed and where such records would be more probative than the evidence of the same facts already adduced.

Therefore, since the records would not be probative of drug use subsequent to the birth of the child and would be merely cumulative on the issue of drug use prior to the child’s birth, the court will not order them produced for use in establishing the allegation of drug misuse.

However, since one of the allegations in the petition is that the child was diagnosed as “failure to thrive” and the doctor who made that diagnosis has not yet testified, the court reserves decision on whether to grant the motion to quash the subpoena in its entirety until it ascertains from the doctor whether the records would be relevant to the cause of the failure to thrive.

Accordingly, the Medical Center is ordered to have the records available at trial, for an in camera inspection if necessary, as the court may direct, until a final disposition of the motion to quash.

Drug use may have a great impact when one is seeking child custody. Parents with substance abuse issues rarely get custody. It is in the child’s best interest that they are not exposed to such. If you are involved in similar custody issues, or have a matter concerning medical malpractice, or have been in a car accident or construction accident, speak to a New York Injury Lawyer from Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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