BRYAN J. DOTY, Employee/Appellant, v. LAKE STATES TREE SERV. and AIG DOMESTIC CLAIMS, INC., Employer-Insurer, and LAKEWALK SURGERY CTR. and GRAND ITASCA CLINIC & HOSP., Intervenors.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JANUARY 8, 2008
APPEALS - INTERLOCUTORY ORDER; JURISDICTION - SUBJECT MATTER. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an appeal from a discovery order requiring the employee to provide authorizations for the disclosure of certain medical records.
Determined by: Stofferahn, J., Wilson, J., and Rykken, J.
Compensation Judge: Paul V. Rieke
Attorneys: Mark L. Rodgers, Rodgers Law Office, Bemidji, MN, for the Appellant. Inger Hansen-Corona, Erstad & Riemer, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
DAVID A. STOFFERAHN, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge’s order compelling discovery of certain medical records. The employer and insurer have filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We dismiss the appeal.
The employee, Bryan J. Doty, filed a claim petition on January 17, 2007, alleging that he sustained work-related injuries affecting his left knee, back, right shoulder and right knee on September 8, 2006, while employed at Lake States Services. The employee claimed wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, rehabilitation services, and medical expenses.
During discovery, the employer and insurer sent authorizations for the release of medical information to the employee for his signature. In response, the employee limited the medical authorizations to prohibit the release of any records related to chemical dependency or mental health treatment.
On May 22, 2007, Smart Document Solutions, the records repository for the Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital, wrote to counsel for the employer and insurer to indicate that the records from that provider would not be released as they contained information for which authorization to release had been denied by the employee. The employer and insurer allege that they subsequently contacted the clinic to request that the records be provided with any restricted information redacted, but were informed that the records were so intermingled that this would not be possible.
The employer and insurer filed a motion seeking to compel the employee to provide medical authorizations for the release of records pertaining to mental health or chemical dependency treatment. A telephone conference on the motion was held before the compensation judge on July 25, 2007. The employee argued that the information sought was privileged, and that his medical privilege was waived by his workers’ compensation claim only for those injuries or conditions alleged in his claim petition. The employer and insurer contended that the information sought might well be relevant, and further that their ability to obtain medical records pertaining to the employee’s claims had been adversely affected.
Following the conference, the compensation judge issued an order compelling the employee to provide unrestricted medical authorizations but providing that any medical data obtained by the authorizations which involved chemical dependency or mental health treatment were subject to a protective order prohibiting its disclosure to any third party or its use for any purpose other than the pending claim. The employee appeals from the discovery order.
The jurisdiction of the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals is determined by statute. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 1, an award or disallowance of compensation, or other order affecting the merits of the case may be appealed to the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court has held that appeals to this court can be taken only from “an award or disallowance of compensation, or other order affecting the merits of the case.” See generally Mierau v. Alcon Indus., Inc., 386 N.W.2d 741, 38 W.C.D. 652 (Minn. 1986) (discussing appealable orders).
As a general rule, only an order which finally determines rights of the parties and concludes the action is appealable. Zizak v. Despatch Indus., Inc., 427 N.W.2d 755, 756 (Minn. App. 1988). The policy behind the general rule is to prevent piecemeal appeals and protect the rights of all parties until all claims have been adjudicated in the trial court. Johnson v. Johnson, 363 N.W.2d 355, 357 (Minn. App. 1985) (citing Comment, Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 104.01), pet. for rev. denied (Minn. May 6, 1985).
Discovery orders have uniformly been held to be among those which are not appealable to this court because they do not affect the merits of the case nor prevent a later determination on the merits. For example, in Mierau, supra, 386 N.W2d 741, 38 W.C.D. 652, the Supreme Court determined that this court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over an appeal from an order requiring the employee to attend a discovery deposition. See also, e.g., Vaynberg v. The McKnight Foundation, No. WC04-219, (W.C.C.A. Oct. 14, 2004) (order compelling employee’s attendance at an IME); Herbst v. Jones Truck Lines, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Oct. 20, 1999) (order for production of videotapes and reports); Duran v. Bongards’ Creameries, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Oct. 12, 1999) (order restricting employer’s right to an IME).
The employee argues that the present discovery order is distinguishable from those in earlier cases. He first contends that the release of the information would affect the merits of the case, because permitting or restricting certain aspects of discovery “affects the merits” of the case. The employee argues that the scope of discovery defines the record before the trier of fact, and thus influences the final decision on the merits. We have rejected this argument in several of the cases cited above, and we see no reason to distinguish the present case from the numerous prior decisions holding that interlocutory orders granting or refusing discovery are not appealable.
The employee also argues that this case should be distinguished in that the information subject to the order in the present case is medically privileged information which, once released, might cease to remain privileged. Many of the earlier cases, however, holding orders to be non-appealable have involved discovery of medical records or opinions, and have involved similarly privileged information. We fail to see a significant distinction between the restricted medical information in prior cases and that in the present case, nor does the employee’s concern confer jurisdiction on this court.
While we may not disagree with the employee’s concerns over possible misuse of sensitive medical information, we are without jurisdiction to consider the employee’s appeal. We, therefore, dismiss the appeal.