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Expose v. Thad Wilderson & Associates, P.A.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 30, 2016

Jerry Expose, Jr., Respondent,
v.
Thad Wilderson & Associates, P.A., Appellant, Nina Mattson, Appellant.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          A.L. Brown, Marcus L. Almon, Capitol City Law Group, LLC, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

          William M. Hart, Nicole L. Brand, Kathleen M. Ghreichi, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant Thad Wilderson & Associates, P.A.

          Peter G. Van Bergen, Meaghan C. Bryan, Cousineau McGuire Chartered, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant Nina Mattson.

          Kay Nord Hunt, Michael N. Leonard, Lommen Abdo, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Psychological Association.

          Nicholas B. Lienesch, Hans A. Anderson, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Board of Psychology.

          Anderson, J. Took no part, Hudson, McKeig, JJ.

         SYLLABUS

         1. Immunity is not provided under Minn. Stat. § 148.975 (2014) for an unlicensed intern-therapist who discloses a patient's threat of physical violence against a specific person to law enforcement.

         2. The absolute privilege doctrine does not shield a clinic employee's pretrial statements that disclosed the nature and circumstances of a patient's confidential treatment information either to law enforcement or, in preparation for trial, to the prosecutors.

         3. Because the record does not establish that the patient consented to the disclosure of information about his treatment, an intern-therapist's disclosure of that information violated the Minnesota Health Records Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 144.291-.298 (2014).

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          ANDERSON, Justice.

         Respondent Jerry Expose, Jr. brought a civil action against appellant Thad Wilderson & Associates, P.A. (the clinic) and appellant Nina Mattson (collectively appellants), asserting claims for unlawful disclosure of health records under the Minnesota Health Records Act, §§ 144.291-.298 (2014), invasion of privacy, vicarious liability, and negligent supervision. Appellants jointly moved for judgment on the pleadings, and the district court dismissed the claims. As relevant here, the district court ruled that appellants are immune from liability under Minn. Stat. § 148.975 (2014), that they are immune from liability under the common law doctrine of absolute privilege, and that Expose consented to Mattson's disclosures. The court of appeals reversed on all of these issues except the immunity under the common law doctrine of absolute privilege as to the testimony from the criminal trial. We granted the clinic's petition, as well as Mattson's petition, for review.

         The three questions presented here arise in the context of a relationship between a patient and an unlicensed intern-therapist. First, we determine whether Minn. Stat. § 148.975, which imposes a duty to warn on a licensed therapist when a specific, serious threat of physical violence is made against a specific, clearly identified or identifiable person, imposes the same duty on an unlicensed intern-therapist to disclose that information to law enforcement. Second, we determine whether the common law doctrine of absolute privilege shields the disclosures made by an unlicensed intern-therapist to law enforcement and to prosecutors. Third, we determine whether a consent form notifying a client of the client's rights under the Minnesota Health Records Act authorizes the release of the client's medical records. Because we answer all three questions in the negative, we affirm the court of appeals.

         I.

         In March 2012, Expose was convicted of making terroristic threats against his 6-year-old daughter, his daughter's mother, and the mother's unborn child. As part of his sentence, Expose was ordered to undergo anger-management therapy. In September 2012, he began therapy at the clinic. Before his first session, Expose signed a "Client Rights and Responsibilities" form, which stated that information he shared with his therapist would be "treated as strictly confidential" unless certain described events occurred. Mattson, an unlicensed intern-therapist providing individual therapy under the clinic's supervision, was Expose's therapist.[1] On October 10, 2012, during one of his therapy sessions, Expose made statements that threatened serious injury to the child protection caseworker assigned to a custody case involving his daughter. Mattson reported Expose's threats to her supervisor and then, at the direction of her supervisor, to both local law enforcement and to the caseworker.

         State v. Expose

         Based on the statements he made to Mattson, Expose was arrested and charged with one count of making terroristic threats under Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1 (2014). The State subpoenaed Mattson to testify at Expose's criminal trial on this charge. In early January 2013, Mattson met with the prosecutors who were assigned to Expose's case and disclosed information about the threats Expose made at his October 10 counseling session. Before trial, Expose moved to exclude any testimony from Mattson about whether, in light of her status as an unlicensed intern-therapist, she was obligated under Minn. Stat. § 148.975 to disclose Expose's alleged threats to fulfill a statutory duty to warn. The district court denied Expose's motion. The State then called Mattson as the first witness at trial. Expose objected, arguing that the therapist-client privilege prohibited Mattson from testifying. The district court overruled Expose's objection, reasoning that the therapist-client privilege did not cover statements threatening imminent harm to a person or persons.

         A jury found Expose guilty of making terroristic threats, and the district court sentenced him to a stayed term of 28 months in prison. Expose appealed his conviction, arguing that Mattson's trial testimony was inadmissible under the therapist-client privilege. The court of appeals agreed with Expose and reversed his conviction, holding that the therapist-client privilege prohibited Mattson from testifying about information she learned during Expose's therapy sessions, including the content of Expose's threats. See State v. Expose, 849 N.W.2d 427, 437 (Minn.App. 2014). The court of appeals further held that admitting Mattson's testimony was prejudicial because Expose's privileged statements could not have been admitted through the testimony of any other witness. Id. at 436-37.

         We granted review on three issues in Expose's criminal case, including whether the therapist-client privilege, which prohibits therapists from disclosing information or opinions in court that are acquired from clients in the therapist's professional capacity, see Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(g) (2014), contains an exception for threatening statements made by the client, State v. Expose, 872 N.W.2d 252, 256 (Minn. 2015). We held that there is no "threats exception" to the statutory therapist-client privilege. Id. at 259. We concluded that the duty to warn imposed by Minn. Stat. § 148.975 creates a discrete duty to warn the potential victim of a specific serious threat of physical violence and that the duty is discharged once the threat is communicated to the potential victim or to a law enforcement agency. Expose, 872 N.W.2d at 258. The therapist-client ...


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