of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Travis
J. Smith, Murray County Attorney, Slayton, Minnesota, for
William J. Wetering, Hedeen, Hughes & Wetering,
Worthington, Minnesota, for appellant.
samples are not "information" protected by the
physician-patient privilege codified at Minn. Stat. §
595.02, subd. 1(d) (2018).
case, we must determine whether a blood sample drawn by a
medical professional during the course of emergency medical
treatment is "information" within the scope of
Minnesota's statutory physician-patient privilege,
codified at Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(d) (2018). The
A licensed physician or surgeon, dentist, or chiropractor
shall not, without the consent of the patient, be allowed to
disclose any information or any opinion based thereon which
the professional acquired in attending the patient in a
professional capacity, and which was necessary to enable the
professional to act in that capacity . . . .
the district court determined that the physician-patient
privilege covered a blood sample, it granted the
defendant's motion to suppress the results of a
blood-alcohol concentration test derived from the blood
sample. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that a
blood sample does not fall within the plain meaning of the
word "information" as used in the statute, and
therefore is not subject to the physician-patient privilege.
State v. Atwood, 914 N.W.2d 422, 427 (Minn.App.
2018). We agree with the court of appeals that a blood sample
is not covered by the physician-patient privilege.
Accordingly, we affirm.
Heath Atwood was injured while driving an all-terrain vehicle
(ATV) on June 10, 2016. Medical personnel and a Murray County
Deputy Sheriff responded to the emergency call regarding the
accident. When the deputy was attending to Atwood and
assisting medical personnel at the scene of the accident, he
smelled an odor of alcohol coming from Atwood.
was transported by ambulance to the Murray County Medical
Center. The deputy arrived some time later. A doctor treating
Atwood for his injuries told the deputy that Atwood was
receiving a blood transfusion. Atwood was then airlifted to
Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for
further medical treatment.
deputy learned from a hospital staff member that, before the
start of the blood transfusion, a blood sample had been drawn
from Atwood to determine his blood type, and an extra vial of
blood had been stored in the medical center's
laboratory. No medical tests had been performed on the
extra vial of blood. The deputy obtained a search warrant to
seize the extra vial of blood from the laboratory. The deputy
then sent the blood sample to the Minnesota Bureau of
Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for alcohol-concentration
testing. The result of the test showed that Atwood had a
blood-alcohol concentration of 0.155, well over the legal
State charged Atwood with two counts of misdemeanor driving
while impaired, under Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, subd.
1b(1), (5) (2018) (operation of an ATV while under the
influence of alcohol and with a blood-alcohol concentration
over 0.08). At a pretrial hearing, Atwood moved to suppress
evidence of the results of testing done on the blood sample,
asserting that the blood sample itself was protected by
Minnesota's statutory physician-patient privilege, Minn.
Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(d). The district court agreed
with Atwood and held that the blood sample and the test
results that the BCA derived from it should be suppressed.
The district court reasoned that, although "no Minnesota
appellate court has ever explicitly and necessarily held that
a physical blood sample is 'information' for purposes
of Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(d)," dicta in
State v. Staat, 192 N.W.2d 192');">192 N.W.2d 192, 197 (Minn. 1971),
and State v. Heaney, 689 N.W.2d 168');">689 N.W.2d 168, 173 (Minn.
2004), suggest that a blood sample falls within the
definition of "information" protected by the
court of appeals reversed. It agreed with the district court
that any relevant statements in Staat and
Heaney were dicta. Atwood, 914 N.W.2d at
425. The court of appeals, however, concluded that a
"blood sample" is not "information" under
the statute. The court determined "information" is
an unambiguous term and reversed:
"Information" has been defined as "[k]nowledge
or facts learned, especially about a certain subject or
event." The American Heritage Dictionary of the
English Language 901 (5th ed. 2011). According to
Webster's Dictionary, "information" is
"something received or obtained through informing [such
as:] knowledge communicated by others or obtained from
investigation, study, or instruction[;] knowledge of a
particular event or situation[;] facts or figures ready for
communication or use as distinguished from those incorporated
in a formally organized branch of knowledge."
Webster's Third New International Dictionary
Unabridged 1160 (3d ed. 2002). Thus, information, by
nature, is not physical and is about something. While
information may be conveyed by way of a material object, such
as a piece of paper, the medium by which information is
communicated is not the information. On the other hand, a
blood sample is material and does not, by itself, provide any
information. That is, an individual cannot extract
information about a patient solely by looking at a physical
Id. at 427. We granted Atwood's petition for
sole issue before us is whether a blood sample is
"information" for purposes of the statutory
physician-patient privilege. Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd.
1(d). We review this question of statutory interpretation de
novo. State v. deLottinville, 890 N.W.2d 116, 119
(Minn. 2017), cert. Denied __ U.S. __, __ 138 S.Ct.
377, 378 (2017).
first task is to determine whether our prior decisions in
Staat and Heaney bind us to a particular
answer to the question of whether a blood sample is
"information" under the statute. We are bound to
our prior statements or rulings on an issue only when the
statement or ruling was necessary to the decision in the
case. See Jaeger v. Palladium Holdings, LLC, 884
N.W.2d 601, 610-11 (Minn. 2016). Notably, both the district
court and the court of appeals determined that statements
about the scope of the term "information" in
Staat and Heaney are dicta.
Atwood, 914 N.W.2d at 425.
Staat, the defendant was charged with unlawful
possession of narcotics. 192 N.W.2d at 195. A hospital
orderly discovered two bottles of narcotics when he removed
and searched the defendant's clothing during a routine
evaluation at a hospital. Id. at 194-95. The doctor
subsequently based his decision to treat Staat for an
overdose on the discovery of the bottles. Id. at 198
n.3. Law enforcement later obtained the bottles of narcotics
from the hospital. Id. at 195. The defendant sought
to exclude the bottles of narcotics from the trial, asserting
that this evidence was protected by the physician-patient
privilege. Id. at 194-95.
stated in Staat that the defendant must satisfy each
element of a four-part privilege test before the evidence
would be excluded:
[T]o prevent disclosure of the [evidence at issue] . . . the
evidence must persuade the trial court to find that (1) a
confidential physician-patient relationship existed between
defendant and the hospital physicians and other persons
participating in defendant's examination and treatment,
(2) during which they acquired 'information' of the
type contemplated by the statute (3) while attending him, and
(4) which was necessary for medical diagnosis and treatment.
Id. at 197. We held that because the hospital
orderly who discovered the narcotics bottles was not acting
as an agent of the doctor during the initial removal and
search of the defendant's clothing, Staat failed to
satisfy the third prong of the test. Id. at 198.
That holding disposed of the case because failure under any
one of the four prongs of the test doomed the defendant's
assertion of the privilege. Id.
reaching that determinative conclusion, we walked through the
first two prongs of the test even though "the state
[did] not dispute the existence of . . . foundational
facts" as to those two prongs. Id. at 197. In
so doing, we stated-without explicit statutory or policy
analysis-that "the contents of the bottles falls within
the scope of knowledge gained by the physicians, since the
statute's broad language encompasses physical articles as
well as verbal communications and any other knowledge . . .
which [the doctor] obtained through his observation and
examination." Id. The comments were not
necessary to the decision in Staat because the