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Posted by: Landry Butler on Jun 21, 2017

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Dixie W. Cooper and Kaycee L. Weeter, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, HCA Health Services of Tennessee, Inc. d/b/a Summit Medical Center.

Attorneys 2:

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Joseph F. Whalen, Associate Solicitor General; and Stephanie A. Bergmeyer, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the intervenor-appellant, the State of Tennessee.

C. Bennett Harrison, Jr., Sean C. Wlodarczyk, and John D. Kitch, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, John F. Pinkard, M.D.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

We granted this interlocutory appeal to determine whether Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11- 272(c)(1) of the Healthcare Quality Improvement Act (“HCQIA”), as applied to the facts of this case, violates the separation of powers provisions in the Tennessee Constitution. Plaintiff, a physician whose medical staff privileges were terminated by Summit Medical Center, sued the hospital, alleging, inter alia, that it acted in bad faith and with malice during the peer review process. Following a lengthy discovery process, the hospital filed a motion for summary judgment asserting, inter alia, that Plaintiff’s anticipated evidence was confidential, privileged, and inadmissible under the HCQIA because it was derived from the activity of a Quality Improvement Committee (“QIC”). At the same time, the hospital filed a motion in limine to exclude all records of quality improvement activity pursuant to the evidentiary privilege under Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272(c)(1). After ascertaining that Plaintiff intended to rely on QIC evidence, the trial court ruled that the peer review privilege could not be waived, and that Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272(c)(1) violated the separation of powers provisions because it deprived the court of its inherent authority to make evidentiary decisions affecting “the heart of this case.” This Tenn. R. App. P. Rule 9 interlocutory appeal followed. We agree with the trial court’s ruling that the privilege cannot be waived. However, we disagree with the trial court’s ruling that Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272(c)(1), as applied to the facts of this case, violates the separation of powers provisions in the Tennessee Constitution. This is because the General Assembly created the evidentiary privilege to effectuate one of its powers, the enactment of legislation that promotes the safety and welfare of our citizens. To that end, the primary concern of the challenged legislation is not to create court rules, but to promote candor within a hospital’s quality improvement process to ensure effective evaluation measures. Furthermore, Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272(c)(2) provides an “original source” exception to the privilege whereby documents not produced specifically for use by a QIC, and are otherwise available from original sources, are both discoverable and admissible into evidence even if the information was presented during a QIC proceeding. Thus, the privilege is reasonable and workable within the framework of evidentiary rules already recognized by the judiciary. For these reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.