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McCain v. Vanadia

Supreme Court of Maine

August 14, 2018

DOROTHEA B. McCAIN
v.
JOHN F. VANADIA et al.

          Argued: April 11, 2018

          James F. Martemucci, Esq., and Robert P. Hayes, Esq. (orally), Germani Martemucci & Hill, Portland, for appellant John F. Vanadia

          Mark G. Lavoie, Esq., and Jennifer A.W. Rush, Esq. (orally), Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for appellant St. Joseph Hospital

          Benjamin R. Gideon, Esq., and Taylor A. Asen, Esq. (orally), Berman & Simmons, P.A., Lewiston, for appellee Dorothea B. McCain

          Karen Frink Wolf, Esq., and Rachel M. Wertheimer, Esq., Verrill Dana LLP, Portland for amici curiae Maine Hospital Association and Maine Medical Association

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] John F. Vanadia, D.O., Bangor Surgical Associates, P.A., and St. Joseph Hospital appeal from an order of the Superior Court (Penobscot County, A Murray, J.), acting as medical malpractice screening panel chair pursuant to 24 M.R.S. § 2852(6) (2017) and M.R. Civ. P. 80M(e), granting Dorothea B. McCain's motion to compel them to produce in discovery thirty redacted, nonparty patient medical records that the court found were relevant to McCain's notice of claim asserting medical negligence. The appellants contend that the court erred in ordering the records' disclosure because they are (1) irrelevant to McCain's claim and (2) protected from disclosure by state and federal statute and by the physician-patient privilege set out in M.R. Evid. 503.

         [¶2] McCain has moved to dismiss this interlocutory appeal on two grounds, asserting first that decisions of the Superior Court acting as panel chair are not appealable, see Gafner v. Down E. Cmty. Hosp., 1999 ME 130, ¶ 12 735A.2d 969; and second that dismissal is required pursuant to the final judgment rule, see Bd. of Overseers of the Bar v. Warren, 2011 ME 124, ¶ 19, 34A.3d 1103 ("The general rule is that discovery orders are deemed interlocutory and therefore are reviewable only on appeal from the final judgment").

         [¶3] Given the unusual procedural posture presented here, we hold that the discovery order issued during the course of the panel proceedings is now a nullity and therefore does not govern future proceedings in this case. Accordingly, no exception to the final judgment rule applies that would require us to reach the merits of the parties' arguments now, and we remand the matter to the Superior Court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶4] In November 2015, John Vanadia, the sole physician employed by Bangor Surgical Associates, P.A., performed a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) on Dorothea McCain at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor. During the procedure, Vanadia cut McCain's common bile duct after mistaking it for her cystic duct, necessitating corrective surgery soon thereafter.

         [¶5] On June 30, 2016, McCain filed a notice of claim against Vanadia and Bangor Surgical Associates, P.A. (collectively Vanadia), alleging medical negligence; her claim was later amended to include St. Joseph Hospital (SJH). See 24 M.R.S. § 2853(1) (2017); M.R. Civ. P. 80M(b)(1). The Chief Justice of the Superior Court appointed a medical malpractice screening panel chair pursuant to 24 M.R.S. § 2852(2)(A) (2017) and M.R. Civ. P. 80M(b)(2).

         [¶6] In May 2017, McCain filed a motion to compel the production in discovery of "[t]he operative notes for each and every [laparoscopic cholecystectomy] performed by Vanadia in 2015 with the names and any identifying information for the individual patients redacted to preserve patient confidentiality." When Vanadia and SJH objected, the panel chair referred the motion to the Superior Court. See 24 M.R.S. § 2852(6); M.R. Civ. P. 80M(e).

         [¶7] Pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 26(g), the court held a hearing and granted the motion, ordering that Vanadia and SJH produce the operative notes for the fifteen laparoscopic cholecystectomies performed by Vanadia preceding McCain's procedure and for the fifteen following her procedure. The court took great care to order that the records be heavily redacted to protect the identities of the patients.

         [¶8] Vanadia and SJH filed a motion to reconsider and a timely notice of appeal; McCain then moved this Court to dismiss the appeal. The trial court declined to act on the motion to reconsider because of the pending appeal, see M.R. App. P. 3(b) (Tower 2016), [1] and we consolidated our ...


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