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Braggs v. Dunn

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama

January 31, 2017

EDWARD BRAGGS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, et al., Defendants.

          PHASE 2A HEARSAY OPINION AND ORDER

          Myron H. Thompson UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit are state prisoners and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP). The defendants are officials of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC): the Commissioner and the Associate Commissioner of Health Services. They are sued in their official capacities only. The procedural history of the case is explained in earlier opinions of the court, most recently in the Phase 2A summary-judgment opinions and the class-certification opinion. See Braggs v. Dunn, 317 F.R.D. 634 (M.D. Ala. 2016) (class certification); Dunn v. Dunn, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2016 WL 6949598 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 25, 2016) (granting summary judgment in part and denying in part); Dunn v. Dunn, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2016 WL 6949585 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 25, 2016) (granting summary judgment in favor of ADAP's associational standing). The case is now in the midst of the Phase 2A trial, which encompasses the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims related to mental-health care. The issue before the court is whether certain documents produced by MHM Correctional Services, Inc. (MHM), the contractor for mental=health care within ADOC facilities, are admissible under the business-records exception of the rule against hearsay. These documents include MHM's Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) meeting minutes, multidisciplinary staff meeting minutes, emails from MHM employees, psychological-reconstruction reports, major-occurrence reports, medication-error reports, reports of MHM's contract-compliance reviews, and corrective-action plans.

         Based on the evidence presented thus far at trial, the court finds that these documents are admissible under the business-records exception of Rule 803(6) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, subject to certain restrictions explained below.

         Under Rule 803(6), a document is admissible under the business-records exception if the proponent can establish that:

"(A) the record was made at or near the time by--or from information transmitted by--someone with knowledge;
"(B) the record was kept in the course of a regularly conducted activity of a business, organization, occupation, or calling, whether or not for profit;
"(C) making the record was a regular practice of that activity;
"(D) all these conditions are shown by the testimony of the custodian or another qualified witness, or by a certification that complies with Rule 902(11) or (12) or with a statute permitting certification; and
"(E) the opponent does not show that the source of information or the method or circumstances of preparation indicate a lack of trustworthiness."

Fed. R. Evid. 803(6).

         As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has summarized, the business-records exception applies if the proponent can show that “it was the business practice of the recording entity to obtain such information from persons with personal knowledge and ... to maintain records produced by the recording entity.” United States v. Bueno Sierra, 99 F.3d 375, 379 (11th Cir. 1996).

         Based on the evidence presented, the court finds that the four categories of documents that plaintiffs have sought to introduce--emails from MHM employees, MHM meeting minutes (from both CQI and multidisciplinary meetings), incident reports (including psychological-reconstruction reports, critical-occurrence reports, and medication-error reports), and audit documents (contract-compliance reports and corrective-action plans)--are admissible under the business-records exception. These records were made at or near the time of the events by individuals with knowledge, or based on information transmitted by those with knowledge: MHM employees routinely share, in meetings and through email, incident reports and audit documents, information regarding both routine issues and critical incidents arising in the course of their delivery of mental-3health care to prisoners in Alabama. This information is then recorded shortly after the issue arises, based either on the personal knowledge of MHM employees or on information conveyed to them by an employee of MHM, ADOC, or Corizon (the contractor for medical care within ADOC facilities) who had such knowledge.

         For example, Dr. Robert Hunter, the chief psychiatrist for MHM in Alabama, testified that he uses email daily to communicate with MHM employees and ADOC personnel in order to address issues arising from his job responsibility of overseeing psychiatric treatment within ADOC facilities. Dr. Hunter also testified that he presides over quarterly CQI meetings, where meeting minutes are created, and that MHM employees rely on these minutes to respond to mental-health care updates and critical incidents. Similarly, Sharon Trimble, a mental-health professional employed by MHM, testified that weekly multidisciplinary meetings are attended by MHM staff, ADOC staff, and Corizon staff at each facility in order to gather information pertinent to mental-health care for particular inmates; that staff rely on the meeting minutes for treatment or operational purposes; and that the meeting minutes are created and maintained each week. In addition, MHM's proposal submitted with its 2013 bid for the current contract with ADOC states both that information sharing is a vital component of MHM's CQI process and that this sharing of information is achieved through staff meetings and email communications. Pl. Ex. 644, MHM Proposal for Mental Health Services, re: RFP No. 2013-02, Aug. 7, 2013.

         Reports of individual incidents, including psychological-reconstructionreports, critical-occurrence reports, and medication-error reports, also serve similar business purposes of information sharing and quality improvement in MHM and ADOC's regular course of business. Dr. Hunter testified that, after each suicide, he creates psychological-reconstruction reports after investigating the inmate's mental-health history and personal history through medical records and interviews with staff, in order to understand the underlying factors contributing to the suicide. In turn, ADOC and MHM staff are supposed to rely upon these reports for quality improvement. Dr. Hunter also established the business record predicate for medication-error reports and critical-occurrence reports created by other MHM employees: he testified that they ...


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