Circuit Court, CV-17-901404
PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS
Gas Corporation ("Alagasco"), the defendant in a
pending action brought by Robert Alan Smitherman ("the
employee") pursuant to the Alabama Workers'
Compensation Act, § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975,
petitions for a writ of mandamus ordering the Jefferson
Circuit Court to vacate a November 6, 2017, discovery order,
which, according to Alagasco, "overrides and
nullifies" certain discovery provisions of the Act. For
the reasons stated herein, we deny the petition.
matters are within the trial court's sound discretion,
and this Court will not reverse a trial court's ruling on
a discovery issue unless the trial court has clearly exceeded
its discretion. Home Ins. Co. v. Rice, 585 So.2d
859, 862 (Ala. 1991). Accordingly, mandamus will issue to
reverse a trial court's ruling on a discovery issue only
(1) where there is a showing that the trial court clearly
exceeded its discretion, and (2) where the aggrieved party
does not have an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal. The
petitioner has an affirmative burden to prove the existence
of each of these conditions."
"'Ex parte Ocwen Fed. Bank, FSB, 872 So.2d
810, 813 (Ala. 2003).
"'Moreover, this Court will review by mandamus only
those discovery matters involving (a) the disregard of a
(b) the ordered production of "patently irrelevant or
duplicative documents, " (c) orders effectively
eviscerating "a party's entire action or defense,
" and (d) orders denying a party the opportunity to make
a record sufficient for appellate review of the discovery
issue. 872 So.2d at 813-14.'"
Ex parte Mobile Gas Serv. Corp., 123 So.3d 499, 504
(Ala. 2013)(quoting Ex parte Meadowbrook Ins. Grp.,
Inc., 987 So.2d 540, 547)(Ala. 2007)).
materials provided for our review reveal that the employee
suffered a work-related injury in 2015, that he had received
authorized medical treatment and temporary-total-disability
benefits, and that a dispute had arisen between the parties
regarding, among other issues, whether the employee's
injury is a permanent injury. The employee filed a complaint
in the circuit court in April 2017; Alagasco filed an answer
to the complaint. On November 6, 2017, the circuit court
entered an order pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability
and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"). The order
is titled "HIPAA Order in Civil Actions" ("the
HIPAA order"), and is the subject of this mandamus
petition. Alagasco filed an opposition to the HIPAA order,
specifically challenging its propriety because, Alagasco
argued, the HIPAA order prohibits certain methods of
discovery that are allowed in workers' compensation
December 14, 2017, the circuit court entered an order setting
a December 20, 2017, hearing on the matter. However, on
December 18, 2017, Alagasco filed a timely petition for a
writ of mandamus regarding the HIPAA order. See Rule
21(a)(3), Ala. R. App. P. Alagasco moved the circuit court
for a stay of the December 20, 2017, hearing pending our
resolution of the mandamus petition; however, at the hearing,
the circuit-court judge orally denied Alagasco's motion
to stay, and the hearing occurred. At the December 20, 2017,
hearing, the circuit-court judge said: "I think, [the
HIPAA order], to some degree, is due to be amended. ...
[T]here may be some revision that I acknowledge that needs
[to] be made." As pointed out by the employee:
"The [circuit] court was clearly not acting in a fashion
that would demand that this court intervene in this
preliminary discovery issue. The right Alagasco claims was
violated is a hypothetical issue created by Alagasco's
counsel and not a right at all."
argues in its mandamus petition to this court that,
"under the terms of the ... HIPAA Order, the provisions
of Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act will be
frustrated, and the standard, ordinary workers'
compensation claim handling process, as well as the ...