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Hughes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

October 15, 2018

TIFFANY HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, EAST, LP; and MICHAEL R. HARRIS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Tiffany Hughes seeks information identifying patients who did business at the Prattville Wal-Mart Pharmacy Counter on July 6, 2016, and who may have heard Michael Harris's alleged defamation of Hughes. Wal-Mart refused to turn over that information in discovery, so Hughes filed a Motion to Compel. (Doc. # 48.) The Magistrate Judge granted the Motion to Compel. (Docs. # 56, 57.)

         Wal-Mart objects to the Magistrate Judge's orders. (Doc. # 58.) It argues that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Pub. L. No. 104-191, and the Rules of the Alabama Board of Pharmacy, Ala. Admin. Code § 680-x-2.22, shield the identities of Wal-Mart's pharmacy patients from discovery. (Docs. # 51, 58.) The court has reviewed the Magistrate Judge's order and finds it is not “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). In fact, the order would survive de novo review.

         Hughes seeks to discover individually identifiable health information that federal regulations consider protected under HIPAA. See 45 C.F.R. § 160.103 (2017). And generally, Wal-Mart may not disclose protected health information. Id. § 164.502(a). But there are exceptions to that general rule. Id. § 164.502(a)(1).

         One exception, found in 45 C.F.R. § 164.512(e), permits the disclosure of protected health information during judicial proceedings:

(1) Permitted disclosures. A covered entity may disclose protected health information in the course of any judicial or administrative proceeding:
(i) In response to an order of a court or administrative tribunal, provided that the covered entity discloses only the protected health information expressly authorized by such order; or
(ii) In response to a subpoena, discovery request, or other lawful process, that is not accompanied by an order of a court or administrative tribunal, if . . .
(B) The covered entity receives satisfactory assurance, as described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section, from the party seeking the information that reasonable efforts have been made by such party to secure a qualified protective order that meets the requirements of paragraph (e)(1)(v) of this section.

Id. § 164.512(e).

The “qualified protective order” mentioned in § 164.512(e)(1)(ii)(B) is “an order of a court . . . or a stipulation by the parties to the litigation” that
(A) Prohibits the parties from using or disclosing the protected health information for any purpose other than the litigation or proceeding for which such information was requested; and
(B) Requires the return to the covered entity or destruction of the protected health information (including all copies made) at the ...

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