Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Judge Terrence Nealon of Lackawanna County Addresses Issue of Pre-Complaint Discovery

In his March 2, 2011 Order (which reads like an Opinion) in the case of Rader v. Hospital Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania, et.al., No. 2010-Civil-3423 (Lacka. Co. March 2, 2011, Nealon, J.), Judge Nealon reviewed the law surrounding the issue of pre-Complaint discovery.

This matter involves three separate lawsuits that allegedly arise from the Defendants’ failure to pay the full amount of the medical bills related to the various Plaintiff’s medical treatment.

The Plaintiff began the lawsuit by the filing of Summons, which were served upon the Defendant together with Request for Production of Documents. The Defendants objected to the discovery requests and came before the Special Trial Master and then the case was appealed up to Judge Nealon’s review.

The Plaintiffs were seeking provider agreements relative to the payment of medical expenses for the treatment provided. The Defendants objected and asserted that the documents requested were not material and necessary for the Plaintiff to file a Complaint. They also asserted that it would be unduly burdensome to produce such documentation as the agreements were with thousands of different professional providers. The Defendants also asserted that the requested provider agreements were not subject to discovery as they contained proprietary information involving each contacting professional provider.

Judge Nealon reviewed the seminal decision on the issue of pre-Complaint discovery issued in the case of McNeil v. Jordan, 894 A.2d 1260 (Pa. 2006), in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the governing standard for pre-Complaint discovery.

Judge Nealon also analyzed Pa. R.C.P. 4003.8 which provides that a Plaintiff may obtain pre-Complaint discovery “where the information sought is material and necessary to the filing of the complaint and the discovery will not cause unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppressions, burden, or expense to any person or party.”

Applying the law to the case before him, Judge Nealon decided that the Plaintiff did not need all of the provider agreements in order to compute the amount of their unpaid medical bills as maybe necessary to draft the Complaint.

Accordingly, the Court held that the Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the information sought in their pre-Complaint discovery requests was material and necessary to the filing of the Complaint. As such, the appeal by the Plaintiff from the Special Trial Master’s decision was denied.

This Opinion by Judge Nealon provides an nice summary of the current law on the issue of pre-Complaint discovery.

Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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