N.C. v. New Hampshire Board of PsychologistsAnnotate this Case
Appellants N.C. and Alethea Young, Ph.D., appealed superior court orders denying Dr. Young’s motion to quash a subpoena for N.C.’s psychological records issued by appellee, the New Hampshire Board of Psychologists (Board), and dismissing N.C.’s petition for a declaratory judgment to prevent the Board from obtaining the records. N.C. has been a patient of Young for many years, attending at least two therapy sessions per week since the age of two. In August 2013, when N.C. was still a minor, she informed Young that her father, S.C., had physically and emotionally abused her. According to Young, throughout her treatment of N.C., she witnessed what she described as S.C.’s aggressive and humiliating treatment of his daughter, both in public as well as in therapy sessions. In September, S.C. filed a written complaint against Young with the Board. The complaint alleged that Young had breached her professional obligations by: (1) becoming personally over-involved with N.C., thus sacrificing her objectivity; (2) providing counseling to both S.C. and his daughter, thus creating an insurmountable conflict of interest; (3) violating RSA 169-C:29 (2014) by failing to timely report suspected abuse of a child to DCYF; (4) violating RSA 633:1, I-a (2007) and 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a) (2012) by detaining and concealing N.C., who was a minor at the time, from S.C. when she drove N.C. to Vermont without S.C.’s knowledge or consent; and (5) failing to respect S.C.’s wishes that she no longer treat his daughter. On appeal, appellants argued that the trial court erred in enforcing the subpoena because the Board failed to establish that it had just cause to issue the subpoena. Appellants also contended that, even if just cause existed to issue the subpoena, once they objected, the subpoena could not be enforced by the court because the Board failed to sustain what, in their view, was the additional burden necessary to pierce the patient’s privilege by showing that there was a reasonable probability the records were relevant and material and that the Board had an essential need for them. Furthermore, appellants argued that, even if the Board met the burden necessary to pierce the privilege, the court erred in not conducting an in camera review of the records before ordering compliance with the subpoena in order to limit the scope of disclosure. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with appellants that the statute required a court order to obtain a patient’s records when there was an objection to compliance with a subpoena based upon a claim of privilege. However, the Court concluded that the trial court did not err in finding that, under the circumstances of this case, the privilege must yield to the Board’s proper exercise of its regulatory responsibilities with regard to its licensee, Dr. Young.