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Griffith v. Aultman Hospital

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Stark

October 23, 2017

GENE'A GRIFFITH, EXECUTRIX FOR THE ESTATE OF HOWARD E. GRIFFITH, DECEASED Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
AULTMAN HOSPITAL Defendant-Appellee

         Appeal from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2013CV00487

          For Appellant LEE E. PLAKAS DAVID L. DINGWELL MEGAN J. FRANTZ OLDHAM COLLIN S. WISE Tzangas/Plakas/Mannos/LTD

          For Appellee RICHARD S. MILLIGAN Milligan Pusateri Co., LPA

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. Earle E. Wise, Jr., J.

          OPINION

          Hoffman, J.

         {¶1} Plaintiff-appellant Gene'a Griffith, Executrix for the Estate of Howard E. Griffith, Deceased, appeals the December 20, 2016 Judgment Entry entered by the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, which granted summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee Aultman Hospital, and denied her motion to compel.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND CASE

         {¶2} Howard E. Griffith ("Decedent") underwent surgery at Aultman Hospital on May 2, 2012. Two days later, after being transferred from intensive care to a step-down unit, Decedent developed intermittent atrial fibrillation and was placed on continuous cardiac monitoring.

         {¶3} Around 4 a.m. on May 6, 2012, a nurse in the step-down unit assessed Decedent and found he was doing well. Approximately 45 minutes later, an x-ray technician found Decedent in his bed with his gown ripped off, the cardiac monitor no longer attached to his body, his central line lying on the floor, and his chest tube disconnected. Decedent was unresponsive and did not have a heartbeat. Medical personnel resuscitated him and moved him to the intensive care unit. However, Decedent had suffered severe brain damage and, after he made no neurological improvement, his family decided to remove him from life support on May 7, 2012. Howard died approximately nine hours later on May 8, 2012.

         {¶4} Griffith requested a copy of Decedent's complete medical record on July 24, 2012. Aultman provided some documents in response to this request. After Griffith sent a second written request on October 17, 2012, Aultman produced the medical record for the period May 2, through 8, 2012, which was stored in the medical records department. On December 12, 2012, Griffith's representative made an in-person request and was permitted to review what was represented to her as Decedent's complete medical record. Griffith made an additional written request for Decedent's medical record. Aultman again produced Decedent's medical record which was maintained in the medical records department.

         {¶5} Griffith filed the instant action on February 12, 2013, pursuant to R.C. 3701.74 and 2317.48, to compel Aultman to produce Decedent's complete medical record. In her complaint, Griffith alleged, in part, Aultman had failed to produce any monitoring strips or nursing records from Decedent's hospital stay. On March 8, 2013, Aultman filed an Answer, asserting it had provided Griffith with Decedent's complete medical record on February 28, 2013.

         {¶6} Griffith served Aultman with requests for admissions and interrogatories. In response, Aultman admitted, prior to filing the action, it had failed to produce Decedent's "entire and complete medical record in response" to each of Griffith's medical record requests. In the answer to interrogatories, Jennifer Reagan-Nichols, the director of medical records and transcription at Aultman, verified Aultman had produced Decedent's entire medical record after Griffith filed the action. Contemporaneously with the answer to interrogatories, Aultman produced hard copies of cardiac-monitoring data from May 6, 2012, "as responsive documents from the visit that are not part of the medical record."

         {¶7} Griffith deposed Reagan-Nichols on March 11, 2013. During the deposition, Reagan-Nichols testified Aultman had produced Decedent's cardiac-rhythm strips from May 6, 2012, covering 4:00 a.m. to 4:51 a.m., in response to the request for documents. Reagan-Nichols further testified, while monitoring strips for a patient which are received by her department would be made part of the medical record, she explained Decedent's printouts were not part of his medical record because the nursing staff had not provided them to the medical records department. She did not know who directed the nurses not to print Decedent's data.

         {¶8} On March 14, 2013, Aultman filed a motion for summary judgment supported by the sworn interrogatory answers of Reagan-Nichols, in which she indicated a complete copy of Decedent's medical chart had been provided to Griffith. Griffith filed a memorandum in opposition, and a Civ.R. 56(F) motion to conduct additional discovery.

         {¶9} After Reagan-Nichols submitted an errata sheet to correct some of her deposition testimony, the trial court permitted Griffith to take a second deposition of Reagan-Nichols. During her second deposition, Reagan-Nichols indicated Bates Numbers 655 to 707 were not considered part of Decedent's medical record because they were never provided to the medical records department. Reagan-Nichols testified Bates Numbers 655 to 707 had been printed at the direction of Aultman's risk management department and stored by that department. She explained, if a record or document is not given to the medical records department, that record or document is not made part of the patient's medical record even if another part of the hospital may have a copy. Reagan-Nichols further testified she did not know if the risk management department had any other records for Decedent which had not been provided to Griffith.

         {¶10} The parties filed supplemental briefs. A week before filing its supplemental brief, Aultman provided Griffith with Bates Number 708, which evidenced a cardiologist had confirmed Decedent's ECG was abnormal and Decedent needed to be on electronic monitoring equipment.

         {¶11} On June 28, 2013, the trial court conducted a hearing on Aultman's motion for summary judgment. Via Judgment Entry filed on the same day, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Aultman, finding Aultman had produced Decedent's medical record as defined by R.C. 3701.74(A)(8).

         {¶12} On appeal, this Court affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding "the medical record consists of what was maintained by the medical records department and information that the provider decides not to maintain is not part of the medical record." Griffith v. Aultman Hosp., 5th Dist. Stark No.2013CA00142, 2014-Ohio-1218, ¶ 22. We further noted, "Documents kept by any other department, including risk management, 'do not meet the definition of a medical record because they were not "maintained" by the medical records department'. Id. at ¶ 30.

         {¶13} The Ohio Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction on appeal by Griffith to consider the definition of "medical record" as the term is used in R.C. 3701.74.[1] Griffith v. Aultman Hosp., 146 Ohio St.3d 196, 2016-Ohio-1138, 54 N.E.3d 1196. The Griffith Court disagreed with this Court's reasoning, and held "the physical location of patient data is not relevant to the determination whether that data qualifies as a medical record under R.C. 3701.74(A)(8). Rather, the definition focuses on whether a healthcare provider made a decision to keep data that was generated in the process of the patient's healthcare treatment and pertains to the patient's medical history, diagnosis, prognosis, or medical condition." Id. at ¶ 5. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court.

         {¶14} Upon remand, the trial court permitted the parties to engage in "limited discovery", and scheduled supplemental briefing and oral arguments on Aultman's motion for summary judgment. Griffith propounded her third set of written discovery upon Aultman, which included an interrogatory inquiring whether "[w]ithin the definition of "medical record" as clarified by The Supreme Court of Ohio in Griffith v. Aultman Hosp., Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-1138 * * *any page or part of any medical record, office record, or hospital chart pertaining to your care and treatment of Howard Griffith from and including May 2, 2012 to May 8, 2012 has been destroyed, modified, replaced, damaged, or altered in any respect subsequent to the initial preparation, and whether a copy of the complete medical record has been provided to Plaintiff or their counsel". Aultman objected, noting the interrogatory was unclear, and added the "interrogatory seeks information not relevant to any issue in the case and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving objection, see the medical record which is complete and has been provided. See Aultman's answer to interrogatory no. 2 from plaintiffs first set of interrogatories in this case."

         {¶15} Interrogatory No. 2 from Griffith's first set of interrogatories read:

State whether, to Defendant's knowledge, any page or part of any medical record, office record, or hospital chart pertaining to your care and treatment of Howard Griffith from and including May 2, 2012 to May 8, 2012 has been destroyed, modified, replaced, damaged or altered in any respect subsequent to the initial preparation, and whether a copy of the complete medical record has been provided to Plaintiff or their counsel.

         {¶16} Aultman answered:

Objection. Interrogatory consists of two parts. Without waiving the foregoing objection:
1. With the exception of routine processing, no part of the medical record maintained by Aultman Hospital has ...

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