Erosion of Courtroom Immunity:
Renzi v Morrison
The purpose of this Alert is to call to your attention the attached case of Renzi v. Morrison, 1993 W.L. 223164 (Ill.App. 1st Dist.).
The plaintiff filed an action against Dr. Helen Morrison, an Illinois psychologist, alleging that the doctor violated the DMHDD ConfidentialÂity Act (the “Act”) when she “voluntarily” disclosed confidential psychiatric information in a court proceeding. The trial court denied Dr. Morrison’s Motion to Dismiss on the grounds of witness immunity because such immunity does not protect a witness who “volunteers” information which is covered by the DMHDD Confidentiality Act. The doctor appealed.
The Act allows a mental health patient to prevent disclosure of confidential communications made to a practitioner. However, Illinois common law has heretofore provided that the testimony of a witness at a judicial proceeding is absolutely privileged if relevant to the proceedÂings. Section 810 of the Act authorizes disclosures of confidential communications where a court examines testimony privately in camera and determines what information is relevant, admissible, and more important to the interests of justice than the patient’s right to confidentiÂality. Only after such a showing has been made can witness testimony be invested with traditional common law courtroom immunity. The Appellate Court holds here that the legislature intended to modify witness courtroom immunity, and as such the ruling of the trial court was affirmed.
SIGNIFICANCE FOR PRACTITIONERS
Previously, we advised our mental health practitioner clients that any disclosures made in a courtroom, before a judge, while court is in session are absolutely immune from any civil consequences for improper disclosure under the DMHDD Confidentiality Act. We can no longer render such advice if this case remains current in the First Appellate District and is not successfully appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. In the future, mental health practitioners are advised to rigidly observe the procedures in Section 810 of the Act, which requires surrender of the records only to the judge for examination by that judicial officer in camera with the subsequent requisite showings. No testimony should be presented by the practitioner until such a showing is made and preferaÂbly until the judge, after proper examination and issuance of the requisite findings, orders the practitioner to testify. In this manner, it would be very difficult for any future litigant to argue that the testimony was “voluntary.”