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Bose v. Rhodes College

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

October 6, 2017

PRIANKA BOSE, Plaintiff,



         Before the court by order of reference are two motions to compel. (ECF No. 93.) Defendants Rhodes College and Dr. Roberto de la Salud Bea (collectively “Rhodes”) filed their Motion to Compel on July 6, 2017. (ECF No. 75.) Plaintiff Prianka Bose (“Bose”) filed a response on July 19, 2017. (ECF No. 80.) Rhodes filed a reply on July 26, 2017, and Bose filed a sur-reply on August 2, 2017. (ECF Nos. 84, 94.) Bose filed her own Motion to Compel on July 27, 2017. (ECF No. 86.) Rhodes filed a response on August 1, 2017. (ECF No. 88.) On August 31, 2017, the court conducted a hearing on both motions. (ECF No. 101.) Subsequently, on September 6, 2017, the court conducted a telephonic conference to address additional issues relating to Rhodes's Motion to Compel. The court directed Rhodes to submit for in camera review Bose's mental health records.

         For the following reasons, the court DENIES both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to Bose, this suit stems from a collection of encounters that Bose had with Dr. Roberto de la Salud Bea beginning in July of 2015 and lasting until November of 2015. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) In 2015, Bose attended Dr. Bea's Organic Chemistry I course in the spring and took his Organic Chemistry II course in the fall. (Id.) After the spring semester, Bose alleges that Dr. Bea breached the professional nature of their relationship by giving her special assistance that he did not provide to other students, asking her personal questions about her family and her boyfriend, and inviting her to dinner. (Id. at 2-3.) Bose states that she “confronted” Dr. Bea about this behavior on November 19, 2015, asking him to “maintain a strictly professional relationship with her.” (Id. at 4.) She alleges that, shortly after this confrontation, Dr. Bea retaliated against her by making it appear that she had cheated on various exams and quizzes in his Organic Chemistry II class. (Id.) As a consequence of Dr. Bea's accusations of cheating, Rhodes expelled her. (Id. at 6.)

         According to Rhodes and Dr. Bea, this suit is a result of Bose trying to avoid punishment for cheating. (ECF No. 84 at 4.) They deny that Dr. Bea ever behaved in an unprofessional manner. (ECF No. 53 at 3.) Rather, they posit that Bose was “under enormous pressure (academic, personal, and otherwise)” and, as a result, she cheated, got caught, and then fabricated the encounters with Dr. Bea in an attempt to avoid expulsion. (ECF No. 84 at 4.)

         Bose filed the present suit against Rhodes College and Dr. Bea on May 6, 2016. (ECF No. 1 at 1-2.) Bose initially asserted claims against Rhodes College for violating Title IX and Title VII, breach of contract, tortious interference with business relations, negligent failure to train or supervise, and violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. (ECF No. 1 at 7-17.) She initially asserted claims against Dr. Bea for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with business relations. (Id. at 17-18.) Bose also sought a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction. (Id. at 14, No. 2.) Following a hearing, the court denied Bose's motion for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction on October 25, 2016. (ECF No. 51.) The court granted Rhodes's motion to dismiss the Title VII and defamation claims on October 26, 2016. (ECF No. 52.) Upon Bose's own motion, the court also dismissed the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim on August 31, 2017. (ECF No. 102.)

         The discovery disputes giving rise to the two motions to compel stem from two sets of interrogatories. Rhodes's Motion to Compel originates from Bose's refusal on May 22, 2017, to respond to the following interrogatories and requests for information about her medical history:

INTERROGATORY NO. 13: Identify by name, current address and telephone number any and all physicians or other health care providers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, social workers, or other mental health professionals from whom Plaintiff has sought treatment or advice for emotional, physical, or psychological issues in the last (6) years, including, but not limited to, any illness or condition that Plaintiff contends was caused or exacerbated by the actions of Defendants. For each such individual, describe the nature of the advice or treatment provided and the dates of such advice or treatment.
REQUEST NO. 12: All documents or other tangible evidence relating to or concerning treatment provided to Plaintiff for any physical, mental or emotional problem in the last six (6) years, including medical records or other medical reports, correspondence, notes, test results, office notes or records, claim forms, psychological tests, vocational studies, prescriptions or any other record depicting or evidencing treatment, diagnosis, consultation or any other services rendered by any health care provider, psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor, social worker or any other mental health professional or health care provider.
REQUEST NO. 21: Please execute the attached HIPPA Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information attached as Exhibit 1 hereto.

(ECF No. 75 at 2-3.) Bose refused to provide this information on the grounds that the requests were overly broad and not reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence. (Id.) In a discovery deficiency letter sent on June 2, 2017, Rhodes took the position that a plaintiff who seeks damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress “automatically places in controversy a plaintiff's mental condition.” (ECF No. 75-2 at 2.) In reply, Bose informed Rhodes she would be dismissing the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim and seeking only “garden variety” emotional distress damages. (ECF No. 75-3.) Dissatisfied with this response, on July 6, 2017, Rhodes filed a motion to compel a response to the interrogatories and requests. (ECF No. 75.) Rhodes argues that it should have access to the information because Bose has a documented history of providing false information to Rhodes Campus Safety and because Bose placed her mental state at issue by seeking damages for emotional distress. (Id. at 4-6, No. 84 at 3-4.) Bose has since disclosed that she received treatment from the Rhodes Student Counseling Center; however, she maintains that she has not put her mental state at issue and that it would violate her psychotherapist-patient privilege if the court compelled her to disclose any information relating to her treatment. (ECF Nos. 80, 94, 96.)

         After a telephonic conference on the matter, the court ordered production of records from Bose's counseling sessions at Rhodes for in camera review. (ECF No. 104.) Bose's treatment records reveal that Bose received treatment during three different periods, first from a licensed clinical social worker (January 25, 2013 to May 1, 2014), then from a Master of Science counseling intern supervised by a licensed clinical social worker (February 13, 2015 to April 30, 2015), and last from a Master of Science psychology intern supervised by a licensed psychologist (October 26, 2015 to December 10, 2015).[1] The supervisors co-signed all of the treatment notes for each session that Bose had with these interns. To the extent that Bose's sessions were recorded, the records contain a form indicating that the supervisors were required to review any recorded sessions with the interns. For each of the three periods during which she received treatment, Bose signed an informed consent form indicating that her discussions with her treatment provider were confidential. These informed consent forms provided in part as follows:

Welcome to the Rhodes Student Counseling Center. We provide short-term, individual counseling to all Rhodes students free of charge. Students may meet for individual therapy up to eight times per semester. Please notify the Counseling Center in a timely fashion when you are unable to attend counseling sessions so that we may make that time available to other students. A pattern of missed appointments without notification may result in termination of services. The Counseling Center also offers psychiatric evaluation and treatment for students who wish to meet with Dr. Taylor Williams regarding medication prescriptions. Students meeting with Dr. Williams will be billed through their Rhodes College student account for her services.
When you meet with a therapist for the first time, the therapist will ask you about your reasons for coming to the Counseling Center and will develop a plan with you to meet your goals for counseling.
Whatever you discuss with your treatment provider is confidential. The Counseling Center staff does not share information about students 16 years or older with parents, other students, or any College faculty or staff. Client information is reviewed in clinical supervision with other Counseling Center treatment providers to insure that we provide the highest quality of service possible. There may be times when you want the therapist to speak on your behalf to your parents or with a representative of the College. When this is the case, you will need to sign a release allowing your therapist to speak with that person.
There are several circumstances where a therapist or psychiatrist is required by law to share confidential information. When a student tells the therapist or psychiatrist about someone under the age of 18 who is being subjected to abuse or neglect, we are required to notify the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. If you inform us about a dependent elder who is being abused or neglected, we are required to notify Adult Protective Services. When a student is determined by the therapist or psychiatrist to be at imminent risk of killing himself/herself, or of killing someone else, we will share confidential information consistent with applicable laws to prevent or lessen that imminent threat. We may also disclose confidential information in the course of any judicial or administrative proceeding, in response to an order of a court or administrative tribunal (to the extent that such disclosure is expressly authorized), in certain conditions in response to a subpoena, discovery request or other lawful process. Under the Clery Act, therapists and psychiatrists at universities and colleges are required ...

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