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In Re M.L.

September 8, 2011

IN RE M.L., R.Y., APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (NEG 46-09) (Hon. Maurice A. Ross, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blackburne-rigsby, Associate Judge:

Argued March 15, 2011

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and OBERLY,*fn1 Associate Judges, and FARRELL, Senior Judge.

Appellant R.Y. challenges the trial court's determination that he neglected his teenage daughter M.L. from August 2007 to February 2009, during which time M.L. did not attend school. On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court committed numerous errors in reaching its determination of educational neglect.

In particular, we focus on appellant's claim that the court committed reversible error by admitting expert testimony and written reports regarding appellant's mental health without previously making an individualized determination that appellant's doctor-patient privilege should be waived. With respect to this claim of legal error, we hold that the Council of the District of Columbia ("Council") did not intend its passage of the Improved Child Abuse Investigations Amendment Act of 2002*fn2 to bar or restrict Superior Court judges from admitting the results of court-ordered mental evaluations in neglect hearings. Moreover, court-ordered mental examinations made pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-2315 (e)(4) (2006 Supp.) are governed by the long-held rule in this jurisdiction that a doctor who examines an individual only for testimonial purposes has "no confidential relation" with the individual and the information gleaned from those examinations is not privileged. Taylor v. United States, 222 F.2d 398, 402 (D.C. Cir. 1955); see also Kendall v. Gore Props., Inc., 236 F.2d 673, 683 (D.C. Cir. 1956). Therefore, such examinations are not subject to the specific waiver requirement present in D.C. Code § 4-1321.05 (2009 Supp.), which governs the admissibility of privileged mental examinations conducted for purposes other than testimony.

Additionally, we are unpersuaded by appellant's remaining claims that: (1) the trial court abused its discretion and violated appellant's due process rights by denying appellant's request to call M.L. as a witness in appellant's defense; (2) the court abused its discretion in admitting the written reports of the doctors who conducted the court-ordered mental evaluations of appellant, as those reports constituted inadmissible hearsay; and (3) the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court's finding of educational neglect. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's finding of neglect.

I. Factual Background

The facts in this case are largely undisputed. In summary, M.L. was born to her mother, A.L., and father, appellant R.Y.,*fn3 on October 8, 1992. On February 2, 2009, appellee District of Columbia filed a petition in Superior Court alleging that M.L. was a neglected child within the meaning of both D.C. Code §§ 16-2301 (9)(A)(ii) and (iii) (2009 Supp.). Specifically, the government's petition alleged that M.L. was educationally neglected due to the fact that she had not been enrolled in school for over a year, and that her father suffered from "a mental incapacity that is impacting his ability to parent" M.L. The government alleged neglect pursuant to § 16-2301 (9)(A)(iii) based on evidence that, during a three-year period from 2005 through 2008, appellant had reported to authorities a series of false allegations that M.L. had been sexually abused on more than five different occasions. In regard to M.L.'s educational neglect, the government proffered that appellant withdrew M.L. from school for an eighteen-month period, even though appellant acknowledged that M.L. was a special-needs student with cognitive limitations and a learning disability, and appellant was not trained to provide special education instruction.

Beginning on March 20, 2009, Magistrate Judge William W. Nooter presided over a five-day fact-finding hearing to determine whether M.L. was a neglected child.*fn4 Pursuant to Magistrate Judge Nooter's court order,*fn5 Dr. Craig King and Dr. Todd Christiansen, both employed by the District of Columbia's Department of Mental Health, conducted evaluations of appellant.*fn6 After performing numerous psychological tests, both doctors independently concluded that appellant suffered from "Delusional Disorder, Persecutory Type." Dr. King testified that appellant's delusions, that M.L. was being sexually assaulted by various individuals, were a substantial detriment to M.L.'s well-being because they forced her to live "within [appellant's] delusional world, literally changing the way [M.L.] thinks and acts." Ultimately, Magistrate Judge Nooter found that the government had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that M.L. was a neglected child within the meaning of both D.C. Code §§ 16-2301 (9)(A)(ii) and (iii). In a written order dated March 25, 2010, Associate Judge Maurice A. Ross found that Magistrate Judge Nooter did not err or abuse his discretion, and upheld the finding of neglect. Appellant now brings this appeal.

II. Analysis

A. Appellant's Court-Ordered Mental Health Evaluations Were Admissible in the Fact-Finding Neglect Hearing

Appellant contends that the trial court committed reversible error when it admitted expert testimony and written reports about appellant's mental health, over objection, without making an individualized determination that appellant's doctor-patient privilege should be waived in regard to statements made during the course of court-ordered mental evaluations.

Generally, "[e]xcept where otherwise provided by statute, the physician- or psychotherapist-patient privilege does not apply to communications . . . during a mental examination or psychological test required by a court, or to a communication made after a court-ordered examination with respect to that examination." 81 AM. JUR. 2D Witnesses § 444 (2004) (citations omitted). This exception to the general rules governing privilege is logical - a court-ordered examination is not for the purpose of treatment, but is rather geared towards determining the existence of a fact or condition for the court's benefit. Id.

In the D.C. Code, the provisions governing "[p]hysical and mental examinations" provide that the results of a court-ordered mental examination "shall not be admissible evidence in the fact-finding hearing unless the allegations contained in the petition set forth facts which support a petition pursuant to D.C. Official Code, section 16-2301 (9)(C)."*fn7 The government interprets this subsection to mean that the results of a court-ordered mental examination are admissible where "the District's petition includes allegations that the parent's mental health status leaves them unable to properly care for the child." Therefore, the government ...


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