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Civil Practice – Jurisdiction – Settlement – Protective Order – Tort/Negligence – Medical Malpractice

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//July 10, 2013

Civil Practice – Jurisdiction – Settlement – Protective Order – Tort/Negligence – Medical Malpractice

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//July 10, 2013

Hollman v. Woolfson (Ex parte TLC Laser Eye Centers (Piedmont/Atlanta), LLC) (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-085-13, 9 pp.) (Costa M. Pleicones, J.) (Donald W. Beatty, J., concurring in the result only without separate opinion) Appealed from Greenville County Circuit Court (Edward W. Miller, J.) S.C. S. Ct.

Holding: After the parties settled this medical malpractice action, the trial court retained jurisdiction to enter a written order memorializing its pre-settlement (oral) denial of appellants’ motion for reconsideration of the denial of their motion seeking to have respondents held in contempt for alleged violations of a protective order.

We reverse the trial court’s conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction. We also find that the trial court erred in its interpretation of the protective order. We remand for further proceedings.

Where a timely post-trial motion is made seeking issuance of a merits order, the court has jurisdiction to rule on that motion. Thus, the trial court erred when it ruled it lacked jurisdiction to enter an order ruling on appellants’ motion for reconsideration. On remand, the trial court will address the merits of appellants’ Rule 59(e) motion.

Since the drafting of the Rule 59(e) motion was under the trial court’s supervision, appellants’ failure to respond to a letter from respondents’ counsel did not extinguish their right to seek a written order on their motion for reconsideration.

The trial court erred when it ruled the parties’ settlement agreement and resulting dismissal of the action constituted a final adjudication on the merits of appellants’ contention that respondents were violating the protective order, barring appellants’ motion for rule to show cause.

The trial court also erred when, in its order denying appellants’ motion for rule to show cause, it held that “Confidential Health Information” as defined in the protective order refers only to health information coupled with the identity of a patient.

According to the regulations cited in the protective order, Confidential Health Information includes any combination of health information collected from an individual with respect to which there is a reasonable basis to believe it could be used to identify the individual. This definition includes compilations of data containing the dates of treatment, diagnosis, type of surgery, and treatment providers of appellants’ individual patients, for example. It includes names of service providers, dates of visits, and diagnostic information obtained from patients’ medical records, even when the patient’s name is redacted.

Moreover, the protective order’s limitations on use and distribution extend to “all notes, summaries, compilations, extracts, abstracts, or oral communications that contain, are based on, or are derived from Confidential Health Information.” Under this definition, the contents of the database (provided to respondents by appellants) as a whole must be “Confidential Health Information” since it is at least a compilation that contains Confidential Health Information.

Because the trial court’s construction of the protective order was improper, its finding that the only acts that constituted violations of the protective order occurred before the 2010 settlement must also be reversed and remanded for consideration under the proper construction of the protective order.

Reversed and remanded.


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