The 5-to-2 decision was released along with a crop of others decided during the court’s latest term.
According to Jane Hansen, a spokeperson for the court, the opinion overturns an earlier Cobb County court ruling that required Dr. Crit Reon Cooksey to turn over “all records pertaining to the medical treatment and history of Christopher Michael Landry,” a patient of Cooksey’s for eight years.
Landry had signed a consent form allowing his parents to sit in on his sessions with Cooksey, Hansen said.
Cooksey prescribed Landry two psychotropic drugs in August 2012 that each carry a Food and Drug Administration warning of side effects that could include worsening depression and suicidal thoughts, especially among young people, said Hansen.
A summary of the high court’s opinion indicates Landry committed suicide on September 30, 2012.
Landry’s parents, Michael and Lisa, sued Cooksey just over a year later demanding the release of their son’s records.
They had hired an attorney “experienced in investigating psychiatric malpractice cases involving suicide” prior to filing suit, Hansen wrote, and their attorney had sent Cooksey several letters requesting the patient records over the course of the year.
The attorney had argued because a court appointed Michael Landry the administrator of his son’s estate, the parents were authorized to request such records disclosure, Hansen said.
But Cooksey continued to refuse to produce the records, claiming state law prohibited him from doing so.
A Cobb trial judge ruled against Cooksey in January, ordering him to turn over all medical history and treatment records.
Hansen said Cooksey then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which struck down the lower court’s ruling.
“As a matter of public policy, Georgia law has long provided for the confidentiality of communications between a (psychiatrist) and patient,” said the majority opinion. “The primary purpose of the privilege ‘is to encourage the patient to talk freely without fear of disclosure and embarrassment, thus enabling the psychiatrist to render effective treatment of the patient’s emotional or mental disorders.’”
The majority opinion also highlighted “the fact that unlike other recognized privileges, the psychiatrist-patient privilege survives the death of the patient. Consistent with the protections afforded psychiatrist-patient communications even after a patient’s death, our legislature has determined that a deceased patient’s representative cannot waive the psychiatrist-patient privilege.”
The state Supreme Court will send the case back to the Cobb trial court to review Cooksey’s files and determine whether they contain any non-privileged information or a waiver from Christopher of the privileged information, Hansen said.
If the lower court finds any non-privileged portions or such a waiver, Hansen said, it is authorized to require disclosure of those records and the information for which the privilege has been waived.
Justice Robert Benham and Justice Carol Hunstein dissented.
“Just as our courts have been willing to recognize limited exceptions to the attorney-client privilege,” Benham wrote in the dissent, “we should also be willing to forego a rigid application of the psychiatrist-patient privilege in limited circumstances, where the application of that privilege operates only as an impediment to the pursuit of justice on behalf of the very individual it was intended to protect.”