Monday, December 21, 2015
Court Can’t Require Interviews of Minor Plaintiff’s Parents
Panel Rejects School District’s Argument for Mental Health Probe ‘Collateral’ to Child’s Examination
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A San Benito Superior Court judge exceeded his authority by ordering the parents of a minor plaintiff to submit to “collateral interviews” by mental health professionals, in connection with their examination of the child, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices Friday ordered publication of their Nov. 19 opinion in the case brought on behalf of a child identified as Jonnie Roe. The complaint alleges that Jonnie, while a kindergartner at an elementary school in the Hollister School District, was sexually molested at school by another male kindergartener on two occasions.
The school district, the principal, a teacher, and another employee were named as defendants. The complaint asserted causes of action for negligence, negligence per se, and negligent supervision on behalf of the child; intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress on behalf of the child and his mother; and concealment on behalf of the mother alone.
Trial Court’s Order
Judge Harry J. Tobias granted the defense motion to require the child to be interviewed by a psychiatrist and psychologist. He also ordered the parents to submit to “collateral interviews” with the same mental health professionals.
The parents then sought a writ of mandate challenging the order insofar as it compelled the parents to submit to interviews, prohibited the father from attending the child’s interview, and denied their request to compel the district to produce raw data regarding written tests administered by the experts to the child.
On March 12, the Court of Appeal stayed only the portion of the order requiring the parents to submit to interviews, but issued an OSC with respect to all of the parents’ requests.
Justice Franklin Elia, writing for the Court of Appeal, said there is no provision for a collateral interview of a minor party’s parents under the Civil Discovery Act.
The act, he noted, is specific as to who the trial court can order to submit to mental examinations—a party, a party’s agent, or a person over whom a party has custody or control.
The justice rejected the argument that authority to order an examination of a minor party’s parents is “at least” implicit in the statute. The district’s attorneys argued that because the statute sets minimum standards of competence for mental health professionals, and because interviewing parents in order to help determine their child’s mental state is part of standard psychiatric practice, the Legislature must have contemplated that courts would order evaluations of the parents as well as the child.
Elia said the statute must be interpreted as written. Since the parents are not Jonnie’s agents or within his custody and control, and because Jonnie’s mother is a party but was not named in the motion to compel, there was no legal authority for ordering either parent to submit to the examination, the jurist declared.
“While interviewing the parents of a child to gain background and information about that child may be a sound professional practice from a psychiatrist’s viewpoint, [Code of Civil Procedure] section 2030.020’s plain language does not empower a trial court to make a discovery order requiring such parental interview as part of a mental examination of a party who is a minor,” Elia wrote.
The court, however, upheld Tobias’s denial of an order compelling production of raw test data, which Elia said is not required by statute. As for the father’s request to be allowed to attend the child’s exam, Elia said the issue was moot because the exam has already taken place.
The case is Roe v. Superior Court (Hollister), H042060.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company