Although an attorney offered no legitimate reason for why he included details about the psychiatric condition of his client’s ex-girlfriend on the public docket, and the level of detail was seemingly designed to embarrass her, because the attorney moved to redact the details in question and responded to the court’s show cause order, he was not sanctioned.
The court issued the show cause order with respect to two of plaintiff’s filings: his response to defendants’ motion for summary judgment, which extensively detailed on the public docket the psychiatric condition and behaviors of plaintiff’s non-party ex-girlfriend and his motion to compel the medical information of plaintiff’s ex-girlfriend, which included similar details. The court ordered plaintiff to show cause why he had not violated the protective order in this case and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b).
Plaintiff’s counsel argues that it was necessary to include the details about the non-party’s psychiatric condition on the public docket because those details allegedly responded to the “pretextual nature” of defendants’ stated reasons for plaintiff’s suspension from the UVA School of Medicine.
That argument is meritless. The pleadings in question were a response to defendants’ motion to dismiss and a motion to compel motivated by defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The purpose of a response to a motion for summary judgment is to direct the court to the evidence in the record that creates a genuine dispute of material fact. This case was a First Amendment retaliation case. The core question at summary judgment was whether there was a genuine dispute that defendants retaliated against plaintiff because of the content of his speech.
The only remotely legitimate purpose that plaintiff’s counsel identifies for including the details about the non-party’s psychiatric condition is that defendants (per plaintiff) used her complaints about plaintiff’s behavior as pretext for suspending plaintiff from the medical school, while their actual reason for suspending him was his protected speech.
But there was zero evidence to substantiate that justification — i.e., that defendants conspired to “exploit” the non-party to create pretext for suspending plaintiff for his protected speech. And even if there had been, the gratuitous details about the non-party’s psychiatric condition would still be irrelevant; the relevant evidence would be when and how defendants used the non-party’s condition as pretext to suspend plaintiff for his protected speech.
The response to the show cause order identifies no other remotely legitimate excuse. The response to the show cause order states that the non-party “does not ‘ha[ve] a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning the intimate details of her medical treatment and medication” because she disclosed that information to defendants. Similarly, the response states that “if [the non-party] wanted privacy with respect to what prescription drugs she took or did not take, then she should have not disclosed those details to others[.]” But what actions the non-party took or did not take to protect her medical information is of little consequence to the question of whether plaintiff’s counsel included those details in the pleadings with the purpose of harassing or embarrassing her.
Plaintiff’s counsel also argues that the details included in the pleadings were a legitimate response to defendants’ statement in their memorandum in support of their motion for summary judgment that “This is a case about mental illness.” But the fact that plaintiff’s mental condition was at issue — because it was defendants’ stated basis for taking adverse action against him — does not somehow automatically make a non-party witness’s mental condition also at issue.
The court emphasizes that the problem with plaintiff’s pleadings is not just that they included details about her psychiatric condition, but the extraordinary and unwarranted level of detail in which they did so. On the public docket. Simply put, the allegations relating to the non-party in plaintiff’s response to defendants’ motion for summary judgment bore no legitimate purpose. They did not advance plaintiff’s argument that there were genuine disputes of material fact in this case. The gratuitous level of detail included was seemingly designed to embarrass the non-party.
However, the court will not issue sanctions at this time, finding that although there was no legitimate basis for the including the details in question in their pleadings, that plaintiff’s counsel has adequately addressed the court’s concerns by moving to redact the details in question and by responding to the court’s show cause order.
Show cause order dismissed.
Bhattacharya v. Murray, Case No. 3:19-cv-00054, Aug. 24, 2022. WDVA at Charlottesville (Moon). VLW 022-3-366. 5 pp.