In re: Kenneth Smith
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00497-CV (August 12, 2020)
Justices Burns, Pedersen (Opinion available here), and Carlyle
Kenneth Smith sued the nursing home where his wife had stayed during the months before her death, alleging the facility failed to provide adequate care and supervision to prevent his wife from suffering several falls during her stay. Under Chapter 74, discovery in a health care liability claim is stayed until an expert report has been filed, except for “information, including medical or hospital records or other documents or tangible things, related to the patient’s health care.” Relying on that discovery stay, the trial court denied a motion to compel that sought to require the nursing home to produce several policies and procedures that are statutorily required to be kept and made available to patients and their families.

The Dallas Court of Appeals conditionally granted mandamus, concluding the trial court abused its discretion in denying discovery of the requested policies. Texas courts have reached different conclusions about whether policies and procedures fall within the exception to the Chapter 74 discovery stay. But the Court noted in this case that the requested policies (1) were required by statute to be publicly available; and (2) were “related to the patient’s health care.” “As there is no dispute that relator’s claims—alleging inadequate supervision and services to meet a nursing home resident’s health care needs and protect her from harm—are health care claims, it logically follows that “training and staffing policies” are “integral components of [the nursing home’s] rendition of health care services.” In particular, the requested policies and procedures were “relevant to assessing the standard of care that should have been given to Mrs. Smith,” and Mr. Smith and his expert should have had access to those documents before having to produce their expert report.

The Court also found that Mr. Smith had no adequate remedy by appeal because, without the requested documents, he would be severely hampered in his ability to file an adequate expert report, which could result in his claims being dismissed. Although he would be able to appeal from the grant of a motion to dismiss, the Court would be limited in its ability to cure the error because it would only be able to remand for the trial court to consider whether to grant a thirty-day extension to file an adequate report. The Court therefore vacated the trial court’s order and directed it to issue an order granting discovery of the requested documents.