On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-1836-02.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Axelrad and Levy.
The primary issue presented by this appeal is whether the names of hospital patients are protected from disclosure by the Hospital Patients Bill of Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 26:2H-12.7 to 12.11, or the Physician-Patient privilege, N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-22.1 to -22.7. We conclude that both statutory enactments protect the names of hospital patients from disclosure.
Plaintiff was admitted to the trauma center at defendant Jersey Shore Medical Center on July 9, 2001. Shortly after his hospitalization, plaintiff was videotaped by defendant NYT Television, a division of defendant New York Times Company (referred to collectively as NYT), for a television program called "Trauma: Life in the ER," which was shown on The Learning Channel. Although plaintiff signed a form consenting to this videotaping, he contends that his consent was invalid because the pain from his injuries and the sedating effect of his medications prevented him from making an "intelligent and informed" decision to allow the videotaping.
Plaintiff brought this action against NYT for invading his privacy by videotaping him while he was in the trauma center. By amended complaints, plaintiff joined Jersey Shore Medical Center and its owner and operator, Meridian Health System (referred to collectively as Jersey Shore), and Discovery Communications, which owns and operates The Learning Channel, as defendants.*fn1
Plaintiff served a subpoena upon Jersey Shore for the production of various documents, including:
The names and addresses of all Jersey Shore Medical Center hospital patients who were filmed in connection with NYT Television's "Trauma: Life in the ER" from May, 2001 - September, 2001.
Jersey Shore produced forms signed by forty-three patients consenting to the videotaping, thus disclosing the names of those patients. However, Jersey Shore refused to disclose the names of any other patients, claiming that those patients had a confidentiality interest in their admission to the trauma center that was protected from disclosure by the Hospital Patients Bill of Rights Act and the Physician-Patient privilege.
The dispute over the confidentiality of the names of patients who did not sign consent forms was brought before the trial court on multiple occasions. The court ruled each time that Jersey Shore was required to disclose the names.
On Jersey Shore's motion to vacate the prior orders requiring such disclosure, the trial court issued a lengthy written opinion that rejected the hospital's claim that the patients who did not sign consent forms have a confidentiality interest that protects their names from disclosure to plaintiff and his counsel. The court concluded that disclosure of the names and addresses of a hospital's patients does not violate either the Hospital Patients Bill of Rights Act or the Physician-Patient privilege. In reaching this conclusion, the court stated that disclosure of the "[n]ames and addresses [of persons admitted to a hospital] provide[s] no information about the treatment or medical condition of the patient." In addition, the court observed that "[t]he intent of the physician-patient privilege is to protect what was done to the patient by the doctor at the hospital, not the fact that the person was a patient at the hospital." The court also concluded that even if the names of the persons admitted to Jersey Shore were protected from disclosure by the Hospital Patients Bill of Rights Act or the Physician-Patient privilege, Jersey Shore would be required to disclose this information under the doctrine of judicial estoppel because, by allowing NYT to videotape its patients, Jersey Shore had previously taken the position that the identity of persons admitted to the hospital was not confidential.
We granted Jersey Shore's motion for leave to appeal from the order memorializing this ruling and summarily vacated the order because our order granting leave to appeal a prior trial court order had divested that court of jurisdiction.*fn2 After we decided the prior interlocutory appeal, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion to reinstate the order ...