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Dom Wadhwa v. Department of Veterans Affairs

March 11, 2011

DOM WADHWA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

This is a FOIA / Privacy Act case. After reviewing the Defendant's, the Department of Veterans Affairs' ("the VA"), Vaughn index and reviewing in camera unredacted copies of the documents at issue, the Court ordered the VA to produce to Plaintiff certain documents in unredacted form. The VA presently asks this Court to reconsider its ruling, primarily with respect to one particular document that the VA asserts is protected from disclosure by FOIA Exemption 6. For the reasons set forth herein, the VA's Motion will be granted.

I.

Plaintiff, Dr. Wadhwa, is a medical doctor employed by Defendant, the VA. The document at issue in this instant motion is a medical chart belonging to one of Dr. Wadhwa's patients, whom he treated at the VA Medical Center. The VA has already produced the document with relatively limited redactions; it only objects to producing an unredacted version to Dr. Wadhwa.

This Court previously held that the patient's privacy was not invaded by disclosure to Dr. Wadhwa because Dr. Wadhwa himself created the document as the patient's treating physician.*fn1 Accordingly, the Court ordered the VA to produce the medical chart in unredacted form, and granted summary judgment to Plaintiff in that regard.

The Court also ordered the VA to produce unredacted copies of other documents, which the VA claims it only possesses in redacted form.

The VA presently moves to alter the judgment entered in favor of Dr. Wadhwa.

II.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) "permits a court to alter or amend a judgment, but it may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 582 n.5 (2008). "A proper Rule 59(e) motion therefore must rely on one of three grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting North River Ins. Co v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)).

III.

The Court first considers the VA's argument with respect to redactions of the medical chart pursuant to Exemption 6 and then considers the VA's argument that it cannot produce unredacted copies of documents which only exist in redacted form.

A.

The government may withhold "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. ยง 552(b)(6). The parties do not dispute that the patient's medical chart at issue is a "medical file" under the Act. Thus, the only question to be decided is whether disclosure of the medical file is a "clearly unwarranted invasion of [the patient's] personal privacy." Id. In making that determination, the Court "must balance the public interest in disclosure against the interest Congress intended the ...


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