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Britt v. Superior Court

Supreme Court of California

March 27, 1978

L.A. No. 30786


 [*848]  [**768]  [***697]    In this case we must determine the constitutional validity of a judicial discovery order which compels numerous individuals, plaintiffs in the underlying litigation, to disclose extensive and intimate details of both their own and others' activities in various local political associations. The trial court refused to honor plaintiffs' request for a protective order to safeguard [****2]  their associational privacy and instead ordered plaintiffs to render a wholesale revelation of private associational information. Such information ranged from the disclosure of their own membership in numerous associations to a listing of the names of all persons who attended any meeting of such associations, and finally extended to a description of the subjects discussed at all such meetings. Contending that this wide-ranging order infringes upon their constitutional rights, plaintiffs seek an extraordinary writ to restrain the trial court from requiring such revelations.

For the reasons discussed below, we have concluded that the challenged discovery order cannot be sustained. As we explain, for more than two decades decisions of both the United States Supreme Court and this court, recognizing that compelled disclosure of private associational affiliations or activities will inevitably deter many individuals from exercising their constitutional right of association, have established that such ] intrusion into associational privacy may be sanctioned only upon the demonstration of a very important, indeed "compelling," state  [*849]  interest which necessitates the disclosure.  [****3]  Moreover, the authorities additionally demonstrate that even when such justification is present, the scope of the compelled disclosure must be narrowly circumscribed to avoid undue interference with private associational rights. The extensive discovery authorized in the instant case cannot be reconciled with these settled constitutional precepts.

We have further concluded that a separate portion of the discovery order, which permits defendant to inquire without limit into plaintiffs' lifetime medical histories, is also vulnerable to plaintiffs' challenge. As we explain, although in seeking recovery for physical and mental injuries plaintiffs have unquestionably waived their physician-patient and psychotherapist-patient  [**769]  privileges as to all information concerning the medical conditions which they have put in issue, past cases make clear that ] such waiver extends only to information relating  [***698]  to the medical conditions in question, and does not automatically open all of a plaintiff's past medical history to scrutiny. Failing to heed the teachings of these governing authorities, the trial court placed absolutely no limit on defendant's efforts to obtain [****4]  wholesale disclosure of each plaintiff's lifetime medical history. Under these circumstances, we conclude that this aspect of the discovery order should also be vacated.

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20 Cal. 3d 844 *; 574 P.2d 766 **; 143 Cal. Rptr. 695 ***; 1978 Cal. LEXIS 204 ****


Disposition:  [****1]  Let a peremptory writ of mandate issue, directing the court (1) to vacate its discovery order with respect to defendant's inquiries into plaintiffs' private associational affiliations and activities and plaintiffs' lifetime medical histories and (2) to proceed in accordance with the views expressed herein.


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