Jaffe v. Redmond
518 U.S. 1 (1996)

  • Redmond was a police officer who shot and killed Allen during a confrontation.
  • That administrator of Allen’s estate (Jaffe) sued Redmond for using excessive force.
  • At trial, Jaffe attempted to introduce testimony and notes from a social worker, Beyer, who counseled Redmond after the incident.
    • Redmond objected on the grounds that they were protected from involuntary disclosure by a psychotherapist-patient privilege.
    • Beyer refused to turn over her notes and refused to answer questions during a deposition.
  • At the end of the trial, the judge told the jury that Beyer’s refusal had no “legal justification,” and that the jury could therefore presume that the contents of the notes would have been unfavorable to Redmond.
  • The Trial Court found for Jaffe and awarded $545k in damages.  Redmond appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and remanded for a new trial.  Jaffe appealed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to FRE 501 and found that it compelled the recognition of a psychotherapist-patient privilege.
      • “Reason tells us that psychotherapists and patients share a unique relationship, in which the ability to communicate freely without fear of public disclosure is the key to successful treatment.”
      • FRE 501 says that the privileges of witnesses should be governed by the principles of the common law and interpreted in the light of reason and experience.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court agreed that under FRE 501 and common-law principles, the law favors compelling witnesses to give whatever evidence they can, unless there is some other “public good transcending the normally predominant principle of utilizing all rational means for ascertaining truth.”
    • The Court found that it was in society’s best interest for people to seek treatment for mental health problems.
    • The Court also noted that in a draft of the FRE, Congress had listed psychotherapist-patient privilege as one of nine privileges, but in the end decided that the determination of privilege should be left up to the courts.
    • The Court suggested that if there was no psychotherapist-patient privilege then most people wouldn’t talk to psychotherapists and the evidence wouldn’t exist anyway.
  • In a dissent, Justice Scalia argued that:
    • Psychotherapy doesn’t work.
    • Even if talking to people was beneficial to mental health, why should talking to a psychotherapist be protected when talking to a bartender is not?
    • Many States have a psychotherapist-patient privilege, but it is a Statutory law enacted by the State legislature.  Therefore, Federal courts should not create it judicially, but instead wait for Congress to legislate it.