Court’s Authority to Require a Party to Submit to Mental Examination
Ex parte Tidra Corporation – A trial court may only require a party to submit to a mental examination under Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 35, if one of parties requests such relief and demonstrates good cause.
Dwayne Johnson has alleged that he was injured in 2012 while working for Tidra Corporation, as a result of an accident that occurred while he was driving a forklift. After the accident, Johnson complained to Dr. Nick Vlachos of neck pain, and Dr. Vlachos diagnosed Johnson with a cervical strain, for which he prescribed a narcotic pain reliever and muscle relaxer. He also referred Johnson to physical therapy. Johnson did not comply with the physical therapy recommendation, and Dr. Vlachos discharged him from care on July 10, 2012.
In September 2012, Johnson brought suit against Tidra in September 2012, seeking workers’ compensation benefits and medical treatment for his alleged work-related injury. In February 2016, Johnson filed a motion seeking a hearing on the question of whether Tidra should be required to provide eight sessions of physical therapy that had been recommended by Johnson’s doctor, Dr. Martin Jones. In response to a query, Dr. Jones indicated that his physical therapy recommendation was not related to Johnson’s 2012 injury.
At a hearing on July 13, 2016, the trial court advised the parties that the matter was set for trial as to whether Johnson’s injury was a compensable injury, as well as whether any recommended medical treatment was medically necessary. The trial court stated at the hearing that it intended to deny Johnson’s motion to compel treatment. However, two days later, the trial court granted Johnson’s motion, requiring Tidra to provide for Johnson’s recommended physical therapy and requiring Johnson to submit to a mental evaluation, pursuant to Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 35.
Thereafter, Tidra filed a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking an order from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals to compel the Circuit Court of Lee County to set aside the July 2016 order granting Johnson’s motion to compel medical treatment and ordering that Johnson undergo mental examination. Ex parte Tidra Corporation [Ms. 2150940], — So.3d — (Ala.Civ.App. Oct. 7, 2016).
1. Whether the trial court erred by ordering Johnson to undergo a mental evaluation under Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 35(a).
Tidra argued that the trial court had erred by ordering Johnson to undergo a mental examination under Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 35(a) when neither party had requested such relief and the record did not demonstrate good cause for such an order. Under the pertinent parts of Rule 35(a), such an order “may be only on motion for good cause shown….” Employing the requisite statutory construction, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found that because Rule 35(a) reads “only on motion”, the trial court may enter and order requiring a party to undergo a mental evaluation pursuant to Rule 35(a) solely or exclusively by way of a motion before the court. Accordingly, because there was no such motion before the trial court in this case, the trial court erred in ordering Johnson to undergo a mental examination.
2. Whether the trial court erred by ordering Tidra to provide medical treatment to Johnson before there had been a compensability determination.
Tidra contends that the July 2016 trial court order requiring Tidra to provide medical treatment to Johnson is in error because there had not been a trial on the issue of compensability prior to Tidra being required to provide Johnson with physical therapy. Tidra relied on Ex parte Publix Super Markets, 963 So.2d 654 (Ala.Civ.App. 2007), wherein the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has previously explained that a trial court may not compel an employer to pay for medical treatment for an employee without first holding an evidentiary hearing (commonly known as a Publix hearing) on the issue of compensability, applying either Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c) or 56, to determine the issue of compensability without a trial.
In reviewing the record, the appellate court found that the trial court had not conducted an evidentiary hearing. However, Ex parte Publix Super Markets does not prohibit a trial court from granting a pretrial motion seeking judgment on the issue of compensability, but a motion seeking to compel an employer to provide to an employee medical treatment can only be granted only if it is a properly support motion for judgment on the pleadings (Rule 12) or for summary judgment (Rule 56). The appellate court found that the trial court did not employ the procedures for either Rule 12 or 56 in entering its order to compel medical treatment. Therefore, Tidra was entitled to have mandamus entered in its favor.
Artwork by Zeh Fernando.