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Joseph Muller v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., et al., Case No. 2D14-3433 (2nd DCA)

In Muller, the Second District granted a writ for certiorari review and quashed a discovery order compelling the plaintiff to produce his military records. In December 2012, a Wal-Mart truck struck the plaintiff, who later filed the lawsuit. Discovery revealed that the plaintiff served in the Army for eleven years before being honorably discharged, and that he had been injured three times. The plaintiff was not seeking damages for aggravation of any of his military related injuries. Wal-Mart sought production of the plaintiff's DD Form 214, which itself describes sensitive information contained in the document, as well as his military personnel file and military medical records. The plaintiff objected based on his right to privacy under Article I, section 23 of the Florida Constitution, and asked that the court, at a minimum, conduct an in camera review of the records. The court eventually ordered that the records be produced.

The Second District stated that Article I, section 23 of the Florida Constitution "undoubtedly expresses a policy that compelled disclosure through discovery be limited to that which is necessary for a court to determine contested issues." The court further noted that when a party challenges a discovery order on constitutional right to privacy grounds, the trial court must conduct an in camera review to determine whether the requested materials are relevant to the issues in the underlying action. An order directing production of such records without the required determination may cause irreparable harm that cannot be remedied on direct appeal, and is properly reviewable by certiorari.

The Second District found that while the military records may assist in Wal-Mart's defense, they likely contain information that is not relevant to the plaintiff's claims but which would be highly intrusive to his privacy interests if disclosed. As such, the court ruled that the irrelevant documents containing such information must be segregated from any relevant documents that are discoverable. The trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law by compelling the plaintiff to produce all military records without first conducting an in camera review.


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