Responding to complaints about Dr. Cornu-Labat, Quincy Valley Hospital conducted two ad hoc investigations concerning separate allegations of intoxication and incompetency to practice medicine. The ad hoc investigations failed to uncover enough evidence to substantiate either claim. However, hospital administrators “remained concerned” for the Doctor, placed him on paid administrative leave, and referred him to the Washington Physicians Health Program. After Dr. Cornu-Labat refused to visit WPHP, which precluded WPHP from issuing a recommendation on his fitness to practice medicine, the Hospital fired him.
Dr. Cornu-Labat filed separate Public Records Act requests for documents relating to both investigations. The Hospital denied the first request, claiming the Hospital was not an agency subject to the PRA and that the records relating to the intoxication investigation were “investigative” and exempt under RCW 42.56.240. His second, third, and fourth requests sought documents from both investigations, and the Hospital eventually denied those requests under PRA exemptions specific to the healthcare industry.
The Grant County Superior Court held that the peer review exemption cited by the Hospital did not apply because under RCW 4.24.250 (and RCW 42.56.360) peer review committees must be regularly constituted and consist of professional peers. The ad hoc investigations here included non-physicians.
The Washington Supreme Court reversed and held that the plain language of RCW 4.24.250 extended the exemption to committee records of non-physician staff sitting on the committee. RCW 42.56.360 did not narrow the scope of “peer review committee” for the purposes of exempting records from disclosure under RCW 4.24.250. Because other peer review statutes allow officers, directors, and employees to sit on review committees, the Hospital’s ad hoc investigations qualified as peer review committees even though non-physicians participated.
The Court remanded on this issue to determine whether the investigations were a function of regularly constituted committees or whether the investigations were conducted by ad hoc committees not entitled to the exemptions under RCW 4.24.250. The Court also remanded to determine whether the records sought embodied the proceedings of a formal meeting of the Hospital board (or its staff or agents) concerning the Doctor’s clinical privileges and therefore exempt from disclosure under RCW 70.44.062(1)). If the records were generated during a general investigation into Dr. Cornu-Labat’s alleged misconduct, then this exemption would not apply.
Finally, the Court rejected the Hospital’s argument that the confidentiality provision of Dr. Cornu-Labat’s employment contract precluded the Doctor from requesting hospital records involving members of its medical staff. The Doctor’s identity and his employment contract were irrelevant “because the PRA states that agencies may not inquire into the identity of the requestor or the reason for the request.” Employment contracts “cannot override the PRA.”