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Baugh v. Woodard

Filed: March 2, 1982.

PAUL MACK BAUGH
v.
JAMES C. WOODARD, SECRETARY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION



Appeal by plaintiff from Preston, Judge. Order entered 3 March 1981 in Superior Court, Wake County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 2 February 1982.

Hedrick, Judge. Judges Hill and Becton concur.

Hedrick

"A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is indeed converted to a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment

when matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court." Stanback v. Stanback, 297 N.C. 181, 205, 254 S.E.2d 611, 627 (1979); G.S. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b). In the present case, the court considered live testimony, and, hence, its ruling must be reviewed as if it were a ruling on a motion for summary judgment. See Roach v. City of Lenoir, 44 N.C. App. 608, 261 S.E.2d 299 (1980). "Summary judgment may be granted . . . where only a question of law . . . is in controversy. . . ." Calhoun v. Calhoun, 18 N.C. App. 429, 432, 197 S.E.2d 83, 85 (1973). In the present case, plaintiff presents three different legal theories to support his claim for direct access to his mental health records. In two of these theories, i.e., that he has a statutory right and common law right to direct access, purely legal questions are presented. His third theory rests on three constitutional arguments in favor of direct access; in these arguments, plaintiff contends that a regulation made by defendant which restricts access to mental health records is unconstitutional. Since the general rule is that the constitutionality of a statute is to be determined from merely an examination of the statute itself and of only those matters of which the court may take judicial notice, State ex rel. Maxwell v. Kent-Coffey Manufacturing Co., 204 N.C. 365, 168 S.E. 397 (1933), aff'd per curiam, 291 U.S. 642, 78 L. Ed. 1040, 54 S. Ct. 437 (1934), plaintiff's constitutional arguments present a question of law and are properly susceptible to summary judgment. Since this cause revolves only around questions of law, plaintiff's assignment of error directed to the admission of certain testimony pertaining to a constitutional issue is irrelevant to this appeal. Further, it should be noted in this review of the court's entry of summary judgment, that findings of fact and conclusions of law made by a trial judge in his determination on a motion for summary judgment are disregarded on appeal. Stone v. Conder, 46 N.C. App. 190, 264 S.E.2d 760 (1980). Hence plaintiff's assignment of error directed to certain findings of fact made by the trial judge are irrelevant to this appeal.

Plaintiff's first theory is that he is entitled to have access to his mental health records by the language of G.S. § 122-55.2, which prescribes the rights of patients in "treatment facilities," and states,

that no restriction may be placed upon the right of any patient to communicate with an attorney of the patient's choice,

to have the attorney visit with him and, with the consent of the patient, to have the attorney provided with copies of all pertinent records and information relating to the patient.

Plaintiff argues that he is covered by G.S. § 122-55.2 in that he is a patient in a treatment facility as defined by G.S. § 122-36(g), which states that

"[t]reatment facility" mean shall any hospital or institution operated by the State of North Carolina and designated for the admission of any person in need of care and treatment due to mental illness. . . .

Assuming arguendo that even non-prisoner "treatment facility" patients may require disclosure to them of their mental health records absent a court order compelling such disclosure, but see G.S. § 122-8.1(a), the legislature could not have contemplated that prison-operated mental health facilities be included within the meaning of "treatment facility" as defined in G.S. § 122-36(g). If they were so included, then prisoners undergoing mental health care in prison would be entitled, by virtue of G.S. § 122-55.2 and their mere status as mental health patients, to a whole panoply of rights and privileges not afforded to ordinary prisoners not receiving mental health treatment. For instance, G.S. § 122-55.2(b)(5), (b)(5), (d) would afford a prisoner undergoing mental health treatment with the right, subject to restriction only upon a detailed written statement of the reasons for such restriction, to "[k]eep and use his own clothing and personal possessions"; hence, such prisoner could keep and use more than two sets of personal clothing, shoes with heels of more than one and a half inches in height, and radios worth more than fifty dollars apiece. Ordinary prisoners, on the other hand, generally are limited to no more than two sets of personal clothing, 5 NCAC 2F .0502(b)(2), (3), (4); are never permitted to have shoes with heel heights of more than one and a half inches, 5 NCAC 2F .0502(a)(1), (b)(1); and are never permitted to have radios worth more than fifty dollars apiece, 5 NCAC 2F .0503(6). The legislature could not have intended such a disparity between those prisoners receiving mental health care and those who were not. In construing a statute, "[t]he General Assembly is presumed to have acted in accord with reason and common sense and not to have intended an unjust or absurd result." Grissom v. North Carolina Department of Page 184} Revenue, 28 N.C. App. 277, 280, 220 S.E.2d 872, 875, disc. rev. denied, 289 N.C. 613, 223 S.E.2d 391 (1976). Hence, prisoners receiving mental health care are not covered by G.S. §§ 122-36(g), --55.2; the statute applies only to mental health patients who are not imprisoned with the Department of Corrections. As to mental health patients who are in the custody of the Department of Corrections, their rights and privileges are determined by the rules and regulations adopted by the Department of Corrections pursuant to G.S. § 143B-261.1. Plaintiff's statutory theory is therefore without merit.

Plaintiff also advances the theory that "prisoners have a common law right to inspect their psychiatric records." The common law rule, however, is that prison records of inmates are confidential and are not subject to inspection by the inmate concerned. Goble v. Bounds, 281 N.C. 307, 188 S.E.2d 347 (1972); see also Paine v. Baker, 595 F.2d 197 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 925, 62 L. Ed. 2d 181, 100 S. Ct. 263 (1979). Although there are exceptions to the common law prohibition of disclosure, see, e.g., 5 NCAC 2D .0601(b) (permitting disclosure to an inmate's attorney of medical records, except for psychiatric or psychological evaluations), the rule in Goble remains as a refutation of ...


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