Benefits Review Board Confirms Administrative Law Judges May Compel Claimants to Sign Medical Release Forms

In a recent case, Mugerwa v. Aegis Defense Services, BRB No. 17-0407 (4/27/18), the Benefits Review Board upheld an administrative law judge’s decision to compel the Claimant to sign medical release forms. The Benefits Review Board provided a set of rules for administrative law judges to follow when considering future requests to compel claimants to sign medical release forms.

Mugerwa v. Aegis Defense Services – Background

The Claimant, a Ugandan citizen and resident, alleged that he sustained an epigastric hernia due to his employment as a security guard in Afghanistan. He filed a claim under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, as extended by the Defense Base Act, in May of 2016. The Employer denied that the Claimant’s hernia was causally related to his employment.

Requests for Execution of Medical Release Forms

The Employer requested that the Claimant sign two medical release forms following his alleged injury. The Claimant refused and responded to the Employer’s discovery requests with documents that he asserted were the entirety of the relevant medical records. As the Office of Administrative Law Judges has no subpoena power in Uganda, the Employer filed a motion to compel the Claimant to sign the medical releases. The administrative law judge granted the motion.

The Claimant subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration. The administrative law judge issued a supplemental order granting the motion to compel, but imposed temporal limitations on the records the Claimant was required to produce. The Claimant appealed to the Benefits Review Board.

Law and Arguments

The administrative law judge’s supplemental order noted that the federal courts are split on whether judges are able to compel claimants to sign medical release forms. While parties can typically use subpoenas to obtain relevant documents, that was not an option in the instant claim due to Claimant’s residence in a foreign country. Accordingly, the administrative law judge concluded that a compelled medical release was the only means by which Employer could obtain the records at issue.

The Claimant contended that the compulsory execution of medical releases exceeded the permitted methods of discovery and that the administrative law judges lack the authority to compel the execution of medical release forms. The Benefits Review Board noted that administrative law judges have broad discretion to obtain relevant evidence and are not restricted to the discovery tools listed in the Office of Administrative Law Judges Rules.

However, recognizing Claimant’s concern over unfettered access to his medical records, the Benefits Review Board held that administrative law judges “have the authority to compel claimants to sign narrowly tailored medical releases when it is reasonable under the circumstances to do so.”

Rules to Follow When Compelling Claimants to Execute Medical Release Forms

The Benefits Review Board provided the following instructions upon remand:

  1. “[E]mployer must first establish a reasonable inference of the existence of additional relevant records in light of claimant’s assertion that he has produced all relevant records.” The burden is on the requesting party to produce evidence challenging a claimant’s assertion.
  2. If the claimant has “acted in good faith by producing his relevant medical records and employer has not shown the likely existence, relevance, and necessity of the additional requested medical information, the medical release forms are unnecessary, and the administrative law judge should deny employer’s motion to compel.”
  3. “If, however, the administrative law judge finds that claimant has acted in good faith but employer has shown the relevance and necessity of medical information held by a medical provider, or if employer establishes claimant has not acted in good faith, then the medical releases may be warranted.”
  4. “If they are needed, the administrative law judge must greatly narrow their scope or must order the parties to work together to generate mutually-agreeable medical release forms.”
  5. “If claimant refuses to sign the narrowed medical release forms, then the administrative law judge may grant employer’s motion to compel.”