In 2013, Drug Enforcement Agency investigators and Texas Medical Board agents arrived at Dr. Joseph Zadeh’s office, demanding to see the medical files of 16 patients. They did not have a warrant, but they did have threats: the DEA investigators admit they claimed there would be “disciplinary action” if the records weren’t handed over; Zadeh’s assistant remembers investigators saying the doctor’s medical license would be suspended if the office didn’t comply. Dr. Zadeh himself wasn’t in, and the DEA investigators refused to leave until the records were handed over. Eventually, they were.
Does the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures protect doctors and their patients from state investigators using threats to secure medical records without a warrant? Yes, in theory, said the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Dr. Zadeh’s constitutional rights were violated. But not in practice. The court ruled that the right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures of medical records was not “clearly established” enough to overcome the state’s claim of qualified immunity for the DEA investigators, and thus, Dr. Zadeh was not entitled to any form of relief.
Dr. Zadeh has appealed to the Supreme Court and awaits certiorari.
Read the full opinion