Wang v. Heck – Case Brief Summary (California)

In Wang v. Heck (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 677, the appellate court affirmed a summary judgment on grounds the section 47(b) privilege barred a plaintiff motorist's negligence claim against a neurologist who had filled out a medical evaluation form for a patient that was relied upon by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to reinstate the patient's license. (Wang, at pp. 679, 681.)

The plaintiff in Wang sought to avoid the privilege's application by arguing the negligence was not the completion of the DMV medical evaluation form, but the neurologist's treatment of the patient before that time and her failure to warn the patient not to drive. (Id. at pp. 685, 686.)

The Court of Appeal rejected that argument.

It reasoned none of the plaintiff's causes of action could stand without relying on the neurologist's completion of the DMV medical evaluation form. (Id. at p. 684.)

It pointed out that the neurologist was a participant authorized by law to complete the form, and "although the neurologist did not complete the DMV evaluation form for purposes of testifying in judicial proceedings," the form was used in a "'"truth-seeking proceeding,"'" that is, it was used in the DMV administrative hearing in order for the DMV hearing officer to determine whether to reinstate the patient's license. (Id. at p. 685.)

Further, the form was completed to achieve the object of the DMV hearing: to determine the patient's fitness for driving. (Ibid.)

The court stated: "It is clear that the neurologist's conduct prior to completing the ... DMV evaluation form was the basis of her communication in completing the form. Although appellants attempt to characterize their claim as medical negligence by failing to warn the patient not to drive, the basis of their complaint is the neurologist's statement on the DMV medical evaluation form that the patient could drive safely." (Id. at p. 686.)

In concluding the gravamen of the plaintiff's action was communicative, the Wang court's focus was not on the neurologist's testimonial function at a judicial proceeding, but the use of the neurologist's report in connection with that proceeding.