Epstein Becker Green achieved a big win for its client, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (the “Medical School”). Defense counsel representing Kentile Floors, a defendant in an asbestos personal injury litigation, subpoenaed the Medical School seeking all of the research records and personal correspondence of Dr. Irving Selikoff, a now deceased former member of the Medical School’s faculty. Dr. Selikoff’s work is world renown as he was the first to identify the link between asbestos exposure and disease. Defense lawyers have striven for years to discredit Dr. Selikoff’s research in the asbestos litigation. The Medical School is constantly fending off these subpoenas and dealing with related litigation. Other research institutions face similar challenges and have expressed the concern that a court ruling requiring the Medical School to produce the private correspondence and memoranda of a faculty member not otherwise involved in the underlying litigation would have a chilling effect on the willingness of other scientists whose research would benefit public health or enhance workplace safety. Epstein Becker Green successfully fought back this latest effort and was rewarded with an excellent and strongly worded decision that provides most significantly that the:
expense Mt. Sinai would incur as a result of such a broad interpretation of the subpoena could well discourage other institutions from conducting vital health and safety research. Other scholars in the laboratory may fear that their unpublished notes, observations and ideas could be released to the public as a result of litigation. Although a scholar’s right to academic freedom is not absolute, it should factor into a court’s analysis on whether forced disclosure of documents in permissible (see, In R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 136 Misc.2d supra at 287).