A federal judge has ruled that Vanessa Bryant will not be required to undergo a psychological examination in connection with her lawsuit against the county of Los Angeles over photographs allegedly taken of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter—at least, not at this time.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick denied the county’s request Monday to force Bryan to submit to an independent evaluation on largely procedural grounds, finding that the request was moot as to some plaintiffs, and that filings made since the county’s request made the motion untimely.
“Because of settlements and dismissals postdating the filing of the Motion, the Motion is moot except as to Plaintiffs Vanessa Bryant and Christopher Chester [. . .] As to these Plaintiffs, the Motion is untimely unless and until the District Judge modifies the ‘Amended Scheduling and Case Management Order’ in these related cases,” Eick wrote.
“Therefore, the Motion is denied without prejudice,” Eick concluded, leaving the door open for the county to raise the issue in the future.
Bryant’s husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant died in a January 2020 helicopter crash that killed seven other people: 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli, her mother Keri Altobelli, and her father John Altobelli, a college baseball coach; 13-year-old Payton Chester, and her mother Sarah Chester; Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Harbor Day School; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
Bryant sued Los Angeles County, alleging that first responders took graphic pictures of the crash site and shared them online.
In February 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that L.A. County sheriff’s deputies had shared graphic photos of the scene just days after the tragic crash; in one instance, a deputy reportedly showed the pictures to patrons at a bar.
The County of Los Angeles had asked the court earlier this month to order Bryant to submit to an independent psychiatric evaluation as part of the discovery process.
The motion argued that a court-ordered evaluation of Bryant and other plaintiffs, including minor children, was necessary in order to determine the full extent of their emotional injuries.
“Plaintiffs have put their mental condition in controversy by asserting claims for ongoing, severe emotional distress, anxiety and depression,” the county argued in its motion. Psychiatric evaluations are, therefore, “not only relevant, but necessary for the County to mount its defense to these claims and to evaluate the existence, extent and nature of Plaintiffs’ alleged emotional injuries,” the motion states.
Bryant’s lawyers disagreed, and argued that the county “has resorted to scorched earth discovery tactics designed to bully Plaintiffs into abandoning their pursuit of accountability.”
“It does not take an expert—and it certainly does not take an involuntary eight-hour psychiatric examination for a jury to assess the nature and extent of the emotional distress caused by Defendants’ misconduct,” Bryant’s lawyers said, adding that Bryan’s emotional distress “are the feelings that any reasonable person would experience if the public officials entrusted to protect the dignity of their deceased family members snapped graphic photos of their loved ones’ remains, used the photos for cocktail-hour entertainment, and failed to contain and secure the photos.”
LA County had also sought sanctions against Bryant, arguing that her refusal to sit for a psychological examination is “not in good faith.”
Eick’s ruling made no mention of the sanctions request.
Lawyers for LA County maintain that Bryant could not have suffered the emotional injuries she claims due to actions taken by LA County officials.
“The fact remains that no crash site photos taken by first responders have ever been publicly disseminated, as Ms. Bryant confirmed in her deposition,” Skip Miller, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for LA County in Bryant’s lawsuit. “We totally sympathize with the enormous loss she has suffered. But as a legal matter, we don’t believe she could be harmed by something that didn’t occur.”
Monday’s ruling was the second recent victory for Bryant in the case. She had previously sought to make LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby sit for depositions. On Oct. 26, Eick granted that request, finding that Bryant was justified in seeking the depositions, and that Villanueva and Osby had “unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge” relevant to the issues in the case.
Bryant’s case against LA County is set to go to trial on Feb. 22, 2022.
You can read Eick’s ruling, below.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from counsel for LA County.
[Image via YouTube screengrab]
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