112 F.3d 682 (3rd Cir. 1997), 96-3412, Lake v. Arnold

Docket Nº:96-3412.
Citation:112 F.3d 682
Party Name:Elizabeth J. Arnold LAKE, Justin Wilson Lake, husband and wife, Appellants, v. Frederick S. ARNOLD, Audrey L. Arnold, husband and wife, Daniel M. Friday, M.D., Tyrone Hospital, Ralph W. Crawford, M.D.
Case Date:May 02, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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112 F.3d 682 (3rd Cir. 1997)

Elizabeth J. Arnold LAKE, Justin Wilson Lake, husband and

wife, Appellants,


Frederick S. ARNOLD, Audrey L. Arnold, husband and wife,

Daniel M. Friday, M.D., Tyrone Hospital, Ralph W.

Crawford, M.D.

No. 96-3412.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

May 2, 1997

Argued March 10, 1997.

As Amended May 15, 1997.

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Kristin M. Banasick (argued), Bedford, PA, for appellants.

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Stephen D. Wicks, Altoona, PA, for appellees Frederick S. Arnold And Audrey L. Arnold.

David R. Bahl (argued) McCormick, Reeder, Nichols, Bahl, Knecht & Person, Williamsport, PA, for appellees Daniel M. Friday, M.D. and Ralph W. Crawford, M.D.

John V. DeMarco (argued) Sherry, McCrory & Doyle, Pittsburgh, PA, for appellee Tyrone Hospital.

Before: MANSMANN and LEWIS, Circuit Judges and DUPLANTIER, District Judge. [*]


MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal from the dismissal of civil rights claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) presents a question of first impression for us: whether a plaintiff's status as a mentally retarded female 1 places her within a cognizable class entitled to protection under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). We must also determine whether the plaintiffs' allegations of state action for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are sufficient to withstand the defendants' motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Because we are convinced that the plaintiffs have succeeded in stating a cause of action under both 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we will reverse the order of the district court.


On May 31, 1995, Elizabeth Arnold Lake and her husband, Justin Lake, filed suit in a Pennsylvania state court alleging, in addition to several state law claims, the deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1983. Named as defendants were Elizabeth Lake's parents, Tyrone Hospital, and two of the hospital staff physicians. The plaintiffs allege generally that in June, 1977, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Lake was taken to Tyrone Hospital by her parents where she underwent a tubal ligation. Elizabeth states that she was unable to give informed consent to the operation because she was illiterate and retarded. The plaintiffs allege that they were not made aware of the nature of the surgery which had been performed until Elizabeth underwent a medical examination in December, 1993.

Tyrone Hospital removed the action to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and all defendants filed motions to dismiss the federal claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Following amendment of the complaint, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation, advising that the section 1985(3) and 1983 claims be dismissed and that the remaining claims be remanded to the state court. The section 1985(3) claim was deemed deficient based on the magistrate judge's conclusion that "handicapped persons were neither intended to be a class nor reasonably [can] be considered to be a class for purpose of section 1985(3)." The magistrate judge found that the section 1983 claim failed adequately to allege state action on the part of Tyrone Hospital or the defendant doctors. Following de novo review, the district court adopted the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge dismissing the federal claims and remanding the remaining claims to state court. This timely appeal followed.



We exercise plenary review of the district court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' federal claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir.1993). In reviewing the order we must accept as true each of the factual allegations set forth in the complaint, D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Voc. Tech. School, 972 F.2d 1364, 1367 (3d Cir.1992). We are particularly vigilant in reviewing orders dismissing

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claims alleging civil rights violations; we will "not affirm a dismissal at the pleading stage, unless it is readily discerned that the facts cannot support entitlement to relief." Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 989 F.2d 117, 118 (3d Cir.1993). With this liberal standard in mind, we turn to the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants conspired to deprive her of the "fundamental right to procreation" in violation of section 1985(3). 2


The requirements for establishing a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) are set forth in a line of Supreme Court cases beginning with the decision in Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 91 S.Ct. 1790, 29 L.Ed.2d 338 (1971). There, the Supreme Court clarified that the reach of section 1985(3) is limited to private conspiracies predicated on "racial, or perhaps otherwise class based, invidiously discriminatory animus." Id. at 102, 91 S.Ct. at 1798. The Court strictly construed the requirement of class-based invidious animus in United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 610 v. Scott, 463 U.S. 825, 103 S.Ct. 3352, 77 L.Ed.2d 1049 (1983), finding that commercial and economic animus could not form the basis for a section 1985(3) claim. Read together, these two cases establish that in order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege: (1) a conspiracy; (2) motivated by a racial or class based discriminatory animus designed to deprive, directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons to the equal protection of the laws; (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (4) an injury to person or property or the deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States. Id. at 828-29, 103 S.Ct. at 3356; Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. at 102-03, 91 S.Ct. at 1798-99. The vitality of this analysis was reaffirmed in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 268, 113 S.Ct. 753, 758-59, 122 L.Ed.2d 34 (1993).

The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' claim under section 1985(3) based solely upon its conclusion that Elizabeth Lake's membership in the class of handicapped individuals did not entitle her to the protection afforded by section 1985(3). The issue posed by this dismissal requires us to confront an issue which we have recognized but have not been compelled to address until now: whether the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) is sufficiently broad to protect the mentally retarded as a class. 3

There are no precise parameters defining the boundaries of "class" within the meaning of section 1985(3). "The best that can be said of § 1985(3) jurisprudence thus far is that it has been marred by fits and starts, plagued by inconsistencies, and left in flux by the Supreme Court." Trautz v. Weisman, 819 F.Supp. 282, 291 (S.D.N.Y.1993). 4 In both Griffin and Scott the Supreme Court left open the possibility that section...

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