134 F.3d 260 (4th Cir. 1998), 97-1218, S.P. v. City of Takoma Park, Md.

Docket Nº:97-1218.
Citation:134 F.3d 260
Party Name:S.P., a Citizen of Takoma Park, Maryland, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The CITY OF TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND; Robert Phillips, in his official capacity as Chief of the Takoma Park Police Department; Brian Rich, individually and in his capacity as an officer of the Takoma Park Police Department; Unknown and Unidentified Police Officers of the Takoma Police D
Case Date:January 15, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 260

134 F.3d 260 (4th Cir. 1998)

S.P., a Citizen of Takoma Park, Maryland, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

The CITY OF TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND; Robert Phillips, in his

official capacity as Chief of the Takoma Park Police

Department; Brian Rich, individually and in his capacity as

an officer of the Takoma Park Police Department; Unknown

and Unidentified Police Officers of the Takoma Police

Department who were present at and involved in the incidents

complained of herein, individually and in their capacity as

officers of the Takoma Park Police Department; Washington

Adventist Hospital; Cyril Hardy; James Buxbaum; Paul

O'Brien; Carla Cunningham; Marlene Wesley, Defendants-Appellees.

American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, Inc., Amicus Curiae,

Zuckert, Scoutt & Rasenberger, L.L.P., Movant.

No. 97-1218.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 15, 1998

Argued Oct. 1, 1997.

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ARGUED: Mark McLaughlin Hager, Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, DC, for Appellant. Daniel Karp, Allen, Johnson, Alexander & Karp, Baltimore, MD; Alan Douglas Titus, Carr, Goodson, Lee & Warner, P.C., Washington, DC; Andrew Edward Vernick, Wharton, Levin, Ehrmantraut, Klein & Nash, Annapolis, MD, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Michelle L. Bower, Allen, Johnson, Alexander & Karp, Baltimore, MD, for Appellees. Dwight H. Sullivan, American Civil Liberties Union Of Maryland, Baltimore, MD; David B. Isbell, Mark H. Lynch, Nancy Dickinson, Covington & Burling, Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae.

Before HAMILTON and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges, and BUTZNER, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge WILLIAMS wrote the opinion, in which Judge HAMILTON and Senior Judge BUTZNER joined.

OPINION

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, we address the Fourth Amendment concerns attendant to the involuntary seizure and transportation of an individual by police officers to a private medical facility for an emergency psychiatric evaluation. Susan Peller, claiming that her civil rights were violated when she was involuntarily detained for an emergency evaluation, brought suit under 42 U.S.C.A. # 8E8E # 1983 (West Supp.1997) & 1985 (West 1994), against several City of Takoma Park police officers, including Police Chief Robert Phillips and Officer Brian Rich; the Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) and several of its personnel; and the City of Takoma Park.

Pursuant to defendants' motions for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court granted Officer Rich and the other unnamed Takoma Park officers qualified immunity on the ground that Peller failed to allege facts establishing a violation of clearly established law. Additionally, the court dismissed the claims against WAH and its personnel, concluding that they were not acting under color of state law when they treated Peller. 1 The district court denied Takoma Park's motion to dismiss. After discovery by both parties, however, the court subsequently granted Takoma

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Park's summary judgment motion on the ground that there was no causal link between the city's involuntary commitment policy and Peller's injuries. For reasons discussed fully below, we affirm.

I.

The following facts, unless otherwise noted, are based upon the allegations in Peller's complaint. See Jenkins v. Medford, 119 F.3d 1156, 1159 (4th Cir.1997) (en banc) (noting that for purposes of reviewing a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of Federal Rules Civil Procedure we must assume that the facts as stated in the complaint are true), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 881, 139 L.Ed.2d 869 (1997). On the morning of May 6, 1992, Peller and her husband had an argument in their home in Takoma Park, Maryland. As a result of the argument, Mr. Peller left the house at about 9:30 a.m. He went to a coffee shop and telephoned information. He requested a listing for a "mental health hot-line." (J.A. at 7.) After the operator informed him that there was no such listing, Mr. Peller called the police department's business line and asked for a referral to a marriage counselor.

The non-emergency police dispatcher to whom Mr. Peller was speaking, for reasons that are not clear from the record, transferred his call to an emergency dispatcher. Mr. Peller reiterated his request for a marriage counselor referral. The emergency dispatcher, after first gathering routine information regarding Peller's address and current location, told Mr. Peller that the only listing she had was for a suicide hot-line. After further conversation with Mr. Peller, the emergency dispatcher sent police officers to the Pellers' home to investigate. Police dispatch records submitted with Takoma Park's motion for summary judgment confirm that the dispatcher informed the officers that the problem at the home was a "possible suicidal person: Susan Peller." (J.A. at 256.)

At approximately 9:48 a.m., four uniformed officers, including Officer Rich, arrived at the Peller home. When the officers arrived, Mrs. Peller was visibly agitated and crying. She stated that she and her husband had had a "painful argument." (J.A. at 10.) After additional conversation between Officer Rich and Mrs. Peller, Sergeant Bonn, 2 Officer Rich's supervisor, entered the room. He decided that the officers should take Peller to the hospital for an emergency psychiatric evaluation. Peller disagreed and resisted leaving her home. As a result, the officers were required to handcuff her before removing her from her home.

Upon arrival at WAH with Peller, Officer Rich prepared a petition seeking an emergency psychiatric evaluation under Maryland law. See Md.Code Ann., Health-Gen. I. § 10-622(a) (1994). His petition reported:

I responded to Ms. Peller's home for a check on welfare. Ms. Peller's husband called the police to report that she may commit suicide. Upon our arrival Ms. Peller [were] very upset and distraught. She told us [that] if it was not for her kids she would end her life. She told me [that] she would disappear by the end of the day. She appeared very upset and irrational. We then felt she was in danger of hurting herself and took her to WAH for mental evaluation.

(J.A. at 270.) Upon receipt of Officer Rich's properly executed petition, two WAH emergency room physicians, Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Buxbaum, examined Peller to determine whether she met the statutory criteria for involuntary admission. See Md.Code Ann., Health-Gen. I § 10-624(b) (1994). After their examination, the doctors concluded that Peller had a mental disorder, needed inpatient care, presented a danger to herself, was unable or unwilling to be voluntarily committed, and there was no less restrictive intervention available. These findings met the requirements of Maryland law for involuntary admission. See Md.Code Ann., Health-Gen. I § 10-617 (1994).

Shortly after the completion of the examination, Peller telephoned her husband. He subsequently contacted WAH to report that

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his wife's detention was the result of a grave error and miscommunication with the police department. Because the doctors had diagnosed Peller as "depression/suicidal," (J.A. at 272-73), and had determined that she met the qualifications for involuntary detention under Maryland law, the WAH staff refused to release Peller into her husband's custody. Instead, the WAH personnel, following statutory procedures, involuntarily admitted Peller to WAH that afternoon, several hours after the police had removed her from her home.

The next evening, May 7, WAH's attending psychiatrist, Dr. Cyril Hardy, gave Peller a complete psychiatric examination and determined that she was neither suicidal nor suffering from a mental disorder at that time. As a result of Dr. Hardy's new diagnosis, Peller was released from WAH on the morning of May 8, 1992.

II.

Peller has narrowed her issues on appeal to three claims. First, she claims that the police officers violated clearly established law when they seized and transported her to WAH without probable cause and, therefore, are not entitled to qualified immunity. Second, she argues that WAH, Nurse Wesley, and Dr. Hardy were acting under color of state law when they caused her to be involuntarily committed and, therefore, are subject to liability under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. Finally, Peller contends that Takoma Park's emergency psychiatric detention policy, as interpreted and applied within its police department, unconstitutionally deprived her of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. We will address each of Peller's claims in turn.

A.

Peller first argues that the district court erroneously dismissed her claims against the police officers in their individual capacities. She contends that she stated a claim upon which relief could be granted by alleging that the police violated clearly established law when they involuntarily detained her without probable cause. After a de novo review, see Jenkins v. Medford, 119 F.3d 1156, 1159 (4th Cir.1997) (en banc), we conclude that Peller failed to allege facts demonstrating the violation of clearly established law; therefore, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. See Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 306-08, 116 S.Ct. 834, 839, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996) (holding that a defendant pleading qualified immunity on a motion to dismiss is entitled to prevail if the allegations in the complaint fail to state a claim of violation of clearly established law); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2815, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985) ("Unless [a] plaintiff's allegations state a claim of violation of clearly established law, a...

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