26 F.3d 254 (1st Cir. 1994), 93-1581, Rockwell v. Cape Cod Hosp.

Docket Nº:93-1581.
Citation:26 F.3d 254
Party Name:Susan ROCKWELL, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. CAPE COD HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:June 16, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 254

26 F.3d 254 (1st Cir. 1994)

Susan ROCKWELL, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

CAPE COD HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 93-1581.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 16, 1994

Heard Jan. 4, 1994.

Page 255

Steven J. Schwartz, Ltd. with whom Susan Rockwell pro se was on brief for appellant.

Cailie Currin and Timothy A. Clune on brief, for Disability Advocates, Inc., amicus curiae.

John M. Dellea, with whom Jeanmarie Papelian, Ficksman & Conley, were on the briefs, for appellee Joan Marie Corr, M.D.

Leslie Lockard and Gaffin & Krattenmaker, P.C., were on the brief for appellee Cape Cod Hosp.

Colleen M. McKenna, with whom Mary Morrissey Sullivan, Richard L. Nahigian and Sullivan, Sullivan & Pinta, were on brief, for appellees Benjamin Ianzito, M.D. and Cape Cod Hosp.

Joel I. Klein, Paul M. Smith and Klein, Farr, Smith & Taranto on brief, for The American Psychiatric Ass'n, amicus curiae.

Before TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, ALDRICH, Senior Circuit Judge, and STAHL, Circuit Judge.

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

Susan Rockwell ("Rockwell") brought this 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action pro se in the district court against Cape Cod Hospital ("the Hospital"), a private institution, and two private physicians, who pursuant to Mass.Gen.L. ch. 123, Sec. 12, involuntarily restrained her, admitted her to the Hospital and gave her medication. The doctors moved to dismiss the complaint. The court allowed the motion and entered final judgment in this case, dismissing all claims against all defendants.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review the grant of a motion to dismiss de novo, taking the allegations in the complaint as true and making all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff. Rumford Pharmacy, Inc. v. East Providence, 970 F.2d 996, 997 (1st Cir.1992). We must liberally construe Rockwell's pro se complaint and affirm its dismissal only if she cannot prove any set of facts entitling her to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976).

BACKGROUND

On January 26, 1992, Rockwell entered the Emergency Room of the Hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts to inquire about the precise location and time of an Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") meeting which she knew was in a building on the grounds of the Hospital. Apparently concerned about her appearance, Hospital personnel suggested that she speak with a social worker. Rockwell agreed to do so, in lieu of her regular AA meeting.

After a brief conversation, the social worker contacted a Hospital physician, Dr. Joan Corr ("Dr. Corr"). Over Rockwell's objection, Dr. Corr ordered that her body and clothes be searched. According to Rockwell, she asked to telephone both her father, who is a physician, and her private psychiatrist, Dr. Christine Barney, but her requests were denied. Rockwell maintains that she then

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urged Dr. Corr to call her treating therapist, but that request was also ignored. Without her consent, Dr. Corr telephoned the local mental health center and obtained access to her psychiatric records maintained by that facility.

Dr. Corr ordered that Rockwell be physically restrained. After Rockwell refused to consent to medication, Dr. Corr ordered the forcible administration of anti-psychotic drugs. Dr. Corr signed the order admitting Rockwell to the Cape Cod Hospital on the evening of January 26, 1992 without Rockwell's consent.

According to Rockwell, she was awakened after midnight, while heavily drugged, and told to sign a "voluntary application" for admission to the Hospital. Rockwell repeatedly asked to see another doctor and to be released to the care of her treating psychiatrist. On January 27, 1992, Rockwell was allowed to sign a request for discharge. Dr. Benjamin Ianzato, another Hospital physician, examined Rockwell that same day and found no indications of dangerousness, suicidal thinking, or need for involuntary detention. On January 28, he agreed to discharge her to the care of a friend with the concurrence of her personal physician.

On January 19, 1993, Rockwell filed a civil rights action in the district court, seeking damages against Dr. Corr, Dr. Ianzato, the Hospital, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1 for the violation of her federal constitutional rights to free speech, liberty, privacy, and procedural due process. Rockwell alleged that she was illegally and unnecessarily committed by doctors Corr and Ianzato and thereby deprived of her physical freedom and privacy. She also claimed that she was improperly confined by the Hospital. The complaint further alleged that both physicians and the Hospital physically restrained and forcibly drugged her, without cause and without legal authority. Finally, the complaint stated that Rockwell, while heavily sedated and partially asleep, was coerced into signing a voluntary admission form by Dr. Corr and the Hospital.

The defendants moved to dismiss. On April 16, 1993, the district court entered a final judgment in this case, dismissing all claims against all defendants. The district court held that Dr. Corr was immune from liability under a state statutory provision, Mass.Gen.L. ch. 123, Sec. 22. The district court also concluded that Rockwell's complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that defendants Corr, Ianzato, and Cape Cod Hospital acted under color of state law as required to state a civil rights cause of action.

On appeal, Rockwell argues that the district court erred (1) in concluding that the defendant-appellants did not act under color of state law, (2) by failing to construe her pro se complaint leniently, and (3) by not affording her an opportunity to amend her complaint before dismissing the action. Rockwell also challenges the district court's conclusion that Dr. Corr was immune from liability under state law.

DISCUSSION

"Title 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 provides a remedy for deprivations of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States when that deprivation takes place 'under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory....' " Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924, 102 S.Ct. 2744, 2747, 73 L.Ed.2d 482 (1982). In order to state a claim under Sec. 1983, a plaintiff must show both the existence of a federal constitutional or statutory right, and a deprivation of that right by a person acting under color of state law. Watterson v...

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