77 F.3d 540 (1st Cir. 1996), 95-1731, McCabe v. Life-Line Ambulance Service, Inc.

Docket Nº:95-1731.
Citation:77 F.3d 540
Party Name:Mary McCABE, etc., Plaintiff, Appellee, v. LIFE-LINE AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC., Defendants, Appellees, The City of Lynn, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:February 29, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 540

77 F.3d 540 (1st Cir. 1996)

Mary McCABE, etc., Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

LIFE-LINE AMBULANCE SERVICE, INC., Defendants, Appellees,

The City of Lynn, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 95-1731.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 29, 1996

Heard Nov. 8, 1995.

Page 541

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts; Hon. Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Judge.

Page 542

Charles M. Burnim, Marblehead, MA, with whom Michael J. Barry, Framingham, MA, and George S. Markopoulos, Lynn, MA, were on brief for appellant.

Charles M. Campo, Jr., with whom Floyd H. Anderson and Kassler & Feuer, P.C., Boston, MA, were on brief, for appellee McCabe.

Before CYR, BOUDIN and STAHL, Circuit Judges.

CYR, Circuit Judge.

In this appeal by the City of Lynn ("City"), we consider whether an established City policy, permitting forcible, warrantless entries of private residences to enforce involuntary civil commitment orders, violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment for plaintiff Mary McCabe, administratrix of the estate of Ruchla Zinger, a Holocaust survivor who died in her Lynn home during a tragic attempt by City police to execute an involuntary commitment order which had been issued against her. For the reasons discussed in this opinion, we conclude that the challenged City policy came within an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

I

BACKGROUND

Ms. Zinger, a 64-year-old Lynn, Massachusetts, resident with a history of mental illness and psychiatric hospitalization, as well as severe obesity and high blood pressure, resisted all attempts at communication and intervention by family members. She refused to be examined by a doctor after threatening her former husband with physical harm and upsetting her downstairs neighbors by causing loud and violent disturbances in her apartment, thereby prompting her family to initiate eviction proceedings against her. 1 Subsequently, on September 6, 1989, a licensed psychiatrist, Dr. Jakov Barden, signed an application [hereinafter: "pink paper"] for a ten-day involuntary commitment of Ms. Zinger pursuant to Mass.Gen.Laws Ann. ch. 123, § 12(a), based exclusively on the reports of family members and neighbors as to Ms. Zinger's physical and behavioral symptoms.

The next morning, Constable Kenneth Jackson, who had been unsuccessful in previous attempts to serve Ms. Zinger with an eviction notice, and was scheduled to execute a judgment of eviction against her at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon, learned that the pink paper had been issued against Ms. Zinger the night before, and contacted the Lynn police department. The constable informed the Lynn police, based on his experience with Ms. Zinger, that he believed she would resist committal. The constable and the Lynn police officers arranged to meet at the Zinger apartment building at 1:00 p.m., to execute the pink paper and the eviction order.

Three Lynn police officers and the constable arrived at the Zinger apartment building at the appointed hour, accompanied by a crew from the Life-Line Ambulance Service, which had been engaged to restrain Ms. Zinger as necessary, physically remove her from the apartment, and transport her to the hospital. After receiving no response to their knocks, the officers kicked in the outside apartment-house door and proceeded upstairs to the Zinger apartment. The officers knocked and announced their presence, received no response, and began to kick in the Zinger apartment door. Ms. Zinger began screaming "Why are you kicking in my door?" then cracked it open. Identifying themselves as police, the officers told her that they were going to bring her under medical care, to which she responded: "No doctors!" When she began to close the door, the officers shoved their way inside. Later, while the officers were forcibly removing her from the apartment, Ms. Zinger suffered a cardio-respiratory arrest and died. 2

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After McCabe, as administratrix, instituted this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, amongst others, 3 in September 1992, an amended complaint alleged an established City policy permitting police officers to execute pink papers by means of forcible, warrantless entries into private residences absent demonstrable exigent circumstances, and that this City policy proximately caused an actionable deprivation of Ms. Zinger's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. 4 After hearing, the district court granted the McCabe cross-motion for summary judgment against the City on the issue of liability. McCabe v. City of Lynn, 875 F.Supp. 53, 63 (D.Mass.1995). In the ensuing trial, the jury awarded $850,000 in damages against the City and $500,000 against Life-Line Ambulance. The City thereupon brought this appeal from the final judgment entered against it.

II

DISCUSSION

  1. District Court Opinion

    The district court found that the City policy violated the Fourth Amendment, for the following reasons. The City's own policy expert attested that the City did not require its officers to obtain a search warrant before effecting a warrantless entry of a residence to execute a pink paper, leaving it instead to the discretion of the officers whether and when such a warrantless entry was necessary. Id. at 58. The district court noted that warrantless, nonconsensual entries into private residences are presumptively "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment, absent exigent circumstances. Id. at 58-59. Although imminent threats to the lives and safety of the police officers, or members of the public, often give rise to exigent circumstances justifying an immediate warrantless entry, the court found that "the Lynn police acted with leisure in arranging a convenient time" to serve the pink paper upon Ms. Zinger, thereby belying any contention that " 'some real[,] immediate or serious consequences [would occur] if [the officers] postponed action to get a warrant.' " Id. at 59, 62 (citation omitted).

    The district court nonetheless recognized that even absent exigent circumstances the warrant requirement may not be applicable in certain regulatory contexts wherein warrantless search procedures serve as invaluable "administrative tool[s]" and are "far less invasive" than searches directed at discovering evidence of crime. Id. at 59-60. The court identified two factors which weighed against a ruling that the challenged City policy came within this special regulatory category. First, unlike a judicial officer, the licensed medical-psychiatric physicians authorized to issue pink papers under Mass.Gen.Laws Ann. ch. 123, § 12(a), are "not

    Page 544

    qualified to determine whether probable cause exists." Id. at 61. Second, "the agents of the doctors in this case are police officers with guns and batons, not hospital orderlies and nurses," so that "[t]here is no therapeutic relationship which a warrant mechanism would disrupt." Id.

  2. Standard of Review

    We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, to determine whether "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Velez-Gomez v. SMA Life Assurance Co., 8 F.3d 873, 874-75 (1st Cir.1993). All competent evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable to the party resisting summary judgment. Id.

  3. Applicable Law

    A municipal liability claim under § 1983 requires proof that the municipality maintained a policy or custom which caused, or was the moving force behind, a deprivation of constitutional rights. See, e.g., Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 819, 105 S.Ct. 2427, 2434, 85 L.Ed.2d 791 (1985); Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978); Bordanaro v. McLeod, 871 F.2d 1151, 1156 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 820, 110 S.Ct. 75, 107 L.Ed.2d 42 (1989).

    The Fourth Amendment applies not only to governmental searches and seizures in criminal investigations, but also in various civil proceedings. See Soldal v. Cook County, Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 69-71, 113 S.Ct. 538, 548, 121 L.Ed.2d 450 (1992); O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 715, 107 S.Ct. 1492, 1496, 94 L.Ed.2d 714 (1987) ("[B]ecause the individual's interest in privacy and personal security 'suffers whether the government's motivation is to investigate violations of criminal laws or breaches of other statutory or regulatory standards,' ... it would be 'anomalous to say that the individual and his private property are fully protected by the Fourth Amendment only when the individual is suspected of criminal behavior.' ") (quoting New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 335, 105 S.Ct. 733, 739, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985)). Included among the civil proceedings in which the Fourth Amendment applies are involuntary commitment proceedings for dangerous persons suffering from mental illness. See Glass v. Mayas, 984 F.2d 55, 58 (2d Cir.1993); Villanova v. Abrams, 972 F.2d 792, 795-96 (7th Cir.1992).

    The fundamental inquiry under the Fourth Amendment is whether a particular search or search procedure is "reasonable" in the circumstances. See Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439-40, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 2527, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973); Wyman v. James, 400 U.S. 309, 318, 91 S.Ct. 381, 386, 27 L.Ed.2d 408 (1971); Camara v. Municipal Ct. of San Francisco, 387 U.S. 523, 538, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 1735-36, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967). Nonconsensual entries by government agents into a residence without a search or arrest warrant 5 are presumptively "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment. See...

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