Butler v. Commissioner of Mental Health, Civ. No. 3-78-258.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Eastern District of Tennessee
Citation463 F. Supp. 806
Docket NumberCiv. No. 3-78-258.
PartiesMiriam BUTLER v. COMMISSIONER OF MENTAL HEALTH, Director of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, Lakeshore Mental Health Institute.
Decision Date28 September 1978

Mark E. Olive, Mark Leedom, Knoxville, Tenn., for plaintiff.

Warren Butler, Dennis B. Francis, Staff Atty., for Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, Knoxville, Tenn.


ROBERT L. TAYLOR, District Judge.

The three defendants in this lawsuit have moved the Court for summary judgment of dismissal pursuant to Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P. claiming there is no material fact at issue and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The three defendants are being sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations, under color of state law, of plaintiff's constitutional rights. In deciding these motions, the Court has construed the pleadings and the affidavits submitted in the light most favorable to plaintiff to determine if she could prove any fact or facts which would indicate a violation of her constitutional rights.

I. Plaintiff's allegations

Plaintiff claims she was taken to defendant Lakeshore Mental Health Institute against her will on August 18, 1977, where she was admitted ostensibly under Tennessee's voluntary commitment statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 33-601. However, plaintiff claims she never knowingly signed any admission forms or any papers consenting to voluntary commitment. (See plaintiff's supporting affidavit). Plaintiff claims she was kept at Lakeshore for approximately 30 days, during which time she was heavily drugged so that she could not reasonably be expected to pursue the mandatory release procedure for voluntarily committed patients under T.C.A. § 33-601. While confined at Lakeshore, plaintiff claims she was raped by another patient, which she attributes to Lakeshore's placement of her in a ward which was not sexually segregated and which did not have enough supervisory attendants to prevent such incidents from occurring. Her suit seeks damages only. Again for the purpose of these motions, the Court will take all of plaintiff's allegations as true.

II. Defendant Lakeshore

The Lakeshore Mental Health Institute has moved for summary judgment on grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

In Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974), the Supreme Court renewed its interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment as granting states immunity from suits for damages in federal courts. Edelman expanded that interpretation so as to preclude even suits against state officials when the damages liability of the state official would be payable from public funds in the state treasury. The Court in Edelman, per Justice Rehnquist, also said a state could not be held to have waived its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment unless a waiver is stated "by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from the text as will leave no room for any other reasonable construction." 415 U.S. at 673, 94 S.Ct. at 1361, quoting Murray v. Wilson Distilling Co., 213 U.S. 151, 171, 29 S.Ct. 458, 53 L.Ed. 742 (1909).

Two interpretations of Edelman by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals are particularly relevant to Lakeshore's motion. In Soni v. Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee, 513 F.2d 347 (6th Cir. 1975), the Sixth Circuit held that a suit could be maintained in federal court against the University of Tennessee, on the grounds the state had expressly waived any claim to immunity regarding the University of Tennessee. The court focused on language in the University's original charter which allowed the University to "sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded, in any court of law or equity in this State or elsewhere." 513 F.2d at 352.

After Soni, however, the Sixth Circuit decided Long v. Richardson, 525 F.2d 74 (6th Cir. 1975), a suit against the President of Memphis State University. In Long, the Sixth Circuit held the Eleventh Amendment and Edelman barred a suit for damages in federal court against Memphis State University or its President, as such. The distinction between Long and Soni, the court pointed out, was based on Edelman's requirement that a waiver be "clear." The statutory authorization for Memphis State University gave the University trustees "comparable responsibility" to that given to the University of Tennessee but otherwise contained no express language, such as that found in Soni, authorizing suit against the University. The court, following Edelman, held there was no "clear" waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity for Memphis State as there had been for the University of Tennessee.

We are of the opinion that Long v. Richardson, supra, controls the disposition of the claim in this case against Lakeshore. As in Long, any liability for damages would have to come from public funds in the state treasury, so that Lakeshore falls within the protective umbrella of the Eleventh Amendment. And, as in Long, the statutory authorization for Lakeshore, T.C.A. 33-201, contains no express waiver of immunity like that found in Soni. Under Long and Edelman, any waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity must be "clear." No such clear, express waiver is to be found regarding Lakeshore Mental Health Institute. Accordingly, the suit against Lakeshore must be dismissed.

III. Defendants Marshall and Jordan

For the purpose of deciding the motions by the two individual defendants, the Court must assume that plaintiff claims the two individuals are personally liable, otherwise Edelman and Long, supra, would bar these actions as well in this Court. Defendant Marshall, the Superintendent of Lakeshore, and defendant Jordan, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation base their motions on the ground that respondeat superior is not a basis of liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. While defendants are correct in this regard, and while their reading of plaintiff's complaint as a respondeat superior claim appears to be the most reasonable reading of it, the Court cannot dismiss the claims on this basis. Reading the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the complaint can be reasonably interpreted to be a claim of direct, personal responsibility on the part of both defendants. This does not end the inquiry though, as we must look to see what the possible theories of the individual defendants' direct responsibility can be in this case. Not all theories of direct tort liability are cognizable as claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976).

Plaintiff's response to these motions states that the two individual defendants have statutory responsibilities. Defendant Marshall has a statutory duty to admit voluntary commitment patients and defendant Jordan has a statutory duty to be generally responsible for the institutions within his department. Nothing in the complaint, however, can be construed in any way to mean that either defendant violated these statutes.

Nevertheless, the individual defendants are under an obligation, found in common law if not in the statutes, to exercise reasonable care in the performance of their duties. Plaintiff's allegations that she was committed to Lakeshore with false consent papers, and subsequently raped by another patient due to inadequate supervision, do reasonably state a claim that the individual defendants breached some duty of care owed to the plaintiff. (The Court notes that plaintiff does not dispute defendants' affidavits stating they were never personally involved with the commitment or care of this plaintiff.) As such, the claim would be controlled by Puckett v. Cox, 456 F.2d 233 (6th Cir. 1972) (assuming without deciding that Puckett would still be good law after Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978)) in which the Sixth Circuit held negligence claims against state officials could be cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but that "more than an isolated incident" must be alleged, 456 F.2d at 235, quoting Williams v. Field, 416 F.2d 483, 485 (9th Cir. 1969). See also Spence v. Staras, 507 F.2d 554 (7th Cir. 1974). Plaintiff's complaint, under a theory of negligence, would be that defendants failed to prevent plaintiff's commitment with false consent papers and failed to protect her from a rape by another patient. No more than this is claimed. Acknowledging the grievous nature of the injuries these incidents would cause to plaintiff, this Court in determining whether plaintiff's claim is cognizable as a deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cannot interpret plaintiff's complaint to be anything more than a claim of two isolated incidents of negligence on the part of the defendants.

Finally, the Court makes reference to two other cases similar to this one. In O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486, 45 L.Ed.2d 396 (1975), the Supreme Court held that a state could not constitutionally confine someone in a mental institution against his will if he is neither dangerous to himself nor to others. A state official who does so intentionally would presumably be liable in damages for doing so. The difference here though, is that the individual defendants in this case, unlike the defendant in O'Connor, did not directly participate in the plaintiff's unconstitutional confinement, or, in O'Connor, continued confinement. O'Conner also recognized a qualified...

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6 cases
  • Clappier v. Flynn, 78-1109
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • 4 Septiembre 1979
    ...with which he is charged. (Emphasis supplied.) --- U.S. at p. ----, 99 S.Ct. at p. 2692. In Butler v. Commissioner of Mental Health, 463 F.Supp. 806 (E.D.Tenn., 1978), suit was filed against officials of the Tennessee State Mental Health Institute and the state Commissioner of Mental Health......
  • Demarco v. Sadiker, 93-CV-5938 (ARR).
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    ...protects officials from merely negligent violations. Nor is defendants' contention supported by Butler v. Commissioner of Mental Health, 463 F.Supp. 806, 808 (E.D.Tenn.1978). In Butler, the court concluded that the defendants had not directly participated in the plaintiff's unconstitutional......
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    • 3 Enero 1984
    ...Lillard v. Delaware State Hospital for the Chronically Ill, 552 F.Supp. 711, 719 (D.Del.1982); Butler v. Commissioner of Mental Health, 463 F.Supp. 806, 808 The Hospital contends additionally that it is not a "person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332......
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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 30 Diciembre 1987
    ...deliberate inaction present in [cases which have allowed negligence claims under Sec. 1983]." Butler v. Commissioner of Mental Health, 463 F.Supp. 806, 809-10 In the case at bar there is no allegation that other staff members engaged in conduct comparable to Holly's or that any patient othe......
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