Donaldson v. O'CONNOR

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation493 F.2d 507
Decision Date26 April 1974
Docket NumberNo. 73-1843.,73-1843.
PartiesKenneth DONALDSON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. J. B. O'CONNOR, M. D. and John Gumanis, M. D., Defendants-Appellants.


James G. Mahorner, Gen. Counsel, State of Fla., Dept. of Health & Rehabilitative Services, Tallahassee, Fla., for Gumanis.

Mary E. Clark, Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., Daniel S. Dearing, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Legal Affairs, Tallahassee, Fla., for O'Connor.

Morton Birnbaum, Brooklyn, N. Y., Bruce J. Ennis, New York City, George Dean, Jr., Destin, Fla., Eugene Z. DuBose, Jr., N. H. Legal Assist., New York City, for plaintiff-appellee.

Before RIVES, WISDOM and MORGAN, Circuit Judges.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

This case requires us to decide for the first time the far-reaching question whether the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a right to treatment to persons involuntarily civilly committed to state mental hospitals. The plaintiff-appellee, Kenneth Donaldson, was civilly committed to the Florida State Hospital at Chattahootchee in January 1957, diagnosed as a "paranoid schizophrenic". He remained in that hospital for the next fourteen and a half years. During that time he received little or no psychiatric care or treatment.

Donaldson contends that he had a constitutional right to receive treatment or to be released from the state hospital. In this action, filed February 24, 1971, he seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. § 19831 against five hospital and state mental health officials who allegedly deprived him of this constitutional right.2 A jury returned a verdict of $28,500 in compensatory damages, and $10,000 in punitive damages against the two defendants-appellants, Dr. J. B. O'Connor and Dr. John Gumanis. Dr. O'Connor, as Acting Clinical Director of the hospital, was Donaldson's attending physician from the time of his admission until mid-1959. He was Clinical Director of the hospital from mid-1959 until late 1963, and Superintendent thereafter until his retirement February 1, 1971. Dr. John Gumanis was Donaldson's attending physician from the fall of 1959 until the spring of 1967. He was added as a defendant by an amended complaint filed April 20, 1972. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the other three defendants.

Gumanis and O'Connor bring separate appeals to this Court. They challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury verdict3 and they contend that the Constitution does not guarantee a right to treatment to mental patients involuntarily civilly committed. Both argue, therefore, that the trial judge erred in denying a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and in instructing the jury that civilly committed mental patients have a constitutional right to treatment. In addition, Gumanis raises a number of lesser issues. We hold that the Fourteenth amendment guarantees involuntarily civilly committed mental patients a right to treatment, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict. We also reject the numerous lesser contentions advanced by Gumanis. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment in Donaldson's favor.


To put the legal issues in proper context as well as to discuss the defendants' challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, it is essential to review the facts in unusual detail.

Donaldson was committed January 3, 1957, on the petition of his father and after a brief hearing before a county judge of Pinellas County, Florida. He was admitted to the Florida State Hospital twelve days later, and soon thereafter was diagnosed as a "paranoid schizophrenic". The committing judge told Donaldson that he was being sent to the hospital for "a few weeks" to "take some of this new medication", after which the judge said that he was certain that Donaldson would be "all right" and would "come back here". Donaldson was not released until July 31, 1971, after he had instituted this suit.

There is little dispute about the general nature of the conditions under which Donaldson was confined for almost fifteen years. Donaldson received no commonly accepted psychiatric treatment. Shortly after his first mental examination, Donaldson, a Christian Scientist, refused to take any medication or to submit to electroshock treatments, and he consistently refused to submit to either of these forms of therapy. No other therapy was offered. At trial, Gumanis mentioned "recreational" and "religious" therapy as forms of therapy given Donaldson; but this amounted to allowing Donaldson to attend church and to engage in recreational activities, privileges he probably would have been allowed in a prison. In the oral argument on appeal the appellants' counsel made much of what they called "milieu therapy", which they said was given Donaldson. This was nothing more than keeping Donaldson in a sheltered hospital "milieu" with other mental patients; the defendants did not refer to anything specific about the "milieu" that was in any special way therapeutic.4 Donaldson was usually confined in a locked room, where, according to his testimony, there were about sixty beds, with little more room between beds than was necessary for a chair; his possessions were kept under the bed. At night he was often awakened by some who had fits and by some "who would torment other patients, screaming and hollering". Then there was "the fear, always the fear you have in your heart, I suppose, when you go to sleep that maybe somebody would jump on you during the night".

A third of the patients in the ward were criminals. Indeed, Donaldson testified, "The entire operation of the ward was geared to criminal patients."5

During his first ten years at the hospital, progress reports on Donaldson's condition were irregularly entered at intervals averaging about one every two and a half months. During those first ten years, he requested grounds privileges and occupational therapy; his requests were denied. In short, he received only the kind of subsistence level custodial care he would have received in a prison, and perhaps less psychiatric treatment than a criminally committed inmate would have received.

At the time Donaldson was admitted to the hospital in 1957, O'Connor was Assistant Clinical Director of the hospital. As Assistant Clinical Director, he was in charge of the hospital's Department A, then the white male ward, where Donaldson was assigned upon his admission to the hospital. In that position, O'Connor was Donaldson's attending physician. At that time, Gumanis was a staff physician in Department A. On July 1, 1959, O'Connor became Clinical Director of the hospital, and in the fall of 1959, Gumanis was placed in charge of Department A, and became Donaldson's attending physician. O'Connor was promoted from the position of Clinical Director to the position of Superintendent July 30, 1963, and served as Superintendent until he retired February 1, 1971. Gumanis served as Donaldson's attending physician until April 18, 1967, when Donaldson was transferred to Department C, until that time the Negro male ward. After the transfer, Donaldson's attending physician was Dr. Israel Hanenson, the head of Department C until Dr. Hanenson's death in the fall of 1970. After that, until his release, Donaldson's attending physician was Dr. Jesus Rodriguez.

Donaldson brought this suit while he was still a patient at the hospital. In his original complaint, Donaldson sought to bring this suit as a class action on behalf of all patients in the hospital's Department C. In addition to damages, to the plaintiff and to the class, the complaint sought habeas corpus relief directing the release of Donaldson and of the entire class, and sought broad declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the hospital to provide adequate psychiatric treatment.

After Donaldson's release, and after the district court dismissed the action as a class suit, Donaldson, on August 30, 1971, filed his First Amended Complaint. This complaint sought individual damages and renewed Donaldson's prayers for declaratory and injunctive relief to restrain the enforcement of Florida's civil commitment statutes unless Florida provided adequate treatment to its civilly committed mental patients. The complaint asked the district court to convene a three-judge district court to consider the plaintiff's attack on the constitutionality of the civil commitment statutes as they then operated. On November 30, however, the plaintiff in a memorandum brief abandoned the prayer that a three-judge court be convened. The prayers for injunctive and declaratory relief therefore were effectively eliminated from the case.

The key allegation in the amended complaint charged that the defendants O'Connor and Walls had "acted in bad faith toward plaintiff and with intentional, malicious, and reckless disregard of his constitutional rights". The complaint alleged examples of such actions, including the denial to Donaldson of grounds privileges; the refusal of the psychiatrists to speak with him, even at his own request; refusal or obstruction of his opportunities for out-of-state discharge, despite a recommendation by a staff conference that he be given such a discharge, and despite the presentation of a signed parental consent to such a discharge. The core of the charge, however, was that Walls and O'Connor acted intentionally and maliciously in "confining Donaldson against his will, knowing that he was not physically dangerous to himself or others"; in confining him "knowing that he was not receiving adequate treatment, and knowing that absent such treatment the period of his hospitalization would be prolonged"; and that they "intentionally limited his `treatment' program to `custodial care' for the greater part of his hospitalization". Corresponding to these allegations, the complaint sought $100,000 damages against Walls and O'Connor.

The trial began November 21, 1972, and continued for four days. The jury returned a verdict awarding...

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