Schiavo ex rel. Schindler v. Schiavo

Decision Date25 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. 05-11628.,05-11628.
Citation403 F.3d 1289
PartiesTheresa Marie Schindler SCHIAVO, incapacitated ex rel., Robert SCHINDLER and Mary Schindler, her parents and next friends, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Michael SCHIAVO, as guardian of the person of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo, incapacitated, Judge George W. Greer, the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

David C. Gibbs, III, Gibbs Law Firm, P.A., Seminole, FL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Randall C. Marshall, Am. Civ. Liberties Union of Florida, Miami, FL, Rebecca H Steele, ACLU Foundation of Florida, Inc., Tampa, FL, George James Felos, Felos & Felos, P.A., Dunedin, FL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before CARNES, HULL and WILSON, Circuit Judges.


Our previous decision in this case affirmed the district court's March 22, 2005 denial of the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order as to the claims raised in the five counts of the initial complaint filed in this case. Schiavo ex rel. Schindler v. Schiavo ex rel. Schiavo, 403 F.3d 1223, 2005 WL 648897 (11th Cir. Mar.23, 2005) (Schiavo I), stay denied, ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 1692, ___ L.Ed.2d ___, 2005 WL 672685 (Mar. 24, 2005). After that appeal was taken, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on March 22, 2005, adding four more counts, and a second amended complaint on March 24, 2005, adding a fifth count.

On the basis of the claims contained in those new counts, plaintiffs also filed a second motion for a temporary restraining order. Like their first motion for a temporary restraining order, this one sought an injunction to require the defendants to transport Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo to a hospital for restoration of nutrition and hydration and for medical treatment. On the evening of March 24, 2005, the district court held a hearing on the motion and, after working through the night, issued an order earlier today denying the motion. A copy of that order is attached as an Appendix to this opinion. We now have before us the plaintiffs' appeal from the order denying that second motion for a temporary restraining order.

Our prior decision in this case brings into play the law of the case doctrine insofar as issues we addressed in our March 23, 2005 opinion are concerned. "Under the law-of-the-case doctrine, [the resolution of] an issue decided at one stage of a case is binding at later stages of the same case." Toole v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 235 F.3d 1307, 1313 (11th Cir.2000). The doctrine operates to preclude courts from revisiting issues that were decided explicitly or by necessary implication in a prior appeal. Luckey v. Miller, 929 F.2d 618, 621 (11th Cir.1991); see also Burger King Corp. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 15 F.3d 166, 169 (11th Cir.1994) ("[T]he law of the case encompasses all things decided by necessary implication as well as those decided explicitly." (internal marks and citations omitted)).

Law of the case binds not only the trial court but this court as well. See, e.g., Burger King Corp., 15 F.3d at 169 ("As we have repeatedly recognized, findings of fact and conclusions of law by an appellate court are generally binding in all subsequent proceedings in the same case in the trial or on a later appeal." (internal marks and citations omitted)); Litman v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 825 F.2d 1506, 1510 (11th Cir.1987) (en banc) ("The doctrine is based on the premise that an appellate decision is binding in all subsequent proceedings in the same case...."); Wheeler v. City of Pleasant Grove, 746 F.2d 1437, 1440 (11th Cir.1984) (per curiam) ("Under the law of the case doctrine, both the district court and the court of appeals generally are bound by findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the court of appeals in a prior appeal of the same case...." (internal marks and citations omitted)); Westbrook v. Zant, 743 F.2d 764, 768 (11th Cir.1984) ("The doctrine generally operates to preclude a reexamination of issues decided upon appeal, either by the district court on remand or by the appellate court itself upon a subsequent appeal." (internal marks and citations omitted)). As this Court sitting en banc has explained, "Failure to honor [the] commands [of the law of the case doctrine] can only result in chaos." Litman, 825 F.2d at 1511.

There are a few discrete exceptions to the law of the case doctrine. It "does not limit the court's power to revisit previously decided issues when (1) new and substantially different evidence emerges at a subsequent trial; (2) controlling authority has been rendered that is contrary to the previous decision; or (3) the earlier ruling was clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice if implemented." Klay v. All Defendants, 389 F.3d 1191, 1197-98 (11th Cir.2004) (internal marks and citation omitted); see also Wheeler, 746 F.2d at 1440. None of those exceptions apply here.

Because our previous decision was published, the prior panel precedent rule also applies to any holdings reached in the earlier appeal. "Under the well-established prior panel precedent rule of this Circuit, the holding of the first panel to address an issue is the law of this Circuit, thereby binding all subsequent panels unless and until the first panel's holding is overruled by the Court sitting en banc or by the Supreme Court." Smith v. GTE Corp., 236 F.3d 1292, 1300 n. 8 (11th Cir.2001); see also United States v. Hogan, 986 F.2d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir.1993); Cargill v. Turpin, 120 F.3d 1366, 1386 (11th Cir.1997).

When read against the law of the case doctrine and the prior panel precedent rule, our March 23, 2005 decision establishes the following propositions that we take as given in this appeal: Pub.L. No. 109-3 does not supplant the law applicable to temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions, Schiavo I, 2005 WL 648897, at *2, ___ F.3d at ___; we have appellate jurisdiction over the denial of a temporary restraining order in these circumstances and treat it as the denial of a preliminary injunction or a final judgment, id. at *1, ___; because the other three preliminary injunctive relief factors are present, the merits-related factor is whether the plaintiffs have shown "a substantial case on the merits," id. at *1-2, ___-___; our review of the district court's denial of preliminary relief is only for abuse of discretion, id. at *2, ___; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying preliminary relief on the claims raised in the first five counts of the complaint, id.; and injunctive relief under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), is not appropriate here because it is a situation that falls within the scope of Fed.R.Civ.P. 65 governing temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions, Schiavo I, 2005 WL 648897, at *4-5, ___ F.3d at ___-___.

We turn now to the claims that were not decided in our prior opinion. Count Six of the amended complaint claims that the defendants' actions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. We agree with the district court that Defendant Michael Schiavo, as court appointed guardian for Theresa Schiavo, is neither a public entity, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12131(1), nor a public accommodation, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 12181(7).1 Our prior decision in this case establishes, as the district court concluded, that Michael Schiavo is not acting under color of state law in these circumstances either. Schiavo I, ___ F.3d at ___, 2005 WL 648897, at *2 ("For the reasons explained in the district court's opinion, we agree that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a substantial case on the merits of any of their claims."); see also Schiavo ex rel. Schindler v. Schiavo, 357 F.Supp.2d 1378, at 1388 (M.D.Fla. 2005) (finding that the defendants were not acting under color of state law). Under the law of the case doctrine and the prior panel precedent rule, that settles the state action issue.2

The district court is also correct that Defendant Hospice of Florida Suncoast, Inc. is not a "public entity" within the meaning of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131(1)(A)-(C). Assuming it is a place of "public accommodation," the plaintiffs still have not made a substantial showing on this claim. The Hospice did not remove nutrition and hydration and withhold medication from Theresa Schiavo "on the basis of [her] disability." Instead, the Hospice took these actions pursuant to a valid court order. The ADA was never intended to provide an avenue for challenging court orders in termination of care cases. See Bryant v. Madigan, 84 F.3d 246, 249 (7th Cir.1996) (concluding that the ADA "would not be violated by a prison's simply failing to attend to the medical needs of its disabled prisoners" and that the statute "does not create a remedy for medical malpractice"); see also Cash v. Smith, 231 F.3d 1301, 1305 n. 2 (11th Cir.2000) ("Cases decided under the Rehabilitation Act are precedent for cases under the ADA, and vice-versa.").

Count Seven asserts a claim against the Defendant Hospice under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S. § 794. As the district court explained, Theresa Schiavo is not "otherwise qualified" within the meaning of this Act "because she would not have had any need for a feeding tube to deliver nutrition and hydration but for her medical condition." Schiavo ex rel. Schindler v. Schiavo, 358 F.Supp.2d 1161, at 1166 (M.D.Fla. 2005); see Grzan v. Charter Hosp. of N.W. Ind., 104 F.3d 116, 121 (7th Cir.1997) ("Grzan is not `otherwise qualified' because, absent her handicap, she would not have been eligible for treatment in the first place."). The Rehabilitation Act, like the ADA, was never intended to apply to decisions involving the termination of life support or medical treatment. See United States v. Univ. Hosp., State Univ. of N.Y., 729 F.2d 144, 156 (2d Cir.1984) ("If [C]...

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