ZINERMON V. BURCH

Citation494 U. S. 113
Decision Date01 January 1990
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent Burch, while allegedly medicated and disoriented, signed forms requesting admission to, and treatment at, a Florida state mental hospital, in apparent compliance with state statutory requirements for "voluntary" admission to such facilities. After his release, he brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the District Court against, inter alios, petitioners -- physicians, administrators, and staff members at the hospital -- on the ground that they had deprived him of his liberty without due process of law. The complaint alleged that they violated state law by admitting him as a voluntary patient when they knew or should have known that he was incompetent to give informed consent to his admission, and that their failure to initiate Florida's involuntary placement procedure denied him constitutionally guaranteed procedural safeguards. The court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), relying on Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U. S. 527, and Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U. S. 517, which held that a deprivation of a constitutionally protected property interest caused by a state employee's random, unauthorized conduct does not give rise to a § 1983 procedural due process claim unless the State fails to provide a postdeprivation remedy. The court pointed out that Burch did not contend that the State's statutory procedure for placement was inadequate to ensure due process, but only that petitioners had failed to follow the procedure. Since the State could not have anticipated or prevented the unauthorized deprivation of Burch's liberty, the court reasoned, there was no feasible predeprivation remedy, and the State's postdeprivation tort remedies provided Burch with all the process that was due him. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

Held: Burch's complaint was sufficient to state a claim under § 1983 for violation of his procedural due process rights. While Parratt and Hudson apply to deprivations of liberty, they do not preclude Burch's claim, because predeprivation procedural safeguards might have been of value in preventing the alleged deprivation of Burch's liberty without either valid consent or an involuntary placement hearing. Such a deprivation is not unpredictable. It is foreseeable that persons requesting treatment might be incapable of informed consent, and that state officials with the power to admit patients might take their apparent willing

Page 494 U. S. 114

ness to be admitted at face value. And the deprivation will occur, if at all, at a predictable point in the admissions process -- when a patient is given admission forms to sign. Nor was predeprivation process impossible here. Florida has a procedure for involuntary placement, but only the hospital staff is in a position to take notice of any misuse of the voluntary admission process and to ensure that the proper procedures are afforded both to those patients who are unwilling and to those who are unable to give consent. In addition, petitioners' conduct was not "unauthorized" within the meaning of Parratt and Hudson, since the State had delegated to them the power and authority to deprive mental patients of their liberty and the concomitant duty to initiate the procedural safeguards set up by state law to guard against unlawful confinement. P P. 124-139.

840 F.2d 797 (CA11 1988), affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, post, P. 139.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

I

Respondent Darrell Burch brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Footnote 1] against the 11 petitioners, who are physicians, administrators, and staff members at Florida State Hospital (FSH) in Chattahoochee, and others. Respondent

Page 494 U. S. 115

alleges that petitioners deprived him of his liberty, without due process of law, by admitting him to FSH as a "voluntary" mental patient when he was incompetent to give informed consent to his admission. Burch contends that, in his case, petitioners should have afforded him procedural safeguards required by the Constitution before involuntary commitment of a mentally ill person, and that petitioners' failure to do so violated his due process rights.

Petitioners argue that Burch's complaint failed to state a claim under § 1983 because, in their view, it alleged only a random, unauthorized violation of the Florida statutes governing admission of mental patients. Their argument rests on Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U. S. 527 (1981) (overruled in part, not relevant here, by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U. S. 327, 330-331 (1986)), and Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U. S. 517 (1984), where this Court held that a deprivation of a constitutionally protected property interest caused by a state employee's random, unauthorized conduct does not give rise to a § 1983 procedural due process claim, unless the State fails to provide an adequate postdeprivation remedy. The Court in those two cases reasoned that in a situation where the State cannot predict and guard in advance against a deprivation, a postdeprivation tort remedy is all the process the State can be expected to provide, and is constitutionally sufficient.

In the District Court, petitioners did not file an answer to Burch's complaint. They moved, instead, for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court granted that motion, pointing out that Burch did not contend that Florida's statutory procedure for mental health placement was inadequate to ensure due process, but only that petitioners failed to follow the state procedure. Since the State could not have anticipated or prevented this unauthorized deprivation of Burch's liberty, the District Court reasoned, there was no feasible predeprivation remedy, and, under Parratt and Hudson, the State's postdeprivation tort remedies provided Burch with all the process that was due him.

Page 494 U. S. 116

On appeal, an Eleventh Circuit panel affirmed the dismissal; it, too, relied on Parratt and Hudson. Burch v. Apalachee Community Mental Health Services, Inc., 804 F.2d 1549 (1986). The Court of Appeals, however, upon its own motion, ordered rehearing en banc. 812 F.2d 1339 (1987). On that rehearing, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court, and remanded the case. 840 F.2d 797 (1988). Since Burch did not challenge the constitutional adequacy of Florida's statutory procedure, the court assumed that that procedure constituted the process he was due. Id. at 801, n. 8. A plurality concluded that Parratt did not apply because the State could have provided predeprivation remedies. Id. at 801-802. The State had given petitioners the authority to deprive Burch of his liberty by letting them determine whether he had given informed consent to admission. Petitioners, in the plurality's view, were acting as the State, and, since they were in a position to give Burch a hearing, and failed to do so, the State itself was in a position to provide predeprivation process, and failed to do so. Five judges dissented on the ground that the case was controlled by Parratt and Hudson. Id. at 810-814.

This Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict -- so evident in the divided views of the judges of the Eleventh Circuit -- that has arisen in the Courts of Appeals over the proper scope of the Parratt rule. [Footnote 2] 489 U.S. 1064 (1989).

Page 494 U. S. 117

Because this case concerns the propriety of a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, the question before us is a narrow one. We decide only whether the Parratt rule necessarily means that Burch's complaint fails to allege any deprivation of due process, because he was constitutionally entitled to nothing more than what he received -- an opportunity to sue petitioners in tort for his allegedly unlawful confinement. The broader questions of what procedural safeguards the Due Process Clause requires in the context of an admission to a mental hospital, and whether Florida's statutes meet these constitutional requirements, are not presented in this case. Burch did not frame his action as a challenge to the constitutional adequacy of Florida's mental health statutes. Both before the Eleventh Circuit and in his brief here, he disavowed any challenge to the statutes themselves, and restricted his claim to the contention that petitioners' failure to provide constitutionally adequate safeguards in his case violated his due process rights. [Footnote 3]

II
A

For purposes of review of a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, the factual allegations of Burch's complaint are taken as true. Burch's complaint, and the medical records and forms attached to it as exhibits, provide the following factual background:

On December 7, 1981, Burch was found wandering along a Florida highway, appearing to be hurt and disoriented. He was taken to Apalachee Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) in Tallahassee. [Footnote 4] ACMHS is a private mental health care facility designated by the State to receive patients suffering from mental illness. [Footnote 5] Its staff in their evaluation forms stated that, upon his arrival at ACMHS, Burch was hallucinating, confused, psychotic, and believed he was "in heaven." Exhibit B-1 to Complaint. His face and chest were bruised and bloodied, suggesting that he had fallen or had been attacked. Burch was asked to sign forms giving his consent to admission and treatment. He did so. He remained at ACMHS for three days, during which time the facility's staff diagnosed his condition as paranoid schizophrenia and gave him psychotropic medication. On December 10, the staff found that Burch was "in need of longer-term stabilization," Exhibit B-2 to Complaint, and referred him...

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