McCABE v. CITY OF LYNN Civ.A. No. 92-12179-NG.
875 F.Supp. 53 (1995)
Mary McCABE, as Administratrix of the Estate of Ruchla "Rose" Zinger, Plaintiff, v. The CITY OF LYNN, Sergeant Richard Donnelly, a Sergeant in the Lynn Police Department, Individually, Officer Gary Twyman, an officer in the Lynn Police Department, Officer William Alphen, an officer in the Lynn Police Department, Individually, Captain Csuka, a Captain in the Lynn Police Department, Individually, and in his Official Capacity, Yakov Barden, M.D., Tri-City Mental Health Hospital, John Doe, Superintendent, Tri-City Mental Health Hospital, David Rando, Edward Marticio, Life-Line Ambulance Service, Inc., and Kenneth Jackson, Defendants.
United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.
February 2, 1995.
Ronald F. Spagnoli, Torto and Spagnoli, Lynn, MA, for Kenneth Jackson.
CORRECTED MEMORANDUM AND DECISION
GERTNER, District Judge.
This case involves Rose Zinger who survived the Holocaust only to die at the hands of the Lynn Police. At issue is the policy of the Lynn Police to forcibly enter individuals' homes to serve involuntary commitment
After obtaining an order of involuntary commitment for Ms. Rose Zinger (a resident of Lynn), the Lynn Police served the order by breaking down her door and forcing her down a flight of stairs. Tragically, during this incident Ms. Zinger suffered a heart attack and died.
On September 4, 1992, the Administratrix of Ms. Zinger's estate (plaintiff Mary McCabe) filed a complaint seeking relief under
For the reasons described below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is hereby
II. SUMMARY OF THE FACTS
Rose Zinger was a 64 year old woman living on 11 Nichols Avenue in Lynn, Massachusetts. Zinger spoke and understood limited English; she suffered from high blood pressure and was extremely overweight. In addition to her physical maladies, Zinger suffered from psychological problems, which according to the Complaint, were the product of, among other things, her experiences during World War II.
On September 6, 1989, Dr. Yakov Barden of the Tri-City Mental Health and Retardation Center, signed an application for Zinger's involuntary commitment pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 123 § 12(a). The next day, Captain Joseph Csuka of the Lynn Police Department instructed Sergeant Richard Donnelly, and Officers Gary Twyman and William Alphen (all of the Lynn Police Department) to serve the civil commitment order. Csuka, although in possession of the order since the morning of September 7th, informed Sergeant Donnelly that the commitment would be carried out at 1:00 p.m. According to the affidavit of Sergeant Donnelly, Captain Csuka advised him that Zinger would not cooperate with them and they would have to force their way into her house.
In addition to the involuntary commitment, proceedings had been brought against Zinger
At the scene, Constable Jackson informed the officers that based on his prior attempts to serve eviction notices, he believed Zinger would not answer the door. He instructed them to go to the rear door for the easiest point of entry into the home. The officers knocked on the door and rang the door-bell. Zinger did not answer. After approximately one minute, Donnelly ordered Alphen to kick down the door. Once through the door all three officers and Constable Jackson proceeded up the stairs to a second door which was also locked. Officer Alphen knocked on this door and said "Hello, Police." When no one answered the knocking, Donnelly ordered Alphen to kick this door down. After kicking through one panel, Zinger came to the door and opened it slightly. Donnelly showed Zinger the commitment order and told her that she needed to see a doctor. Zinger, who spoke and understood little English, yelled "why, why, no doctors" and started to close the door. Donnelly forced his foot between the door preventing it from closing all the way.
At this point, the officers claim that Zinger reached for a small knife on the kitchen table. Upon seeing the knife Officer Alphen pushed Zinger through the door and to the floor.
With Zinger forced into a prone position, all three officers handcuffed the 64 year old woman who struggled and screamed. During the process, Zinger was so distraught she urinated on herself and one of the officers.
Shortly after arriving at the scene, the officers called defendant Life-Line Ambulance to transport Zinger to the mental health facility. While waiting for the ambulance, the officers claim that they made repeated attempts to calm Zinger down. When defendants Marticio and Rando (the Life-Line emergency medical technicians) arrived, they informed the officers that due to Zinger's obesity and disposition, they could not carry her down the stairs in a chair or stretcher. Upon hearing this, the officers forced Ms. Zinger down the stairs on her buttocks one step at a time.
After bringing her to the bottom of the stairs, the officers placed her face down on a stretcher, where she was strapped in, still handcuffed behind her back. Shortly thereafter, one of the defendants noticed blood coming down the side of Zinger's mouth.
The officers then removed the handcuffs and Marticio examined her. Finding no pulse, Marticio and one of the officers began performing CPR. Zinger was pronounced dead at 2:00 p.m.
III. THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment should be granted where all of the relevant pleadings, viewed in the light most favorable to the non moving party, present no genuine issue of material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Alan Corp. v. International Surplus Lines Insurance Co.,
IV. THE CITY OF LYNN
A. Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a private cause of action for individuals who are subject to a deprivation of their constitutional rights by persons acting under color of state law. In Monell v. Department of Social Services,
Monell, 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037-38 (emphasis added).
To establish liability against a municipality under § 1983 after Monell, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) the municipality maintained a policy or custom; and (2) the same custom or policy was the cause of and the moving force behind the deprivation of the plaintiffs constitutional rights. Bordanaro v. Mcleod,
The plaintiff contends that the City of Lynn's policy of making warrantless entries into private residences to serve civil commitment process constituted a deprivation of Rose Zinger's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It was that policy, plaintiff contends, that led to Ms. Zinger's injury and ultimately her death.
B. The Policy of Serving Involuntary Commitment Orders
To support its claim that a municipal policy existed, the plaintiff points to the deposition of John W. Suslak, the City of Lynn's Rule 30(b)(6) witness who was designated the most "knowledgeable regarding the rules, regulations, and policies of the Lynn Police Department regarding the serving of involuntary commitment papers." Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to the City of Lynn's Motion for Summary Judgment at p. 10. At his deposition, Suslak stated:
Id. at p. 9. In other words, the City of Lynn's policy was to try to effect a peaceful execution of a civil commitment order in the first instance. But, should there be resistance, the police were authorized to "escalate the degree of force" necessary to effect the hospitalization. There was no requirement that a neutral magistrate intercede, or that a warrant be sought prior to the seizure of a human being or to the entry of a home. The officer on the line, armed only with a ten day commitment authorization, could decide when and whether to break down the door to someone's home
It is uncontested that the officers at 11 Nichols Avenue, acting pursuant to an official municipal policy, broke into Rose Zinger's apartment, and that this municipal policy could be found to have triggered the set of circumstances leading to her injury and death. The only question for summary judgment is whether the City's policy violated the Fourth Amendment.
C. Warrantless Searches of a Dwelling are Presumptively Unreasonable.
The Fourth Amendment is unequivocal:
The Amendment's goal is the protection of personal privacy, and the fundamental
The specter of police officials breaking down the door of a private home has been, from the drafting of the Fourth Amendment to the present, a singularly frightening one. Traditionally, a citizen's home has been singled out for special protection. United States v. United States District Court,
Of equal, if not greater, significance is the seizure of the human being herself, the deprivation of her liberty. Henry v. United States,
So important is the protection of personal privacy and the fundamental dignity of individuals against the unwarranted intrusion of governmental officials that the Supreme Court has held that all warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable. INS v. Delgado,
The exceptions to the warrant requirement are limited in number and strictly construed. Katz v. United States,
To be sure, in certain non-criminal, regulatory or administrative situations, the Court has held that the Fourth Amendment did not apply at all, or that the high level of protection offered by a warrant was unnecessary so long as the search was otherwise "reasonable." For the most part, these involve instances where the Court has characterized the intrusion as far less invasive than traditional
Although warrantless social worker "visitations" may be minimally invasive and fail to trigger the warrant protections of the Fourth Amendment, the warrantless entry into a private dwelling for the sole purpose of seizing and forcibly hospitalizing the resident is surely another matter.
When liberty is involved, as well as the privacy of one's home, the highest protection of the Fourth Amendment, namely the warrant mechanism is required. When referring to the warrantless entry of a home to execute an arrest warrant, the Court in Payton v. New York,
citing United States v. Reed,
D. The Requirements of the Fourth Amendment Apply to Entries Under M.G.L. ch. 123 § 12
The function of M.G.L. ch. 123 § 12 is to provide the Commonwealth with the ability to place an individual in the custody of a hospital facility in order to prevent serious harm as a result of the individual's mental illness. It provides a method for exercising control over the individual, to deprive him or her of liberty and necessarily, privacy, even
The City of Lynn argues that an application for an order of involuntary commitment — completed by a physician — by statute obviates the need for a warrant. While the statute provides for a warrant proceeding, Lynn claims that it only applies when an individual other than a physician or a police officer seeks a ten-day commitment. M.G.L. ch. 123 § 12(a) permits a licensed physician or psychologist to "restrain or authorize the restraint of [a] person and apply for hospitalization of such person for a ten day period" based on a finding of "a likelihood of serious harm by reason of mental illness," apparently on that physician's own authority. In fact, the statute does not require the doctor to personally examine the patient, but may make the diagnosis based upon "facts or circumstances" represented to him. Section 12(e) permits "any person" to apply for a ten-day commitment but specifies that the application must be made to "a district court justice." The District Court must hold a hearing and, if it determines that the evidence is sufficient, it "may issue a warrant for the apprehension and appearance before him of the alleged mentally ill person, if in his judgment the condition or conduct of such person makes such action necessary or proper."
It might be suggested that this is a valid procedure because civil commitment processes are medical, or therapeutic, and as a result, less invasive than a traditional criminal search (as in Wyman v. James, supra). Indeed, one might argue that the fact that a physician is apparently in charge, and that this is "only" a ten-day institutionalization subject to a court review makes it a "reasonable" civil entry, without requiring the formal protection of a warrant. See e.g. Note, Rehabilitation, Investigation, and the Welfare Home Visit, 79 Yale L.J. 746 (March 1971).
I disagree. Although a certified physician or psychologist might be uniquely qualified to evaluate the emotional condition of a patient, he or she is not qualified to determine whether probable cause exists to support an unconsented entry of an individual's home or seizure of an individual. The Constitution specifically imparts that responsibility to the judiciary. Thompson v. Louisiana,
Moreover, the agents of the doctors in this case are police officers with guns and batons, not hospital orderlies and nurses. There is no therapeutic relationship which a warrant mechanism might disrupt. That disruption has already occurred once the police — unaccompanied by physicians or health personnel — seek a forcible entry and seizure. In fact, the parties constantly referred to the service of the commitment order as a "police matter." In any case, to the person whose home is broken into, to the neighbors who watch her dragged from her home screaming and struggling, the words "medical" or "therapeutic" would seem to be a misnomer.
In effect, Lynn suggests that a physician's blessing somehow strips a putative mental patient of the safeguards of the Fourth Amendment, a result that would be untenable. As the experience of the former Soviet Union suggests, coerced hospitalization, ostensibly because of mental illness, is uniquely susceptible to abuse. Indeed, Massachusetts was one of the innovators in identifying the risks to individual liberty and dignity in the civil commitment process. The legislature achieved this by hedging the statute with strict safeguards — that the order of commitment be temporary unless certain
E. There Were no Exigent Circumstances Justifying Dispensing with the Warrant Requirement
There were no exigent circumstances in this case, justifying the suspension of the warrant requirement. The test for determining the presence of exigent circumstances which would suspend the warrant requirement "is whether there is such a compelling necessity for immediate action as will not brook the delay of obtaining a warrant." United States v. Adams,
The determination of exigent circumstances rests on "the gravity of the underlying offense; whether delay poses a threat to police or the public safety; whether there is a great likelihood that evidence will be destroyed if there is delay until a warrant can be obtained." United States v. Curzi,
The only exigent circumstances that the City points to are those underlying the civil commitment order itself: (1) that the statute requires that an order may only be issued "so as to avoid the likelihood of serious harm by reason of mental illness"; and (2) that Dr. Barden's application specifically notes that Ms. Zinger is dangerous to others.
According to the depositions submitted, the application for an involuntary order of commitment for Ms. Zinger was completed by Dr. Barden on September 6, 1989. Constable Jackson arranged for the application to be taken from Dr. Barden's office to the Lynn Police station on the next day. Jackson discussed the situation with Captain Csuka, informing the officer that he would be conducting the eviction proceeding at 1:00 p.m. Csuka agreed to that hour and informed Jackson that he would have Lynn Police Officers meet Jackson at 11 Nichols Avenue to serve the commitment order. At 10:30 a.m., Csuka, true to his word, ordered Sergeant Donnelly to meet Jackson at the premises at 1:00 p.m. to serve the order. Csuka further informed Donnelly that the officers serving the order might have to force their way into Zinger's home.
The presence of Dr. Barden's application for the order of involuntary commitment did not amount to exigent circumstances justifying the forced warrantless entry into Zinger's home. To the contrary, the Lynn Police acted with leisure in arranging a convenient time to effectuate the service of the involuntary commitment order. The determinative issue was convenience, dovetailing the service of the commitment order with the service of the eviction papers. As Justice Jackson stated in McDonald v. United States:
Based upon Constable Jackson's prior attempts to serve the eviction process the officers had no indication that waiting a few hours would present an immediate threat to either Ms. Zinger or the community. Moreover, since the officers already had information that Ms. Zinger would not let them into her home, they could have presented that
V. DEFENDANTS MARTICIO AND RANDO
Defendants Marticio and Rando argue that M.G.L. ch. 111C § 14 grants emergency medical technicians immunity from liability and therefore they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.G.L. ch. 111C § 14 states in relevant part:
(emphasis added). The issue here is whether Rando and Marticio acted in good faith when they "treated" Zinger.
The defendants are entitled to a presumption in favor of good faith. Spiegel v. Beacon Participations, Inc., 297 Mass. 398, 416-417, 8 N.E.2d 895 (1937); Ramos v. Board of Selectmen of Nantucket,
Ramos, 16 Mass.App.Ct. at 314,
Here, the plaintiff offered testimony that Ms. Zinger was left unattended, lying face down on a stretcher handcuffed behind her back, that the EMTs never interceded concerning the way in which she was being restrained by the police and never monitored her medical condition. Under these circumstances, the plaintiff satisfied its burden and overcame the presumption of good faith sufficient to create a material issue of fact as to whether defendants Rando and Marticio acted in good faith and are therefore entitled to the protection of M.G.L. ch. 111C § 14.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is hereby
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