Unlawful Seizure

May v. City of Nahunta, 841 F.3d 1173 (11th Cir. 2016)

Eleventh Circuit reverses district court’s grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity in seizure of individual for mental health evaluation, finding that although the evidence supported the officer’s initial seizure, the officer carried out the seizure in a manner that violated the individual’s constitutionally protected privacy interests.

Background: Phyllis May was the sole caregiver for her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s with sundowning syndrome, a condition that caused her to stay awake for days at a time. May became exhausted and called her brother to come help care for her mother before lying down. When her brother arrived several hours later, he was unable to wake May and called 911. Four EMTs responded and used an ammonia capsule to wake May. The EMTs evaluated May, but she refused to be transported to the hospital and the EMTs determined that she did not require further treatment. May executed a form refusing treatment. At the same time, Officer Allen responded to a 911 call requesting assistance at May’s residence. The EMTs told Allen that May had “been a little combative to herself” and was upset. Allen entered May’s bedroom to investigate and found her hair in disarray and decided to transport her to a hospital for a psychological evaluation. Allen instructed the EMTs to leave the bedroom and then locked himself in the bedroom with May. He instructed her to take off her nightgown and put on suitable clothes to go to the hospital. May became upset and began to cry, but Allen insisted that she change, even pulling on her nightgown to remove it. May put on shorts, but Allen insisted she take them off and first put on undergarments. May refused, but Allen patted his gun and told her “yes you will.” Allen remained in the locked room with May for 15 to 20 minutes, while her sister was outside requesting the door be opened. When they emerged from the bedroom, Allen stated that he was taking May to the hospital and she again objected. Allen escorted May to the emergency room and asked hospital staff about May’s prior diagnoses before leaving. May was subsequently released from the hospital after no more than two hours. May brought suit alleging unlawful seizure, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and invasion of privacy. The district court granted Officer Allen’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity

Holding: The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding of qualified immunity for Allen’s decision to seize May for a mental health evaluation, but reversed and remanded to determine whether the manner of the seizure unreasonably violated May’s privacy interests.

Notable Point:

Manner of Seizure: The court explained that searches conducted in an abusive fashion may violate the Constitution. The court emphasized that if Officer Allen’s alleged conduct were proven, it would be “representative of the type of unnecessarily invasive and demeaning intrusion that is undoubtedly within the sphere of what the Fourth Amendment prohibits.”

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 4