Involuntary commitment (Alabama)

Hospital mental health professionals have sovereign immunity protection for decision-making regarding discharge of involuntarily committed patients, provided that required procedures regarding such discharge are followed

Ex parte Kozlovski, No. 1140317, 2015 WL 1877656 (Ala. Apr. 24, 2015) (not yet released for publication)

Jeffrey Brown, a 19-year-old man with a long history of mental illness as well as chronic runaway behaviors and periodic violent outbursts, was involuntarily committed to an Alabama psychiatric hospital after physically attacking his father. After a course of treatment at the hospital, the treatment team, led by Dr. Kozlovski, found Mr. Brown met the criteria for discharge and return to the community, and arranged for his placement in a group home, against the wishes of family members who feared the consequences of his runaway behaviors. Within a day of his admission to the group home, Mr. Brown ran away from the group home. He was found dead three days later, apparently struck and killed by a motor vehicle. Mr. Brown’s estate filed a wrongful death action against the hospital and Dr. Kozlovski. After discovery, Dr. Kozlovski filed a motion for summary judgment based on “State agent immunity,” but the trial court denied the motion. Following that denial, Dr. Kozlovski appealed to the Supreme Court of Alabama and requested a writ of mandamus requiring the trial court to grant the summary judgment motion.

The Supreme Court of Alabama granted the writ, holding that the psychiatrist was discharging duties imposed by state statute, rules, and regulations, and so was entitled to state agent immunity. The Court also noted that, although the State agent asserting immunity bears the initial burden of demonstration that the plaintiff’s claims arise from actions that would normally entitle the agent to immunity, that burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that an exception to state-agent immunity is applicable.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2