De Facto Therapist-Patient Relationship Necessary for Medical Malpractice Claim May Have Existed When Psychologist Gave Employee Advice on Family Problems

Thayer v. OrRico, 792 N.E.2d 919 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003)

An Indiana appeals court ruled a therapist­ patient relationship may have existed between a psychologist and a woman who worked as an employee in the clinic of which the psychologist was half-owner. During her employment, the woman sought advice about problems she was having with her marriage and her children from the psychologist and from her co-workers. After a number of years at the clinic, the woman and the psychologist began a sexual relationship, which continued for approximately one year. At that time, both the employment and sexual relationships were ended.  The woman and her husband sued the psychologist for malpractice, claiming in part that the psychologist had mishandled the transference phenomenon that had arisen. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit after determining that no therapist-patient relationship existed between the woman and the psychologist because the psychologist had merely counseled the woman as his employee and friend...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Time Period File Malpractice Claim Asserting She Was Not Warned Mental Illness Medication Might Cause Birth Defects Begins at Time of Child's Birth, Not When Ultrasound First Showed Birth Defects

Bailey v. Khoury, 891 So. 2d 1268 (La. 2005)

Every jurisdiction  imposes a limit on how long individuals can wait to file a lawsuit that claims they were injured as the result of the malpractice of a health care provider.  This limit, which is typically one or two years in length, generally runs from the time individuals discover they have been injured. If they wait beyond this time, they are generally precluded from pursuing their claim...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Eighth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Civil Suit Alleging Violation of the Constitution and ADA for Interrogation of Suspect with Intellectual Disabilities

Folkerts v. City of Waverly, Iowa, 707 F.3d 975, (8th Cir. 2013), rehearing denied 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 7279 (8th Cir. April 10, 2013)

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment dismissing a civil case filed on behalf of a 30-year old man with intellectual disabilities against the City of Waverly, Iowa, and the investigating officer, finding no violation of his constitutional rights, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, as a result of his interrogation and subsequent charges of sexual assault.

The plaintiffs Melvin and Idella Folkerts are the legal guardians of their adult son Travis Folkerts who has an IQ of 50. In May 2008, Travis lived alone in a supervised apartment when a neighbor reported that Travis had engaged in inappropriate conduct with her minor son. A patrol officer who knew Travis had a disability spoke with the complainant and then contacted Troy Schneider, an investigator with the police department and now a defendant in this case. The patrol officer then spoke with Travis who was alone and read him his Miranda rights, asking Travis if he understood them. Travis indicated he did and then provided the officer with the phone number of his caseworker upon request.

The next day Schneider went to Travis’ apartment where he was alone and read him his Miranda rights and more fully explained them so he could better understand them. Schneider believed Travis understood them. He then took Travis to the police station where he continued the interrogation in a conference room that Schneider believed was less intimidating than the regular, smaller interrogation room. He also asked Travis non-leading open-ended questions because he thought it would be easy to get him to say something he did not do if he was asked leading, direct questions.

At Travis’ request, Schneider called Travis’ mother who spoke with Travis by phone. Travis told her he was nervous. Schneider told Mrs. Folkerts she could come down to the police station if she wanted, but she said she thought Travis would be less nervous if she did not. Schneider continued the interrogation and Travis incriminated himself. Afterwards Schneider drove Travis to his parents’ home and explained the situation to them. Schneider then arranged to have Travis booked using friendlier booking procedures. After consulting with the county attorney, Schneider filed a complaint charging Travis with the misdemeanor of lascivious conduct. An Iowa court found Travis incompetent to stand trial and dismissed the charges.

The Folkerts then filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Waverly and the investigator Troy Schneider under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of their son’s and ward’s substantive constitutional rights in the interrogation process, and violations of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act for disparate treatment and failure to make reasonable accommodations. To establish a substantive due process violation, the Court stated that the Folkerts must demonstrate that a fundamental right has been violated and that the officer’s conduct shocks the conscience. To support their allegations the Folkerts recited Schneider’s 1) failure to accommodate Travis’ disability during the interrogation; 2) inadequate investigation; 3) investigation as retaliation against Travis’ relatives; and 4) filing of a defective charge.

The Court found that Schneider’s behavior did not shock the conscience. He altered his questioning style, more fully explained Travis’ Miranda rights, and interviewed Travis in a less intimidating room. He also called Travis’ mother and invited her to the police station. The Court also found that the adequacy of the investigation also did not shock the conscience. In order to do so, the Court stated the officer must 1) attempt to coerce or threaten the suspect; 2) purposefully ignore evidence of the suspect’s innocence; or 3) systematically pressure to implicate the suspect despite contrary evidence. Further, the patrol officer here had interviewed the alleged victim, his mother and visited the scene. The Court therefore found that Schneider’s failure to do so himself does not establish an intentional or reckless failure to investigate.

The evidence also revealed that during an investigation the previous year of a burglary of a business owned by Travis’ cousin’s wife, Schneider was alleged to have been rude to Travis’ cousin and not to have pursued a lead. No evidence was submitted, however, that Schneider retaliated against the family members by investigating Travis. Lastly the charge filed required a showing that the accused be “in a position of authority” over the victim. There was no Iowa case law interpreting this element of the offense before Schneider filed the charge and he sought the advice of the county attorney before doing so. Although following an attorney’s advice does not automatically provide an officer with qualified immunity, the Court found it demonstrates the reasonableness of the action. In this case, Schneider’s behavior does not shock the conscience.

The Folkerts also alleged that the city’s culture of indifference to people with disabilities demonstrated its deliberate indifference to Travis’ needs. The Court stated that a pattern of similar constitutional violations by trained employees, or a specific instance accompanied by a showing of lack of training to handle recurring situations, is necessary to establish deliberate indifference on the part of the city. The Court found that the plaintiffs here, however, failed to allege even a single violation of rights.

To establish a prima facie § 504 violation, a qualified individual with a disability must be denied the benefit of a program or activity of a public entity receiving federal funds. For a prima facie ADA violation, a qualified individual with a disability must be excluded from participation or denied the benefits of a public entity’s services, programs, or activities. Here, the interrogation was covered by the ADA. The Court found, however, that no reasonable jury could conclude that the defendants failed to make reasonable accommodation for Travis’ disability. Schneider altered his questioning style, more fully explained his Miranda rights, interviewed Travis in a less threatening room, drove Travis to the Folkerts’ home and explained the situation to them, and arranged an alternative and friendlier booking procedure. Most importantly, the Court stated Schneider called Travis’ mother and reasonably concluded that her comment that her presence might make Travis more nervous meant that she was not coming to the police station and was not requesting additional or alternative accommodations for her son. The Eighth Circuit therefore upheld the district court’s granting of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissal of the case.

Found in DMHL Volume 32 Issue 2