Requiring an Employee to Undergo a Psychological Test as a Condition of Employment Does Not Violate the Fourth Amendment Because Such Tests Do Not Constitute a "Search"

Greenawalt v. Indiana Dep't of Corr., 397 F.3d 587 (7th Cir. 2005)

Psychological examinations are required as a condition of employment in a number of fields. Because the exams may explore relatively private and sensitive matters, various employees have filed lawsuits to exempt them from such requirements.  In Indiana, a research analyst objected when officials with the Indiana Department of Corrections told her that to keep her job she would have to submit to a psychological exam.  The test lasted two hours and was acknowledged to inquire into details of her personal life.  The research analyst filed a federal claim that the test by state officers violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Law enforcement and health care providers at hospital emergency rooms: questions on their abilities to treat individuals who do not desire their assistance

Tinius v. Carroll County Sheriff Dep't, 321 F. Supp. 2d 1064 (N.D. Iowa 2004)

Law enforcement officials are often the first to respond to emergent mental health crises and health care providers at hospital emergency rooms are often the first to treat an individual in the midst of a mental health crisis, frequently after a law enforcement official has brought the individual to the emergency room. Questions have arisen about their respective abilities to respond to and treat individuals who do not desire their assistance.  A federal court in Iowa afforded relatively wide latitude to the law enforcement officials, but less so to emergency room health care providers...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1

Police Officer Must Have Probable Cause to Handcuff Man Reported to Be Suicidal; Ruling Not Disturbed

Fisher v. Harden, 398 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 828 (2005)

When a dispatcher relays to a police officer a call for assistance, the information provided may include a "mental health code" designed to alert the responding officer that mental illness may play a role in the encounter.  In a case from Ohio, two sheriff's deputies were told incorrectly that a man had his feet tied to a set of railroad tracks and they were dispatched pursuant to a "Code 58," which indicates a possible suicide.  In actuality, a seventy-seven-year-old  retired farmer had gone out to shoot groundhogs in a rural farming area, an activity in which he routinely engaged to help protect his neighbor's crops. The man had taken with him a folding chair, his rifle, and a tripod to steady his rifle, and positioned himself upon an elevated railroad grade on a neighbor's property roughly 250 yards from a rural road.  A passerby had seen him and telephoned the Sheriff's Department. The responding deputies found the man seated in his folding chair.  From the road, they used the speaker system in their cruiser to instruct the man to come toward them.  The man stood up, gathered his belongings, and began walking along the railroad tracks towards the officers...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 2

Supreme Court Upholds Authority of Police to Enter Home Without Warrant to Protect Occupant Objectively Believed to Be Seriously Injured or Imminently Threatened with Such Injury

Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 126 S. Ct. 1943 (2006)

In a unanimous ruling of potential relevance to individuals involved in an altercation or a heated dispute in their home or while visiting another individual in that person's home, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police may enter a home without a warrant when they have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant is seriously injured or imminently threatened with such injury...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 2

Civil Rights Complaint Alleging 4th Amendment Violation in Death of Man with Bipolar Disorder Dismissed

Johnson v. City of Memphis, 617 F.3d 864 (6th Cir. 2010)

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s dismissal of a § 1983 complaint brought by the widow of a man with bipolar disorder against two city police officers alleging violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful search and seizure that resulted in his death. The plaintiff called 911 seeking assistance for her husband, but hung up and left the house before the operator answered. Receiving no response to a follow-up call, the operator dispatched two patrol officers to the house. Upon arrival, the officers found the door open and after announcing their presence and receiving no response, entered the house with their weapons drawn. The man jumped on one officer grabbing his gun; a scuffle ensued; and the plaintiff’s husband was killed. The Court held that the entry met the exigent circumstances emergency aid exception to the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful searches and seizures based upon the factual circumstances in this case.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 2

Fourth Amendment Liberty Interest During Mental Health Crisis

Exigent circumstances exception allows warrantless entry and seizures when officers have reasonable basis to believe person poses imminent danger of harm to self

Sutterfield v. City of Milwaukee, 751 F.3d 542 (7th Cir. 2014)

Krysta Sutterfield sued the City of Milwaukee and several of its police officers after officers forcibly entered her home to effectuate an emergency detention for purposes of a mental health evaluation, opened a locked container, and seized for safekeeping the gun and concealed-carry licenses they found inside. Sutterfield contended that the officers in question violated her rights under the Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. On appeal from the federal district court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Seventh Circuit held that the warrantless entry into Sutterfield's home was justified under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, as the officers had a reasonable basis to believe that Sutterfield posed an imminent danger of harm to herself. The Seventh Court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants on the basis of qualified immunity, even assuming that the search of a closed container for a gun, and the ensuing seizure of that gun, violated Sutterfield's Fourth Amendment rights.

On appeal, only the liability of the individual officers was at issue. Sutterfield argued that the police officers' warrantless entry into her home, the seizure of her person, the search of the locked compact disc case, and the seizure of the revolver and the concealed carry licenses discovered therein all violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that the seizure of the gun and licenses also violated her rights under the Second Amendment. She further contended that because these rights were clearly established (in her view), the officers did not enjoy qualified immunity from suit. The two primary competing interests at stake in the case were Sutterfield’s privacy— specifically the right to be left alone in her home—and the important role police play in safeguarding individuals from dangers posed to themselves and others.

The Seventh Circuit noted that the Milwaukee police had been contacted by Sutterfield's physician with a concern that she might harm herself, and that Wisconsin law set forth an emergency detention procedure to deal with that sort of situation. Pursuant to section 51.15, a statement authorizing Sutterfield's emergency detention was prepared, and police executed that statement when they entered Sutterfield's home and took her into their custody. There was no suggestion that the officers acted for any reason other than to protect Sutterfield from harm. The Seventh Circuit also noted that their task was made more complicated by (1) the lack of information presented by the parties as to alternatives other than emergency detention, and (2) a lack of clarity in Fourth Amendment law as to the appropriate framework for examining warrantless intrusions motivated by purposes other than law-enforcement and evidence-gathering. Ultimately, however, the Seventh Circuit held that warrantless entry into appellant's home could not be sustained on the basis of the community caretaker doctrine, but was justified under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, as the officers had a reasonable basis to believe that appellant posed an imminent danger of harm to herself.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1

Police search and seizure and qualified immunity in mental health emergencies

7 th Circuit reverses district court and dismisses 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against police officers for violating plaintiff’s fourth amendment right against unreasonable seizure, finding the officers had qualified immunity

Mucha v. Jackson, 786 F.3d 1064 (7th Cir. 2015)

Jason Mucha was a Milwaukee police sergeant referred for psychiatric examination after failing to report to duty for 7 months due to stress. In his examination, Mucha admitted to having had thoughts of committing suicide by cop, specifically “going to a command staff meeting with a rifle” and “shooting them until they shoot me.” Mucha stated that he did “not intend[] to do that” but that going back to work “could have a real bad ending.” The psychiatrist, in a report to the police department two weeks later, stated that sending Mucha back to work would be a “public safety issue.” The police sent two officers with Tactical Enforcement Unit backup to Mucha’s home to speak with him. At that time Mucha said he had no intention of harming himself or others, but he did admit to having dreams or thoughts of committing suicide or hurting others. The officers detained Mucha and took him to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Facility where he was admitted after the facility’s treatment director found that Mucha suffered from “adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct and mood” and so “posed a threat of danger to self or others.” Mucha was released after three days and filed suit for unreasonable seizure and false imprisonment. The District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin denied the officers’ motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to their claims for qualified immunity.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, as they had not violated “any clearly established law, whether constitutional or statutory, federal or state.” Judge Posner noted that the officers had relied upon Wisconsin's emergency detention statute, which authorizes police officers to take a person to an appropriate mental health facility if they have “cause to believe” that the person is “mentally ill” and has demonstrated “a substantial probability of physical harm to himself or herself as manifested by evidence of recent threats of or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm.” The district court had accepted Mucha’s Fourth Amendment argument that the officers did not “have probable cause to believe that he was mentally ill and posed a danger to himself and to other police officers.” The district court noted that the psychiatrist’s information was 15 days old when received, and thus was not “recent” within the meaning of the emergency detention statute. The Seventh Circuit rejected Mucha’s argument, however, noting that the Wisconsin statute does not define “recent” and that the definition can vary depending upon context. Given the nature of Mucha’s statements to the psychiatrist, the Circuit Court held that the statements were still recent or at least not clearly established as no longer recent. Moreover, the Circuit Court noted that “[a] state law cannot preempt the Fourth Amendment” but it “can establish a standard of conduct that is consistent with the amendment but particularized to a specific situation.” Because the “danger signals” known to the police at the time of their interview with Mucha reasonably triggered the emergency detention statute, “the defendant officers…were complying with a statute the validity of which is not contested.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2

Unreasonable seizure of firearms

Arden v. McIntosh, et al. (No. 14-1517) (10th Cir. July 23, 2015)

Deputy’s warrantless seizure of firearms from the home of a person after the person had been removed from the home and hospitalized for suicidal behavior constitutes unreasonable seizure under 4 th amendment, but deputy entitled to qualified immunity

Background: Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to Arden’s home after a caller reported to emergency staff that Arden had called her and in slurred speech had stated that he was taking pills and would continue taking them because nobody cared about him. Deputies found the front door to Arden’s home open. Officers announced their presence, found Mr. Arden in his bedroom, incoherent and unresponsive. Medics soon arrived and took Mr. Arden to the hospital, where he was placed on an “emergency mental health hold.” While still at the home, a deputy saw 23 firearms and ammunition in plain sight; these were collected and held for safekeeping at the police station. After Mr. Arden was released from the hospital, the firearms and ammunition were returned to him.

Mr. Arden filed suit in state court alleging a 4 th amendment violation and that the Sheriff failed to provide proper policies, training, and supervision in regard to such activities. The defendants removed the case to federal court, and moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to “qualified immunity” for their actions. The district court granted the motion, finding no constitutional violations in the deputies’ conduct. Mr. Arden appealed, arguing that once he was taken from his home to the hospital, exigency ended, so that the subsequent warrantless search and seizure were not justified. The deputy argued that, because she was already authorized to be in the home and the weapons were in plain sight and her seizure was temporary and carried out for public safety purposes, her actions were authorized by law enforcement’s “community caretaking” role.

Holdings: A 3-judge panel of the Circuit Court ruled that the exigency was removed when Arden was removed from the home to the hospital, so that there was no cited legal authority for removing the firearms from the home. As a result, the firearms seizure constituted an unlawful seizure under the 4 th amendment. However, at the time of that seizure, there was no existing case law that gave the deputy “fair warning” that this conduct was unreasonable. Accordingly, the deputy was protected by “qualified immunity” from liability because she could have a good faith belief that her conduct was lawful.

Notable Points: The panel noted that no authority could be found “authorizing a police officer to confiscate weapons that would otherwise be left in an unoccupied house,” but also that no authority clearly established “that firearms may not constitutionally be removed from a residence under these circumstances.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 3

Liability Under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for Involuntary Custody

Myers v. Patterson, 819 F.3d 625 (2d Cir. 2016)

Second Circuit finds that the district court record was insufficient to support a finding of qualified immunity for police officer responding to child protective services report who took a mother into custody based on finding of danger to self or others due to mental illness, and remands for further proceedings.

Background: A Child Protective Services caseworker, Jodi Weitzman, was assigned to investigate Julia Johnson after reports from her son’s school. Weitzman eventually summoned police to Johnson’s home, believing that she should be sent for a psychological evaluation. The only record of the arrest was Weitzman’s handwritten notes; the police officer did not take notes and did not testify. The notes described Johnson as annoyed and uncooperative, and her son, DJM, as fearful. The officer, Patterson, arrested Johnson and she was sent to a medical facility for evaluation. The district court granted Patterson qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 because Johnson did not put forth evidence that would suggest Patterson was not making a reasonable decision as a police officer when he detained her. The officer’s motion for summary judgment was granted.

Holding: A police officer must have probable cause to believe a person is at risk of harming himself or others in order to lawfully detain them. A police officer would have probable cause if other reasonable police officers would not disagree with his conduct or he was acting under the professional judgment of a licensed caseworker. The Second Circuit found that the record had insufficient detail to make a probable cause determination, one way or the other. The court vacated the district court’s assignment of qualified immunity and remanded the case to that court in order to further develop the record and reconsider the question of qualified immunity.

Notable Points:

Assessment for probable cause is anchored at time of custody: After Johnson was arrested, she was found to be a danger to herself and others, according to the psychological evaluation. Eventually, her parental rights were severed. Regardless of whether the subsequent facts make Patterson’s arrest seem more plausible, the court would only consider the facts at the time of the conduct.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2

42 U.S.C Section 1983 Liability; Emergency Custody

Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., No. 15-1589, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 8512 (4th Cir. May 9, 2016)

Claim of Fourth Amendment seizure violation by officers who used independent emergency custody authority to take person into custody for mental health evaluation survives officers’ motion to dismiss, as facts alleged by plaintiff, if proved, would establish unlawful seizure. Related claim against CSB evaluator dismissed.

Background: In a complaint filed in the district federal court, Gordon Goines alleged that, on May 15, 2014, he was experiencing problems with his cable television service and was informed by a technician that one of his neighbors had spliced into his cable, and that that was the cause of the connectivity issues. Goines, according to his complaint, went across the street to a police station to report the theft. Goines took two officers back to his apartment, but the officers did not turn on the television and so did not hear the strange noises. Instead, according to Goines, the officers asked if Goines had any mental health issues or if he “wanted to talk to someone.” Goines believed they were referring to the problem with his television and so said yes. The officers then handcuffed Goines and transported him involuntarily to the area medical center. There he was interviewed by an intake clinician employed by Valley Community Services Board, who concluded that Goines suffered from a mental illness and posed a threat to the safety of his neighbors.

Goines was hospitalized until his release on May 20, 2014. Goines then brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was unlawfully seized without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Goines noted in his complaint that he suffers from cerebellar ataxia, which affects his speech, balance and fine motor coordination, but that he has no mental health issues. The district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and dismissed the complaint in its entirety.

Holding: On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that the claims against the mental health intake clinician and her employer were properly dismissed, but that the claims against the two officers had been dismissed in error. The court found that the allegations in Goines’ complaint were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss with regard to the officers because the complaint provided no reasonable basis for the officers to have concluded that Goines was a danger.

Notable Points:

Goines’ complaint plausibly alleged facts that no reasonable officer would have found sufficient to justify an emergency mental health detention: The Appeals Court noted that “a motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint,” so that the Court’s review was limited to “a review of the allegations in the complaint itself.” The defendant officers, noting that Goines had included the officers’ Incident Report as an attachment, argued that, by including the Report, Goines had adopted all of the statements in the Incident Report as true. Those statements, which described behaviors by Goines and observations of Goines by the officers that Goines did not allege in his complaint, were cited by the officers as showing good cause for Goines’ seizure, and thereby supporting the officers’ motion to dismiss. Goines argued, and the Appeals Court agreed, that while Goines relied on the Incident Report for some of the facts in his complaint, he did not base his claims on the Incident Report, and none of his claims were dependent on the truth of any statements contained in the Incident Report. Goines merely used the report to support his theory that the police assumed from his physical difficulties that he was mentally ill. The Fourth Circuit determined that Goines’ complaint alleged facts indicating that the officers failed to make a sufficient inquiry before assuming a threat and transporting him to the evaluation center. Also important to the court were the alleged facts that (1) Goines had reported to the stationhouse seeking police assistance and (2) the officers were not faced with an emergency situation that would limit their ability to conduct further inquiry.

Goines’ complaint failed to allege a constitutional violation by intake clinician: In contrast to the officers’ Incident Report, the Fourth Circuit found that Goines had incorporated by reference the intake Screening Report. Probable cause to seize a person for psychological evaluation exists “when the facts and circumstances within the defendant’s knowledge and of which the defendant had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man to believe that the person poses a danger to himself or others.” The Screening Report, which Goines had adopted for purposes of his claims against the clinician and community services board, showed that the clinician had observed Goines “behaving as if he were responding to visual hallucinations” and had received seemingly trustworthy information from the officers that Goines had been suffering from auditory hallucinations. Additionally, Goines, while in the clinician’s presence, threatened to attack his neighbors after his release. Taken together, the court held that these facts established probable cause for the emergency mental health detention, and supported the clinician’s motion to dismiss.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2

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