Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Chin, J.) dismissing Plaintiff's suit. The suit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleged constitutional torts and related state law claims. Plaintiff's claims are premised on her fourteenday detention at Elmhurst Hospital based on a finding by hospital staff that there was reasonable cause to believe she suffered from a mental illness rendering her dangerous to herself or others. Plaintiff had been remanded to Elmhurst by order of the New York Family Court for determination whether she suffered from such a mental illness. The district court construed the complaint as a challenge to the order of the Family Court and dismissed under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Court of Appeals (Leval, J.) concludes that Rooker-Feldman is inapplicable, as the suit challenges decisions made by Elmhurst Hospital personnel which were not compelled by the Family Court order.
Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leval, Circuit Judge
Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, WALKER, and LEVAL, Circuit Judges.
Plaintiff Sandra Morrison appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Chin, J.) dismissing her suit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging torts under the United States Constitution and state law. The complaint asserts claims against the Elmhurst Hospital, and persons associated with it, based on Plaintiff's detention at the hospital for a period of fourteen days following her remand for psychiatric evaluation by a judge of the Family Court of the State of New York.*fn1 The district court dismissed the complaint on the basis of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine,*fn2 construing the complaint as a challenge to the lawfulness of the Family Court's remand order. Plaintiff contends her suit does not challenge the Family Court order, but rather challenges the independent determinations made by personnel of the hospital -- in particular the determination that she was a danger to herself or others and should therefore be further detained. We agree that the complaint can be so interpreted and that, to the extent the complaint seeks relief based on discretionary decisions of the hospital that were not mandated by the Family Court order, it should not have been dismissed under Rooker-Feldman.
On November 9, 2005, Plaintiff, as a respondent in a child neglect proceeding in the Family Court in Jamaica, New York,was sitting outside the courtroom,waiting for her case to be called. Apparently because she was engaged in highly emotional prayer, court officers brought her before the judge. During the hearing that followed, Family Court Judge Rhea G. Friedman, who had herself gone to the door to observe Plaintiff's conduct, noted that Plaintiff had been "praying[,] chanting and seemed quite distressed." Judge Friedman then issued an "Order Directing Emergency Evaluation." The order provided in pertinent part:
Sandra Morrison,a person before the court,has or may have a mental illness which is likely to result in serious harm to . . . herself or others based upon the following evidence presented: respondent continued to have an outburst in the waiting area after being told by Court Officers to calm down NOW, therefore, it is ORDERED that Sandra Morrison is remanded to HHC/Elmhurst Hospital, a hospital specified in section 9.39(a) of the Mental Hygiene Law, for a determination . . . whether such person should be retained therein pursuant to such section; and it is further ORDERED that the proceeding is adjourned to 11/23/2005; and it is further ORDERED that Court Release Only.
The judge explained that the remand was for "evaluation," that the order had provided for "court release only," and that she chose November 23 as the date to resume proceedings because "Elmhurst need[s] a Wednesday for transportation."
Plaintiff was then transported to the Elmhurst Hospital. Upon her admission to the hospital, Defendant-Appellee Dr. Laurence Dopkin certified that he had "examined [her] prior to admission and [found] there is reasonable cause to believe that [she] has a mental illness for which immediate observation, care and treatment in a mental hospital is appropriate and which is likely to result in serious harm to . . . herself or others." The admission form bears a handwritten note stating that Plaintiff was "remanded for [psychological evaluation] secondary to uncooperative and religiously preoccupied behavior." Dr. Dopkin also certified that Plaintiff was furnished a "Notice of Status and Rights" form. The form stated: "Within 48 hours of the time of your admission, you will be examined by another physician . . . . If he or she confirms the first physician's findings, you may then be kept in the hospital for a period of up to 15 days . . . . During this 15 day period you may be released, converted to involuntary status, or asked to remain as a voluntary or informal patient" (emphasis added). The next morning, Defendant-Appellee Dr. Claudia Iordache examined Plaintiff and confirmed Dr. Dopkin's findings.
Plaintiff was then held at Elmhurst for two weeks and was returned to the Family Court on November 23, 2005. At the hearing that followed, the Family Court judge noted, apparently confirming the seriousness of Plaintiff's condition, that "the situation in the waiting room" two weeks earlier had been "untenable and a security risk." The court added that the hospital has the privilege to advance a remanded subject's release at any time, and often does so, but did not seek to exercise that privilege in this case. The court urged Plaintiff to follow through with therapy.
Plaintiff subsequently brought this action alleging that her detention at Elmhurst violated her rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as various New York State laws.*fn3 Defendants moved to dismiss on various grounds. The district court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction reasoning that, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, it lacked the power to review state-court judgments. Morrison v. City of New York, No. 06 Civ. 7608 (DC), 2008 WL 458728, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2008). The court construed the complaint as a challenge to the Family Court order and rejected Plaintiff's contention that the challenge was to discretionary actions of the hospital. "For Morrison to prevail," the court explained, "she must demonstrate that the [Family Court] order was unlawful." Id. at *5. The court further reasoned that, because the Family Court judge had directed that Plaintiff could be released only by court order, and the court had adjourned the proceeding for two weeks (until November 23), the Elmhurst Defendants had no ...