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Jackson v. Barden

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 8, 2018

MITCHELL BARDEN, M.D., personally, SUKHMINDER SINGH, M.D., personally, RAVINDER SIDHU, M.D., personally, MICHAEL SUSCO, M.D., personally, and SAINT FRANCIS HOSPITAL, Defendants.


          KATHERINE POLK FAILLA United States District Judge.

         Cognizant of the gravity of such an event, New York law establishes detailed procedures for hospitalizing an individual against his or her will. One such procedure, codified in New York Mental Hygiene Law (“MHL”) § 9.37, allows a hospital to “receive and care for” any person who, “in the opinion of the director of community services or the director's designee, has a mental illness for which immediate inpatient care and treatment” is appropriate and that is “likely to result in serious harm to” him or herself or others.

         On October 22, 2009, Plaintiff Gregory Jackson was involuntarily hospitalized pursuant to MHL § 9.37 after he displayed alarming behavior to, among many others, numerous medical professionals from whom he received treatment. In 2012, Plaintiff brought this action against several physicians involved in his hospitalization and the receiving hospital, seeking damages for alleged violations of (i) the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (ii) the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and (iii) New York's common-law tort of medical malpractice.

         After extensive discovery, as well as a lengthy delay occasioned by the bankruptcy filing of the receiving hospital, Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff opposes the motions except as they pertain to his Rehabilitation Act claim, which he now abandons. As set forth in the remainder of this Opinion, all but one of the Defendants were not acting on behalf of the State when making decisions about Plaintiff's condition and treatment, and the remaining Defendant is subject to qualified immunity for his conduct. Accordingly, Plaintiff's federal claims fail, and the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims.[1]


         A. Factual Background

         The parties quibble over many of the factual details underlying Plaintiff's background and hospitalization. While none rises to the level of a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court discusses both parties' accounts when and to the extent they diverge.

         1. Plaintiff's Background

         The most significant source of information concerning Plaintiff comes not from his sworn statements, but from his “Core History, ” a document assembled by the New York State Office of Mental Health (“OMH”) and available to certain healthcare professionals. As discussed below, this document contains highly relevant information regarding Plaintiff's psychiatric, criminal, and personal histories.

         a. Plaintiff's Psychiatric History

         Plaintiff, now 55 years old, has an extensive history of psychiatric illness [redacted]. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶¶ 1, 15-16). [Redacted]. Despite these serious diagnoses, Plaintiff has a history of failing to comply with medical treatment directives, including the taking of medication, leading to numerous inpatient hospitalizations. (Id. at ¶ 2).

         Although his medical history precludes him from contesting the fact of these psychiatric hospitalizations, Plaintiff vigorously disputes certain ancillary details. For example, Plaintiff's medical records state that in 1987, Plaintiff assaulted a coworker, consequently lost his job, and was hospitalized at Prince George Hospital in Maryland for two weeks. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 17). Plaintiff acknowledges that he was involved in a shoving match at work, but insists that he neither lost his job nor was hospitalized after the incident. (See id.).

         From April to May of 1989, Plaintiff was hospitalized for approximately two weeks at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center (“HRPC”) “for [redacted] behavior.” (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 19). In June 1990, Plaintiff was readmitted to HRPC for a similar length of time, in this instance for assaulting his wife and threatening his neighbors. (See Id. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff admits that he kicked his wife but denies threatening his neighbors, stating that he “never threatened to cause harm, ” but only played music loudly over his neighbors' objections. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 57; see Id. at ¶ 55). Plaintiff's records indicate that upon admission, “he was [redacted], ” and when asked about his interactions with his wife stated, “I tried to instill a little fear in her, that's all.” (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶¶ 21-22). In connection with the instant motions, Plaintiff contends that this quote was taken out of context, and that he made this statement in relation to a “feigned suicide attempt” purported to invoke pity in his wife so that she would financially support him. (Id. at ¶ 22).

         In February 1991, Plaintiff was again admitted at HRPC, this time for approximately three weeks. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 23). Plaintiff's medical history states that this hospitalization resulted after he assaulted his wife, but he denies this incident. (Id.).[2] Upon admission, Plaintiff was [redacted], but Plaintiff contests that he displayed any behavior warranting such treatment. (See Id. at ¶ 24).

         In 1992, Plaintiff was admitted to HRPC from May 27 to July 22 “because of [redacted] behavior” after an altercation with his wife when she served him with a separation order. (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 25). Plaintiff contends such service never occurred, “and hence, [he] could not have been agitated in response to this action.” (Id.). Nevertheless, Plaintiff does not dispute that during his admission, he was [redacted]. (See Id. at ¶¶ 26-27).

         In May 2006, Plaintiff was hospitalized for one week “due to [redacted]. (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 28). Later that same year, from October 19 to December 29, Plaintiff was admitted to Defendant Saint Francis Hospital (“Saint Francis”) in Poughkeepsie, New York [redacted]. (Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiff was thereafter involuntarily transferred to HRPC for a period of time that the record does not specify. (See Id. at ¶ 31).

         b. Plaintiff's Criminal History

         Plaintiff's criminal history, as presented in his Core History, consists of six arrests and four convictions, spanning from 1984 to 2009. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 35).[3]

         Several of Plaintiff's convictions involve forceful or destructive behavior. On January 19, 2008, Plaintiff was charged with burglary but later pled guilty to a lesser offense of criminal trespass. (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶¶ 36-37). On February 23, 2009, Plaintiff was charged with criminal mischief with intent to damage property after vandalizing the exterior of a building. (See Id. at ¶ 32). The charges were dismissed in March 2009 upon a finding that Plaintiff was incapacitated [redacted]. (See id.; see also N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 730.40 (establishing procedure for finding incapacity to stand trial and remand to care of OMH)). On February 23, 2009, Plaintiff was also charged with criminal mischief and damaging another person's property in excess of $250. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 40). These charges were also dismissed in March 2009 after Plaintiff was found incapacitated. (Id. at ¶ 41).

         Plaintiff's Core History also evinces, with varying degrees of detail, his participation in a number of crimes involving theft or fraud. In November 2000, Plaintiff was charged with criminal possession of stolen property, a charge to which he later pled guilty. (See Barden Decl., Ex. N, at 3). On December 10 and 19, 2002, Plaintiff was charged with carrying out a scheme to defraud, though his Core History does not provide the details of the scheme or the ultimate resolution of these charges. (See id.). In November 2003, Plaintiff was charged with criminal impersonation, to which he later pled guilty and for which he was sentenced to three years' probation. (Id.). And in April and October 2008, Plaintiff was charged with issuing bad checks; the Core History does not indicate the resolution of these charges. (Id. at 4).

         c. Plaintiff's History of Substance Abuse

         Plaintiff's Core History recites that in the late 1980s to early '90s, Plaintiff's drug and alcohol abuse, coupled with [redacted], resulted in “numerous admissions to HRPC.” (Barden Decl., Ex. N, at 5). Plaintiff has also been [redacted] (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 33), and his Core History states that he “reports extensive use of crack cocaine and marijuana and has had 2 DWI's in his early 20's as a result of drinking” (Barden Decl., Ex. N, at 6).[4] After Plaintiff's week-long hospitalization in May 2006, he began outpatient treatment but did not consistently comply, leading to a relapse of crack cocaine use in August 2006. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶¶ 29, 34). According to Plaintiff, he last used cocaine in 2008. (Id. at ¶ 33).

         d. Plaintiff's [Redacted]


         2. Events Preceding Plaintiff's October 2009 Involuntary Hospitalization

         The events leading up to Plaintiff's involuntary hospitalization on October 22, 2009, involve numerous interactions with psychiatric support specialists, healthcare providers, and other professionals. Several of these individuals were affiliated with New York State and local governments. Of note, however, the hospital to which Plaintiff was admitted was private, as were its employees.

         a. Dutchess County's Involuntary Hospitalization Procedure

         Defendant Mitchell Barden, M.D., was the initial medical professional who completed an MHL § 9.37 application to have Plaintiff evaluated for hospitalization. (See Barden 56.1 ¶¶ 102-03). In October 2009, Dr. Barden was an OMH psychiatrist employed at HRPC. (See Id. at ¶ 3). In this capacity, Dr. Barden was the leader and decision-maker for the Dutchess County Mobile Crisis Team (“MCT”), a state-operated entity of healthcare professionals dispatched to sites within the County to address psychiatric crises. (See Id. at ¶¶ 3-6).

         More specifically, after receiving a dispatch referral, Dr. Barden was responsible for determining whether an individual satisfied MHL § 9.37 by presenting sufficient danger to require hospitalization and further psychiatric evaluation. (See Barden Dep. 17:17-23). Upon such determination, police or other authorities would apprehend the individual and transport him or her to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation in accordance with MHL § 9.37. (See Id. at 20:23-21:11).[5]

         b. The Dutchess County Psychiatric Helpline

         The MCT dispatches its healthcare professionals based on referrals from a 24-hour Helpline operated by the Dutchess County Department of Mental Hygiene. (See Barden Dep. 20:15-21:11). The Helpline also provides counseling and a contact point for psychiatric emergency services. (Stern Dep. 8:12-21). At the time of Plaintiff's hospitalization, Helpline Clinical Unit Administrator John Stern was responsible for referring individuals for involuntary hospitalization evaluations. (Id. at 7:18-8:21).

         Stern described Plaintiff as “a frequent caller to Helpline” (Stern Dep. 19:18), and Plaintiff does not dispute that he called “[m]any times” (Pl. Dep. 96:8). Indeed, Stern testified that Plaintiff called so often that it “significantly interfered with [Helpline's] operation.” (Stern Dep. 20:12-14). According to Stern, Plaintiff would often express hostility toward Helpline staff, such as threatening lawsuits, causing Stern to be “frightened for [his] safety, and … for the safety of the staff.” (Id. at 66:23-67:5).

         c. Assertive Community Treatment

         Assertive Community Treatment (“ACT”) is an intensive, outpatient psychiatric program that treats patients who require frequent hospitalization and home visits. (See Barden Dep. 25:14-21; Stern Dep. 58:24-25). In June 2009, ACT admitted and began providing outpatient services to Plaintiff. (See Pl. Dep. 248:10-249:12). On October 14, 2009, however, Dr. Stacyann Hahn, Director of ACT, completed a memo stating that Plaintiff “would be discharged from the ACT team immediately” because he was not cooperating with treatment and was becoming [redacted]. (Barden Decl., Ex. O; see Barden Dep. 27:6-7, 28:13-14). This memo was then forwarded to Dr. Barden. (See Barden Dep. 27:4-22). Somewhat presciently, Dr. Barden received word from ACT during this time that he might one day need to dispatch the MCT to pick up Plaintiff because Plaintiff was [redacted]. (See Id. at 26:19-27:3, 29:22-30:5).

         d. Plaintiff's Visit to the Dutchess County Executive's Office

         One week after his discharge from the ACT program, on October 22, 2009, Plaintiff visited the Dutchess County Executive's Office. Plaintiff concedes that during that entire month, he was suffering from [redacted]. (Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶¶ 48-49). He further acknowledges that he did not sleep at all the preceding evening. (Id. at ¶ 47).

         Accounts diverge as to the tenor and extent of Plaintiff's interactions with employees at the office. The first person Plaintiff encountered was Donna Lehnert, a budget assistant in the Dutchess County Budget Office, which shared office space with the Dutchess County Executive. (See Lehnert Dep. 6:23-7:13). Among other duties, Lehnert was responsible for greeting visitors of both offices, and her desk sat alone in a front entrance room. (See Id. at 7:5-8, 8:1-7).

         According to Lehnert, she received a phone call from Plaintiff on the morning of October 22 in which he requested to meet with the County Executive; when Lehnert informed Plaintiff that the County Executive was unavailable and asked if she could take a message, Plaintiff stated “he had something to show [the County Executive] … regarding Mental Hygiene.” (Lehnert Dep. 14:8-14). Within an hour of the call, Plaintiff arrived at the office and requested to schedule a meeting with the County Executive. (Id. at 14:15-18, 15:12-13). When Lehnert stated that the County Executive was unavailable, Plaintiff “got agitated and … started walking and pacing and talking to himself” before having a seat and repeatedly opening, looking into, and closing a briefcase. (Id. at 15:14-22). Lehnert tried to obtain information from Plaintiff to schedule an appointment, but Plaintiff “got upset[, ] … started pacing[, ] and [said] he wanted to wait for” the County Executive. (Id. at 17:25-18:6).

         Plaintiff's behavior frightened Lehnert: “His behavior was threatening. … He was talking to himself, he was pacing and he kept looking in a dark briefcase. It was scary. It's threatening.” (Lehnert Dep. 21:21, 21:24-22:1). While Plaintiff was still in the office, Lehnert emailed a coworker to request security personnel. (Id. at 18:8-11). In the meantime, Plaintiff began reading pamphlets available in the office, continued opening and closing his briefcase, and began “mumbling to himself.” (Id. at 18:17-24). After Lehnert sent a second email to her coworker, the coworker came to Lehnert's office, questioned Plaintiff, and left. (See Id. at 19:4-18).

         By the time security arrived, Plaintiff had exited. (See Lehnert Dep. 20:8-12). With Plaintiff gone, Lehnert called the Deputy Sheriff on duty in the building to inform him that she neither wanted Plaintiff to return to the office nor wanted to be alone. (Id. at 23:22-24:7). Lehnert then called the Helpline to inform John Stern that Plaintiff had visited the office; Lehnert also asked Stern whether Plaintiff was violent. (See Id. at 25:17-26:2).[6]

         At approximately 9:45 a.m., Stern called Dr. Barden and warned him that the MCT might need to evaluate Plaintiff for hospitalization. (See Barden Dep. 31:8-17). During the call, Stern indicated that Plaintiff

was harassing [someone] at the County Executive's office, that he had been there earlier that day and had to be escorted out, that in the past he had often frequented that office and had to be escorted out by security, that he was refusing medication and treatment, that he was hostile towards Mr. Stern and [Helpline] staff, [redacted], and … that [he] was making threats towards the Helpline staff.

(Id. at 31:21-32:8). Stern also informed Dr. Barden that in the past, when Plaintiff “refused medication[, he] had a history of becoming [redacted], and that at [that] time [Plaintiff] was refusing all treatment and medication.” (Id. at 32:16-20).

         Later that day, Stern completed a Mobile Team Referral form, requesting the MCT to evaluate Plaintiff. (See Stern Dep. 39:21-40:3; Barden Decl., Ex. P). The reason for referral, as Stern handwrote in the form, was that [redacted]. (Stern Dep. 40:17-20; see Barden Decl., Ex. P). The form instructed the MCT to “[e]valuate [Plaintiff] for hospitalization.” (Stern Dep. 40:20-21; see Barden Decl., Ex. P).

         Plaintiff tells a different story. According to him, on the morning of October 22, he never called the County Executive's Office, but merely visited to make an appointment with and obtain the name and phone number of someone who could help him obtain records from HRPC to support an ongoing lawsuit against the psychiatric center. (See Pl. Aff. ¶¶ 23-24; Pl. Dep. 66:14-67:2). While he was at the office, the County Executive entered Lehnert's office and asked Plaintiff to present a letter from HRPC denying him access to the records he sought. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 26). Plaintiff responded that he only wanted the name and number of someone who could help him, and he promptly left after receiving that information and sitting in the office to rest for a short time. (See Id. at ¶¶ 26-29). In further contrast to Lehnert's testimony and Stern's report, Plaintiff states that he only opened his briefcase once to store a brochure from the office, and he denies pacing or threatening anyone while he was there. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29).

         e. Plaintiff's Interaction with Dr. Barden

         After receiving the referral from Stern, Dr. Barden reviewed Plaintiff's Core History and, based on this review along with the information received from Stern and ACT members, determined that Plaintiff was at “a very high risk of being [redacted] towards others.” (Barden Dep. 38:3-14; see Id. at 26:19-27:14). Before Dr. Barden or the MCT could examine Plaintiff per the referral form, however, Plaintiff unexpectedly appeared at Dr. Barden's office at around 11:00 a.m. (See Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 89). Plaintiff has explained that he went to Dr. Barden's office at the direction of the Director of Community Services, who informed Plaintiff that Dr. Barden was a psychiatrist who could administer prescription antipsychotic medication. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 31).

         Here again, the parties provide differing accounts of events. According to Plaintiff, his interaction with Dr. Barden lasted less than a minute. (See, e.g., Pl. Aff. ¶ 33; Pl. Dep. 70:14-16 (“I saw him for about 24 seconds and I left[.]”)).

         Plaintiff explained that he eschewed Dr. Barden's professional services because the doctor looked unprofessional. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 32). Plaintiff further describes their encounter as follows:

I walked in and asked “are you Dr. Barden?” Dr. Barden replied “yes.” I then stated “I will let you know if I want to be treated by you.” Dr. Barden said “wait.” I replied “I'm leaving.” Dr. Barden again said ...

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