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Hicks v. Feeney

August 26, 1985

ROY HICKS, APPELLANT
v.
ROBERT C. FEENEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS HOSPITAL DIRECTOR OF THE DELAWARE STATE HOSPITAL, A FACILITY IN THE DIVISION OF MENTAL HEALTH, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES STATE OF DELAWARE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, D.C. Civil No. 84-0185

Author: Hunter

Before: ADAMS, HUNTER, and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges.

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

Roy Hicks appeals the order of the district court granting summary judgment to Robert C. Feeney, the former director of Delaware State Hospital ("DSH"). Hicks sued Feeney under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982), alleging deprivation of procedural due process when he was voluntarily confined in DSH. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the district court's order and remand for reconsideration of Feeney's immunity claim in light of Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 86 L. Ed. 2d 411, 105 S. Ct. 2806, 53 U.S.L.W. 4798 (1985).

I.

On November 18, 1982, the Delaware Family Court convicted Hicks of civil contempt after he telephones his ex-wife in defiance of a court order. The Family Court sentenced Hicks to a thirty day suspended sentence and one year's probation. As a condition of his probation, the Family Court ordered that Hicks be committed to DSH, for continued hospitalization "for such time as may be permitted by law, unless sooner discharged according to law."

The Delaware Involuntary Commitment Act Del. Code Ann. tit. 16 ch. 50 (1983), prohibits the involuntary commitment of any person unless a tripartite procedure is followed. Id. at § 5002. The individual may be provisionally admitted pursuant to the particularized, written certification of a psychiatrist that hospitalization is necessary. Id. at § 5003. Next, the Act requires DSH to examine the individual and to provide, within three days of admission, a written certification as to whether the individual is mentally ill. Id. at § 5005. If he is mentally ill, DSH must file, within six days of the provisional admission, a verified complaint with the proper state court seeking the patient's involuntary commitment. Id. at § 5007.

None of this happened to Hicks. He was sent straight from Family Court to DSH where the admitting physician found Hicks to be alert and cooperative. On November 23, five days after Hicks's admission, Dr. William Levy, the Director of Forensic Psychiatric Services at DSH, wrote the committing judge indicating that "our initial impression" is that Hicks suffered from a "psychiatric condition" requiring further evaluation. A day later, Dr. Levy wrote the judge that Hicks exhibited the signs and symptoms of "a major mental illness" and recommended civil commitment. Not until almost three weeks after this correspondence, however, did DSH prepare the written determination of mental illness required by the Delaware Involuntary Commitment Act. DSH filed the verified complaint in Delaware Superior Court on December 27, 1982, thirty-nine days after Hicks's admission. Before the complaint could be heard, however, DSH released Hicks on January 12, 1983, concluding that he suffered only from an "adjustment disorder." Hicks spent a total of 54 days in DSH.

The district court concluded that the confinement procedures used in this case deprived Hicks of his fourteenth amendment procedural due process right under color of state law. The district court also concluded that Hicks's commitment resulted from the "unauthorized failure of agents of the State to follow established state procedure," citing Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 543, 68 L. Ed. 2d 420, 101 S. Ct. 1908 (1981), and that the post-deprivation remedies provided by state law provided adequate procedural due process under Parratt. Alternatively, the district court found that even if DSH deprived appellant of his fourteenth amendment right to procedural due process that Feeney was entitled to qualified immunity from section 1983 liability under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982). Hicks appeals the last two findings.

II. The Procedural Due Process Claim

Section 1983 provides in part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

In any § 1983 action, the court must first make an inquiry to ascertain the presence of the two essential elements to a § 1983 claim: whether the alleged conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law and whether the conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges or immunities ...


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