ZINERMON V. BURCH, 494 U. S. 113 (1990)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113 (1990)

Zinermon v. Burch

No. 87-1965

Argued Oct. 11, 1989

Decided Feb. 27, 1990

494 U.S. 113


Respondent Burch, while allegedly medicated and disoriented, signed forms requesting admission to, and treatment at, a Florida state mental hospital, in apparent compliance with state statutory requirements for "voluntary" admission to such facilities. After his release, he brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the District Court against, inter alios, petitioners -- physicians, administrators, and staff members at the hospital -- on the ground that they had deprived him of his liberty without due process of law. The complaint alleged that they violated state law by admitting him as a voluntary patient when they knew or should have known that he was incompetent to give informed consent to his admission, and that their failure to initiate Florida's involuntary placement procedure denied him constitutionally guaranteed procedural safeguards. The court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), relying on Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U. S. 527, and Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U. S. 517, which held that a deprivation of a constitutionally protected property interest caused by a state employee's random, unauthorized conduct does not give rise to a § 1983 procedural due process claim unless the State fails to provide a postdeprivation remedy. The court pointed out that Burch did not contend that the State's statutory procedure for placement was inadequate to ensure due process, but only that petitioners had failed to follow the procedure. Since the State could not have anticipated or prevented the unauthorized deprivation of Burch's liberty, the court reasoned, there was no feasible predeprivation remedy, and the State's postdeprivation tort remedies provided Burch with all the process that was due him. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

Held: Burch's complaint was sufficient to state a claim under § 1983 for violation of his procedural due process rights. While Parratt and Hudson apply to deprivations of liberty, they do not preclude Burch's claim, because predeprivation procedural safeguards might have been of value in preventing the alleged deprivation of Burch's liberty without either valid consent or an involuntary placement hearing. Such a deprivation is not unpredictable. It is foreseeable that persons requesting treatment might be incapable of informed consent, and that state officials with the power to admit patients might take their apparent willing

Page 494 U. S. 114

ness to be admitted at face value. And the deprivation will occur, if at all, at a predictable point in the admissions process -- when a patient is given admission forms to sign. Nor was predeprivation process impossible here. Florida has a procedure for involuntary placement, but only the hospital staff is in a position to take notice of any misuse of the voluntary admission process and to ensure that the proper procedures are afforded both to those patients who are unwilling and to those who are unable to give consent. In addition, petitioners' conduct was not "unauthorized" within the meaning of Parratt and Hudson, since the State had delegated to them the power and authority to deprive mental patients of their liberty and the concomitant duty to initiate the procedural safeguards set up by state law to guard against unlawful confinement. Pp. 494 U. S. 124-139.

840 F.2d 797 (CA11 1988), affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, post, p. 494 U. S. 139.

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