Friday, September 17, 2010
Court: Paramedic Can Press Rights Claim Over Removal
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A former paramedic can proceed with a suit alleging that his removal from duty over an altercation with a patient he was dispatched to help violated his constitutional rights, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
A three-judge panel said that King County, Wash., firefighter Bryan Braswell might have held a protected liberty interest in his paramedic position where testimony indicated that his removal meant that no other fire department would ever hire him as a paramedic.
Braswell was removed from duty as a paramedic with the Shoreline Fire Department for “an anger management problem” after he became involved in a verbal altercation on Nov. 30, 2005 at the residence of Tommy Davis, who called emergency services complaining of chest pains.
According to the court, Davis became agitated when Braswell asked him whether he had used any recreational drugs that evening, and could or would not comply when Braswell bent over him and repeatedly told him to breathe deeply while administering a lung examination.
Davis stood up and threw a file folder onto a desk causing papers and objects to fly off after Braswell requested “a little less attitude” in response to Davis’ query about Braswell’s “problem.” Davis then told Braswell and his partner to leave and refused—using profanities—to fill out a release form stating that he did not consent to treatment.
When Braswell asked whether he should summon police, Davis reportedly said he would give Braswell a reason to throw him in jail, and starting rummaging through desk drawers. Braswell later said that he feared Davis might be searching for a weapon, so he and his partner left without treating Davis or obtaining a release form.
Washington law provides that certified paramedics may only practice while working under the license and supervision of a qualified medical doctor, and Braswell practiced under Dr. Gary Somers, a program medical director for King County Emergency Medical Services who was in charge of the Shoreline area. In a meeting days later, Somers accused Braswell of failing to identify medically significant symptoms and abandoning a patient, and he revoked Braswell’s authorization to practice under his license.
Braswell was reassigned to firefighting duties, but retained his same level of salary. His paramedic certification lapsed in 2007 after he declined to seek recertification.
Braswell filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he had a property interest in his employment and a liberty interest in pursuing his paramedic profession. He said Shoreline and Somers deprived him of both without due process when he was removed without adequate notice and a hearing.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez of the Western District of Washington dismissed Braswell’s claims on summary judgment, but Judge Susan P. Graber wrote on appeal that deposition testimony by the fire department’s chief that Braswell would not likely be hired as a paramedic by any other department due to the removal raised a triable issue of fact as to whether Braswell was deprived of a liberty interest in pursuing his career.
Graber rejected, however, Braswell’s claims that he was deprived of a property interest, reasoning that neither Braswell’s paramedic certificate nor any state law gave him a protected interest in his particular employment with Shoreline.
She also agreed with Martinez’s determination that Braswell’s claim of tortiuous interference by Somers failed as a matter of law, noting that Braswell produced no evidence suggesting that Somers had any improper or wrongful motivation for his decision.
Judge Richard A. Paez and U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns of the Southern District of California, sitting by designation, joined Graber in her opinion.
The case is Braswell v. Shoreline Fire Department, 09-35974.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company