Wednesday, May 3, 2017
C.A. Rejects Teacher’s Suit Against LAUSD, Hospital
Panel Upholds Ruling Against Educator Detained Under Mental Health Statute
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A teacher who was taken to a hospital near her school and placed under a mental health hold lacks a viable legal claim against the hospital, the school district, or school police, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Seven ruled that all of Katia Julian’s causes of action were barred by governmental immunity, because the laws that were allegedly violated cannot be remedied by an award of damages, because the defendants were private persons who could not be sued for civil rights violations, or because the alleged conduct did not amount to a violation of law.
Julian was teaching math at Vista Middle School in Panorama City in 2012, when she reported to the principal that a colleague “physically assaulted” her by grabbing her hand as she tried to close the door to a classroom where a meeting was taking place. She asked the principal not to report the incident to school police, because of earlier incidents in which Julian had interacted negatively with officers.
The principal, Nidia Castro, later testified that she was concerned because she didn’t want to cause Julian undue stress, but knew she had to report the alleged incident. She said she contacted a superior and a district crisis counselor, who told her to follow protocol and report the episode.
‘Slit Her Wrists’
The principal discussed the situation with school police, and a sergeant, Robert Taylor, came to the school to question Julian. Before doing so, he spoke to the crisis counselor, who said she feared for Julian’s mental health because Julian had recently lost a lawsuit against the district and had told her best friend she was going to “slit her wrists.”
According to testimony, when Taylor and the principal approached, Castro explained that Taylor was there to “take her report.” Julian ran down the hallway, said she did not want to talk to Taylor, and began screaming, attracting a crowd of students, employees and parents.
Taylor, saying he was concerned about Julian’s mental state, called for paramedics. When Julian began reaching into her bag, the sergeant testified, he handcuffed her as she continued screaming and struggled with the officers.
School officials asked Julian to cooperate with the paramedics, but said she merely became angrier and angrier as they strapped her to a gurney and took her to Mission Community Hospital a block away. One of the officers completed a form for the hospital, requesting that she be placed on 72-hour mental health hold pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code §5150.
She was released the next day. She later sued the hospital, an individual doctor, the Los Angeles Unified School District and its police force, and five individual officers.
The school defendants, she alleged, violated her state and federal constitutional rights by, among other things, seizing and detaining her without probable cause. The hospital defendants violated her civil rights by, among other things, failing to conduct a proper assessment that would have resulted in the rejection of the request for a hold, she claimed.
All of the defendants prevailed, either on demurrer or on motion for summary judgment. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frank Johnson ruled, among other things, that the officers were immune because they were not “required to make a definitive prognosis” of the plaintiff’s mental health and acted reasonably in the face of her “bizarre” behavior.
As for the doctor and hospital, Johnson said they were not acting under color of law and thus could not be held liable for civil rights violations under state or federal law.
Justice John Segal, writing for the appeals court, said that all causes of action were correctly dismissed, including those brought for violation of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, of which §5150 is a part.
The LPS Act, Segal explained, contains comprehensive provisions for the protection of those who are, or are suspected of being, “mentally disordered.” Among other things, the justice noted, it requires probable cause to believe that a person is dangerous to himself or herself, or to others, before the person can be detained and requires a professional assessment of an individual’s mental health prior to admission to a facility.
Julian claimed the defendants violated the LPS Act by holding her without probable cause, by failing to conduct her assessment in the manner prescribed by the statute, by not providing her with a written explanation of her rights. She also claimed the doctor who assessed her was not qualified to do so, that there was an impermissible delay in conducting the assessment, and that the doctor prescribed medication contrary to the statute’s requirements.
While the trial judge rejected those claims as inadequately pled, the appeals court affirmed on an alternative ground, that the LPS Act, although it creates some private causes of action, does not create one for any of the violations alleged by the plaintiff. For those violations, Segal said, the act provides other remedies, including revocation of a facility’s right to conduct evaluations and treat committed persons, and referral for criminal prosecution.
With respect to the school defendants, Segal said that the school district, as an instrumentality of the state, and the school police, as an instrumentality of the district, had sovereign immunity; and that the individual officers had qualified immunity because their observations of the plaintiff’s behavior, and the information they received from others, gave them probable cause to detain her under §5150.
Julian’s claims for violations of her state constitutional rights to freedom of speech and petition and due process of law, Segal went on to say, failed because there is no private right of action for those violations. Her privacy claim failed because she lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy under the circumstances, he said, while her claim for unreasonable search and seizure, assuming that such a cause of action exists under state law, fails because the LPS Act provides immunity for participants in the detention, evaluation, and treatment process.
The case is Julian v. Mission Community Hospital, 17 S.O.S. 2287.
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