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MS. B. v. MONTGOMERY CTY. EMERGENCY SERV.

July 15, 1992

MS. B.
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EMERGENCY SERVICE, INC., et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LOUIS H. POLLAK

 In this action, plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant Montgomery County Emergency Service, an institution at which she received psychiatric treatment, and against individual defendants who participated in her treatment there. The basis of plaintiff's section 1983 claim is defendants' disclosure to law enforcement personnel and to plaintiff's supervisor of threats made by plaintiff during the course of her treatment. Plaintiff alleges that this disclosure was in violation of section 7111 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 P.S. §§ 7101 et seq., which protects the confidentiality of a mental patient's treatment records. Defendants have now moved for summary judgment.

 I. Facts

 To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, a moving party must establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party is initially responsible for identifying those portions of the factual record which it believes establish that there are no issues of material fact. Once the moving party has done so, the opposing party must demonstrate, by reference to affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions, that a triable issue of fact exists. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In the present case, defendants have submitted a number of affidavits, as well as admissions by both sets of parties, in order to establish that no material issue of fast exists. Plaintiff, in response, has filed no affidavits, depositions, or other evidence. Accordingly, the following are the undisputed facts for the purposes of this motion for summary judgment.

 Plaintiff is a former postal worker who was employed at the United States Post Office in Devon, Pennsylvania. On January 5, 1987, plaintiff's then attorney telephoned an acquaintance who was an employee of defendant Montgomery County Emergency Services (MCES), and told his acquaintance that, in his opinion, plaintiff needed psychiatric treatment. As a result of this conversation, plaintiff was brought to MCES on January 6. There, she was examined by defendant K. Ashalatha Reddy, M.D., a psychiatrist then employed by MCES. During the course of Dr. Reddy's evaluation, plaintiff informed Dr. Reddy that she was preoccupied with thoughts of killing her supervisor, Jeffrey Moran, and two co-employees. She further stated that she owned a 9mm Uzi semi-automatic pistol, that she had previously stalked her supervisor and the two co-employees, that she knew where they lived, and that if she returned to work she would shoot them.

 Plaintiff declined to admit herself voluntarily for treatment at MCES. As a result, after her evaluation of plaintiff, Dr. Reddy executed an application for involuntary emergency examination and treatment under section 302 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. § 7302 (Purdon's Supp. 1991). Section 302 authorizes holding plaintiff for involuntary treatment for 120 hours pending an application for extended involuntary emergency treatment.

 On January 7, plaintiff repeated her explicit threats to kill her co-workers during the course of an interview with Louis Pratt, an MCES counselor and social worker. Plaintiff also met with Rocio Nell, M.D., her treating psychiatrist at MCES, and expressed her strong anger at her coworkers, of the manner in which she perceived they had wronged her, and of her desire for revenge. Dr. Nell thereafter completed an application to retain plaintiff for extended involuntary treatment pursuant to section 303 of the MHPA, 50 P.S. § 7303. On January 9, after a hearing, the Mental Health Review Officer denied the application for extended involuntary treatment.

 At the conclusion of the hearing, Dr. Nell met with another doctor, MCES's counsel, and defendant Robert Bond, the MCES criminal justice liaison. The four agreed that plaintiff's threats were serious and that the intended victims and law enforcement authorities should be warned of plaintiff's threats and imminent discharge. Mr. Bond then telephoned plaintiff's supervisor, Mr. Moran, and representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Tredyffrin Township Police Department, and the Morristown Police Department. Mr. Bond informed these individuals of plaintiff's identity, of the nature of her threats, and of the fact that she was about to be released from MCES. Mr. Bond said nothing of the nature of plaintiff's mental illness or of any communications she had made during the course of her treatment, other than the explicit threats against three individuals.

 Prior to release, plaintiff met once more with Dr. Nell. At the meeting, plaintiff once again voiced her threats. Dr. Nell told plaintiff that the threats would be disclosed to the threatened individuals and to appropriate law enforcement agencies; plaintiff replied that such disclosure would not bother her. Plaintiff was then released.

 On January 10, officers of the Tredyffrin Township Police Department arrested plaintiff. She was subsequently convicted of making terroristic threats in violation of 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 2706.

 II. Legal Analysis

 To prevail on a section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) conduct by a person acting under color of state law that (2) deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 68 L. Ed. 2d 420, 101 S. Ct. 1908 (1981); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1142 (3d Cir. 1990). Defendants concede, for the purposes of this motion, that they acted under color of state law. The sole issue before the court, therefore, is whether defendants' actions deprived plaintiff of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

 Plaintiff's complaint originally alleged deprivations of procedural due process and substantive due process. On May 20, 1990, however, on defendants' motion to dismiss, I dismissed plaintiff's procedural due process claim, allowing only the substantive due process claim to go forward.

 Unlike the requirement of procedural due process, which merely requires the state to erect adequate procedural safeguards before effecting a deprivation of liberty or property, the requirement of substantive due process places affirmative limits on what a state may do. See Pittsley v. Warish, 927 F.2d 3, 6 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 116 L. Ed. 2d 183, 112 S. Ct. 226 (1991). Substantive due process is offended when a government actor impinges upon a constitutionally protected fundamental right in a manner that is "so arbitrary and unreasonable as to 'shock the conscience of the court.'" Fanning v. Montgomery County Children and Youth Servs., 702 F. Supp. 1184, 1190 (E.D. Pa. 1988) (quoting In re Scott County Master Docket, 672 F. Supp. 1152, 1166 (D. Minn. 1987)); see also Midnight Sessions, Ltd. v. City of Philadelphia, 945 F.2d 667, 683 (3d Cir. 1991) (stating ...


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