Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
(D.C. Civ. No. 95-cv-00245J)
Before: MANSMANN and LEWIS, Circuit Judges and DUPLANTIER, District Judge. *fn*
This appeal from the dismissal of civil rights claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) presents a question of first impression for us: whether a plaintiff's status as a mentally retarded female *fn1 places her within a cognizable class entitled to protection under 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1985(3). We must also determine whether the plaintiffs' allegations of state action for purposes of 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983 are sufficient to withstand the defendants' motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Because we are convinced that the plaintiffs have succeeded in stating a cause of action under both 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1985(3) and 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983, we will reverse the order of the district court.
On May 31, 1995, Elizabeth Arnold Lake and her husband, Justin Lake, filed suit in a Pennsylvania state court alleging, in addition to several state law claims, the deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. #8E8E # 1985(3) and 1983. Named as defendants were Elizabeth Lake's parents, Tyrone Hospital, and two of the hospital staff physicians. The plaintiffs allege generally that in June, 1977, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Lake was taken to Tyrone Hospital by her parents where she underwent a tubal ligation. Elizabeth states that she was unable to give informed consent to the operation because she was illiterate and retarded. The plaintiffs allege that they were not made aware of the nature of the surgery which had been performed until Elizabeth underwent a medical examination in December, 1993.
Tyrone Hospital removed the action to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and all defendants filed motions to dismiss the federal claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Following amendment of the complaint, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation, advising that the section 1985(3) and 1983 claims be dismissed and that the remaining claims be remanded to the state court. The section 1985(3) claim was deemed deficient based on the magistrate judge's conclusion that "handicapped persons were neither intended to be a class nor reasonably [can] be considered to be a class for purpose of section 1985(3)." The magistrate judge found that the section 1983 claim failed adequately to allege state action on the part of Tyrone Hospital or the defendant doctors. Following de novo review, the district court adopted the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge dismissing the federal claims and remanding the remaining claims to state court. This timely appeal followed.
We exercise plenary review of the district court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' federal claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing the order we must accept as true each of the factual allegations set forth in the complaint, D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Voc. Tech. School, 972 F.2d 1364, 1367 (3d Cir. 1992). We are particularly vigilant in reviewing orders dismissing claims alleging civil rights violations; we will "not affirm a dismissal at the pleading stage, unless it is readily discerned that the facts cannot support entitlement to relief." Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 989 F.2d 117, 118 (3d Cir. 1993). With this ...