The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a parent who sued a police officer for "forcing" her to accompany her daughter to the hospital did not establish a constitutional right violation.
In 2009, police showed up at Warren and Cheryl James' home after their 15-year-old daughter's friend alerted authorities that the daughter planned to commit suicide by ingesting ibuprofen. When questioned by her parents, the daughter admitted that she had planned to commit suicide, but said that she had changed her mind and had not ingested any pills. Nevertheless, Officer Michael Marshall stated that she had to go to the hospital for an evaluation.
The Jameses wanted to handle the matter themselves, but relented and gave permission for their daughter to be taken to the hospital when Officer Marshall warned them that he would charge them with assisted manslaughter if something happened to her.
Officer Marshall informed the parents that one of them would need to go to the hospital as well. They initially refused, stating that they felt unable to travel because they had taken prescription medication earlier that evening. Officer Marshall persisted, however, and Cheryl agreed to go. She later sued Officer Marshall for false arrest and false imprisonment.
Marshall moved to dismiss the suit based on qualified immunity.
The Supreme Court has established a two-part analysis that governs whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity. A court must ask: (1) whether the facts show a constitutional right violation; and (2) whether the right at issue was clearly-established at the time of the alleged misconduct. Courts may address the two Saucier prongs in any order, at their discretion.
If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either prong, the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Here, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that there wasn't a constitutional violation.
To state a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must establish that there was an arrest, and that the arrest was made without probable cause. Cheryl failed to prove that there was an arrest.
Cheryl's complaint merely pleaded that the officers "insisted" that one parent accompany Nicole. In the Third Circuit, insistence alone is insufficient to constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
Cheryl similarly failed to persuade the appellate court regarding the merits of her false imprisonment claim. To prove false imprisonment, a plaintiff must establish that she was detained and that the detention was unlawful. Though Cheryl was urged by officers to accompany her daughter in the ambulance -- and she agreed to do so -- she was free to leave at any time. Thus the appellate court found that Cheryl couldn't prove her claim.
The Third Circuit panel noted police behavior can be intimidating, but there were no allegations that the officers "intimidated [Cheryl] with a threatening presence, engaged in any physical touching, or displayed a weapon."
- James v. City of Wilkes-Barre (Third Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Third Circuit: Little League Pins Lawsuit Time-Barred (FindLaw's Third Circuit Blog)
- Third Cir. Mulls Timeliness, Qualified Immunity in Governor Claim (FindLaw's Third Circuit Blog)