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Smart v. Simonson

decided: February 6, 1989.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 85 C 6838 -- Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

Bauer, Chief Judge, Cudahy, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

Author: Bauer

BAUER, Chief Judge.

This case is before us on appeal from the district court's order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff, Carol Smart, brought suit for damages under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 alleging that he had been held in a mental health institution in violation of his rights. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis that they were entitled to qualified immunity. For the following reasons, we affirm.


In 1958, Carol Smart was indicted for the murder of his mother and stepfather. The jury found that Smart was feebleminded and insane and, for that reason, incapable to stand trial. The Christian County, Illinois court entered an order that was, in effect, a judgment on the verdict. The court adjudicated Smart "legally insane by reason of mental retardation or feeblemindedness." The court also ordered that Smart be confined by the Illinois Department of Public Welfare (DPW), later renamed the Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities (DMHDD), "until he shall have entirely and permanently recovered from his insanity." Under the order, upon Smart's recovery, the DPW was to arrange for the Sheriff to receive Smart and hold him until the court disposed of the murder indictment. Smart was originally committed to the Illinois State Security Hospital in Chester, Illinois. In October of 1968, he was transferred to Dixon Developmental Center.

In July of 1974, Ronald Hodapp of the Dixon Developmental Center petitioned the Lee County Court for an order restoring Smart to competency. The record is unclear with respect to both Hodapp's occupation and his relation to Smart or the case. Attached to Hodapp's petition was an affidavit, signed by Doctor Ryback, a psychiatrist at Dixon, stating that Smart "is able to take care of his own direct needs and may function appropriately under close supervision in the community." On July 31, 1974, the Lee County Court granted the petition to restore Smart to legal competency. The order stated that Smart was now "able to manage his person and estate."

In October of 1975, the Christian County state's attorney petitioned the Christian County court for a Writ of Habeas Corpus ad Prosequendum, directing the Lee County Sheriff to bring Smart to court for a competency hearing. As opposed to the Lee County hearing to determine Smart's competency to handle his own affairs, the Christian County hearing sought to determine Smart's competency to stand trial. On December 27, 1975, the Christian County court found that Smart was unfit to stand trial and remanded him to Dixon. The court also ordered that a civil commitment "hearing be conducted in accordance with the procedures" of the Mental Health Code. This hearing, which should have been held in Lee County, never occurred.

On November 10, 1976, the Christian County court ordered Smart released on his own Recognizance Bond. It also ordered that Smart remain under the supervision of the DMHDD and remain in the hospital for approximately 3 months before transfer to the Village Inn, a half-way house. From November 2, 1977 until March 10, 1978, Smart lived at the Village Inn. He was returned to Dixon after several instances of physical aggression.

On January 3, 1980, Dr. James Magnuson of Dixon wrote a letter to the Christian County court, stating his belief that Smart was no longer incompetent to stand trial. More correspondence between the DMHDD and the court ensued. On September 16, 1980, the court dismissed the murder charges against Smart with leave to reinstate. Thereafter Smart elected to remain as a guest at Dixon until he found another place to live.

In June of 1980, Smart filed this civil rights action against defendants David Edelson, Christian Simonson, and Meryln Niedens. Edelson served as Superintendent of Dixon from 1968 to 1977. Simonson replaced Edelson as Superintendent in 1972 and held that position through plaintiff's final release. He also served as the DMHDD Regional Coordinator for Region IA from 1976 through plaintiff's release. For most of 1968 through 1980, Niedens was the Unit Director of plaintiff's section at Dixon. Plaintiff contends that the defendants violated his constitutional rights by (1) failing to release him after the July 31, 1974 court order restoring his legal competency, (2) failing to provide a hearing for him or alternatively, releasing plaintiff following the December 29, 1975 recommittal order, (3) failing to release him following the November 10, 1976 bond order, and (4) failing to provide him with adequate treatment while he was confined at Dixon Developmental Center.

The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because defendants' conduct did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. From this decision the plaintiff appeals.


In Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982), the Supreme Court refashioned the doctrine of qualified immunity. The Court found that the subjective element of the good faith defense had proven to be incompatible with its earlier admonition that insubstantial claims against government officials should not proceed to trial. Id. at 816; see also Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 86 L. Ed. 2d 411, 105 S. Ct. 2806 (1985) (qualified immunity, similar to absolute immunity, is an entitlement not to stand trial under certain circumstances). To avoid excessive disruption of government and permit resolution of insubstantial claims on summary judgment, the Court defined the entitlement to qualified immunity in objective terms. Id. at 818. Thus, a government defendant is entitled to summary judgment based upon qualified immunity as long as his "conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Id. (citations ...

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