The child's mother filed suit against employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), alleging that the DCFS employees demonstrated reckless indifference to the child's safety. While the lawsuit was pending, the mother's and father's parental rights were terminated, DCFS obtained custody of the child, and the court appointed the Bank of Illinois to represent the child in the lawsuit. Id.
Referring to DeShaney, the court stated that a state that negligently or even recklessly fails to protect a resident from private aggression does not deprive the resident of life, liberty, or property, because there is no constitutional duty to protect people from private violence. Id. The court found the case indistinguishable from DeShaney Id. at 78.
However, the court stated that if the DCFS employees had knowingly placed the child in a position of danger, they would not be shielded from liability by DeShaney. Id. It stated that DeShaney and its progeny simply hold that the constitution does not impose a legally enforceable duty on state officers to protect people from private violence; but if the officers are complicit in the violence, they are liable for it. Id. (citing K.H., 914 F.2d at 849; L.W. v. Grubbs, 974 F.2d 119 (9th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 951, 113 S. Ct. 2442, 124 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1993); Freeman v. Ferguson, 911 F.2d 52 (8th Cir. 1990)). Because the court found no suggestion that the DCFS employees had knowingly placed the child in a position of danger, it affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
Similarly, in Reed v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1122 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 947, 114 S. Ct. 389, 126 L. Ed. 2d 337 (1993), the court found that state police may be liable for harm that comes to citizens because of police intervention. In Reed, state police arrested a driver of a car, but left the car and the keys with an intoxicated passenger. The passenger then drove the car and caused an accident that killed two people and injured five others. Id. at 1123-24. The decedents' estates and those injured in the crash sued employees of the state and local police and county sheriff's department, alleging that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' due process rights by creating a dangerous situation and failing to protect them from it. Id. at 1125.
The court noted that DeShaney "leaves the door open for liability in situations where the state creates a dangerous situation or renders citizens more vulnerable to danger." Id. (citing DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 201, 109 S. Ct. at 1006 ("While the State may have been aware of the dangers that Joshua faced in the free world, it played no part in their creation, nor did it do anything to render him any more vulnerable to them.... It placed him in no worse position than that in which he would have been had it not acted at all...."); Gregory v. City of Rogers, 974 F.2d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 1992) (en banc), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 913, 113 S. Ct. 1265, 122 L. Ed. 2d 661 (1993) ("The Due Process Clause imposes a duty on state actors to protect or care for citizens in two situations: first, in custodial and other settings in which the state has limited the individuals' ability to care for themselves; and second[,] when the state affirmatively places a particular individual in a position of danger the individual otherwise would not have faced") (citations omitted)).
The court found that the case before it was distinguishable from cases in which state actors had no part in creating a danger but did nothing when "'suspicious circumstances dictated a more active role for them.'" Reed, 986 F.2d at 1125 (citing DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 203, 109 S. Ct. at 1007; Archie v. City of Racine, 847 F.2d 1211 (7th Cir. 1988) (en banc), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1065, 109 S. Ct. 1338, 103 L. Ed. 2d 809 (1989) (no section 1983 liability for failure to provide requested emergency services).
The court stated that DeShaney and its progeny make clear that the police have no affirmative obligation to protect citizens from drunk drivers. Reed, 986 F.2d at 1125. "Taken to an extreme, police officers could watch drunk drivers stumble to their cars and drive off, weaving across the road, without incurring section 1983 liability." Id. Thus, if the police had failed to arrest the driver of the car, and she later had traded places with the drunk passenger, who then caused the accident in which plaintiffs and decedents were involved, the police would not be liable. Id. However, in this case, it was the police action of arresting the driver, combined with their knowledge of the passenger's intoxication, that created police liability for the subsequent accident. Id.
However, the court noted that if the initial driver of the car also was drunk, the police would not be liable for the accident, because police officers are not liable under section 1983 "for exchanging one drunk driver for another." Id. The court stated that the reason for this is simple:
Without state intervention, the same danger would exist. The state action did not place individuals in a position of danger that they otherwise would not have faced. The [plaintiffs and decedents] are no worse off with [the initial driver] driving while intoxicated than they are with [the initial passenger] driving while intoxicated.
Id. at 1125-26.
Finally, the court noted that while it had been reluctant to impose section 1983 outside of the custodial setting, see, e.g., Losinski v. County of Trempealeau, 946 F.2d 544 (7th Cir. 1991); Archie, 847 F.2d at 1211, it found that plaintiffs such as those in the case before it may state claims for civil rights violations if they allege state action that either creates or substantially contributes to the creation of a danger to which citizens otherwise would not be exposed, or renders citizens more vulnerable to a danger than they otherwise would have been. Reed, 986 F.2d at 1126. It found that while the defendants in the case before it did not create the danger by buying the passenger drinks or providing him with a car, they did take state action that rendered plaintiffs and decedents and other motorists more vulnerable to a dangerous driver. Id. Accordingly, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants.
See also Ross v. United States, 910 F.2d 1422, 1430-31 (7th Cir. 1990) (allegations that county cut off sources of private rescue to drowning persons without providing alternative to private rescue stated claim under section 1983); Wood v. Ostrander, 879 F.2d 583, 589 (9th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 938, 111 S. Ct. 341, 112 L. Ed. 2d 305 (1990) (officer who impounded car and arrested driver, but left passenger alone and on foot in a high crime area, violated passenger's substantive due process rights under Fourteenth Amendment); Sinthasomphone v. City of Milwaukee, 785 F. Supp. 1343, 1347-49 (E.D. Wisc. 1992) (allegations that police officers actively prevented private citizens from helping a boy found badly injured and naked and delivered the boy not to his parents but to the man who eventually murdered the boy stated a section 1983 claim).
In light of the principles established in the foregoing cases, the court finds that the allegations in paragraphs 23 and 24 of plaintiffs' complaint challenged by defendants do not state a legally cognizable claim. Youngberg unequivocally holds that a state is not constitutionally required to provide any particular substantive services to its citizens. See Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 317, 102 S. Ct. at 2459. Substantive services obviously include mental health care. Thus, a state is not required to provide mental health care to its citizens.
Moreover, if a state chooses not to provide particular services, it cannot be held liable for harm that could have been averted had the state chosen to provide the services. DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 197-97, 109 S. Ct. at 1003-04; Archie, 847 F.2d at 1211. So, if the state chooses not to provide mental health services for its citizens, it cannot be held liable for injuries to its citizens that would not have occurred had it provided mental health services.
Even if a state at one time provided protective services for its citizens but then discontinued the services, it is not liable for harm that comes to its citizens no longer protected. See DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 199-200, 109 S. Ct. at 1005. Thus, when the state discontinues mental health care for one of its citizens by discharging him or her from a state mental health facility, it is not liable for harm that comes to the former patient after discharge.
However, once a state provides a "service" that results in the state's taking custody of a person, the state must responsibly carry out its service. Thus, a person in a state's custody, such as a patient of a state mental health facility, is entitled to safe conditions of confinement and freedom from unnecessary bodily restraints. See Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 315-16, 102 S. Ct. at 2458; Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103-04, 97 S. Ct. at 290-91; DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 200, 109 S. Ct. at 1009. See also K.H., 914 F.2d at 849 (after removing child from parents' custody and thereby taking custody of child, the state could not place child in position of danger without violating child's due process rights).
Furthermore, a state cannot take affirmative action to harm its citizens. See K.H., 914 F.2d at 849. Thus, if a state acts and thereby creates a danger to which its citizens otherwise would not be exposed or renders citizens more vulnerable to danger than they otherwise would have been, it may be liable for the harm caused by its actions. See Reed, 986 F.2d at 1125-26.
The allegations challenged by defendants boil down to these:
1. When the state discharges patients from its institutions, it does not put them in appropriate and adequate private facilities.
2. The state discharges patients regardless of their needs or the availability of private care.