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Pasion v. San Diego Unified School District

filed: May 10, 1996.

BLANDINO M. PASION, LUNINGNING PASION, AND LELAND PASION, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; STEPHEN DOUGLAS LORNA SWARTZ, M.D.; ALVARADO PARKWAY INSTITUTE; KLEA JACKSON; NATIONAL MEDICAL ENTERPRISES; NME PSYCHIATRIC PROPERTIES, INC.; PSYCHIATRIC PROPERTIES OF AMERICA; AND DOES 4 THROUGH 50, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. D.C. No. 92-1871-WBE. William B. Enright, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Wallace, Chief Judge, and T.g. Nelson, Circuit Judge, and Browning,*fn* District Judge

Author: Browning

MEMORANDUM*fn**

BROWNING, District Judge:

I.

Leland, Blandino, and Luningning Pasion sued Appellees*fn2 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged civil rights violations arising from the involuntary arrest, detention, and psychological evaluation of Leland Pasion. In addition, the Pasions brought state law false imprisonment, medical malpractice, and infliction of emotional distress claims. The district court granted Appellees' motion for judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 and entered judgment accordingly. The Pasions (hereinafter "Appellants") appeal.

II.

The story pieced together by the facts of this case is sad and not altogether unfamiliar. In the weeks leading to Leland's arrest and involuntary detention, several of his teachers noted marked changes in his personality and demeanor. His ordinarily high grades plummeted and his tardiness increased. He submitted a "death poem" in English class with a thinly-veiled suicidal theme. School nurses and counselors concluded that Leland was severely emotionally disturbed and possibly suicidal. Leland's mother was summoned to the school and informed of these observations, but apparently took no corrective action.

On February 18, 1991, at the urging of Leland's regular school counselor, Leland met with defendant Douglas, a social concerns teacher/counselor at the school.*fn3 At this meeting, Douglas concluded that Leland was suicidal. Douglas met with Leland's mother two days later to discuss his concerns. Mrs. Pasion agreed to allow Leland to be evaluated at school by Jackson, API's Intake Coordinator for the Child and Adolescent Program.

The next day, February 21, 1991, Jackson met with Leland and concluded that he was suicidal. Jackson conferred immediately afterward with Douglas, and the two decided that Leland needed immediate medical attention. The record reflects that Douglas attempted to telephone Leland's mother several times but was unsuccessful. Jackson contacted David Jimenez, a registered nurse employed as Intake Director at API, and discussed the preliminary diagnosis. After receiving approval from Jimenez, Jackson summoned an ambulance. Meanwhile, Douglas was phoning the school's principal and vice-principal and the San Diego Unified School District's Director of Health Services to enlist support for the decision to hospitalize Leland.

Upon arrival, ambulance personnel refused to transport Leland to API unless someone signed the "5150 Form."*fn4 Although other persons were available to sign the application, among them Jackson, school vice-principal Mason, and San Diego Police Officer Robert Martin, Douglas signed it because none of the others thought they had the authority to do so. Ambulance attendant Schaepper concluded during the transport of Leland that the boy was planning to commit suicide.

At API, nurse Costello assessed Leland to confirm the validity of the emergency detention. Upon concluding that Leland was suicidal, she contacted psychiatrist Swartz who, after hearing the report, confirmed the emergency hold was necessary. Swartz met with Leland the following day (February 23, 1991), and diagnosed him as "psychotic" and "out of touch with reality."

This action was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. The district court then ordered severance of the "probable cause," "legal authority," and other statutory compliance issues. The court empaneled a jury to resolve any factual disputes related to these issues of law. At the close of evidence, the parties brought cross-motions for judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. The court deferred ruling on the motions pending the resolution of five factual disputes, which the court submitted to the jury on a special verdict form. The special verdict form asked the jury whether Leland "communicated by either words or conduct or both" an "intent to harm himself" to five specific individuals.*fn5 The jury answered each question in the affirmative.

The court then granted Defendants' Rule 50 motion and denied Plaintiffs'. The court also rejected Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint to allege a second state law false imprisonment claim not originally pled in the third amended complaint. Presumably, the second false imprisonment claim would have alleged misconduct occurring after the initial 72-hour detention.

In its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the court found "overwhelming evidence" of probable cause for the emergency hold. The court also found that the emergency hold was accomplished through the joint actions of several defendants who, collectively, possessed sufficient legal authority for the hold. Further, the court held that all defendants were immune as to all claims. Finally, the court denied Plaintiffs' motion for new trial and overruled their objections to the court's Findings and Conclusions. This appeal followed.

We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We affirm.

III.

A. Standard of Review

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1) provides that a district court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against a party when "[that] party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue..." This court reviews de novo the district court's granting of ...


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