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Earl Simpson v. the State Department of Mental Health

April 29, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph R. Beistline United States District Judge


Earl Simpson, a civil committee appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a civil rights action under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Simpson is currently in the custody of the California Department of Mental Health at the Coalinga State Hospital under a civil commitment order as a mentally disordered offender (MDO).*fn1


This Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.*fn2 This Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," or that "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief."*fn3 Likewise, a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies as may be available,*fn4 irrespective of whether those administrative remedies provide for monetary relief.*fn5

In determining whether a complaint states a claim, the Court looks to the pleading standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."*fn6 "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation."*fn7 Failure to state a claim under § 1915A incorporates the familiar standard applied in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), including the rule that complaints filed by pro se prisoners are to be liberally construed, affording the prisoner the benefit of any doubt, and dismissal should be granted only where it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can plead no facts in support of his claim that would entitle him or her to relief.*fn8


Simpson brings this action against the State Department of

Mental Health, Colainga State Hospital, Pam Ahlin, Executive Director, Cindy Radasky, Long-term Care Services, and Steven Mayberg, Head Executive Director. Simpson alleges that he has served his prison sentence and that he is being illegally, involuntarily held under a civil commitment order. Simpson further alleges that he is being involuntarily medicated in violation of California law.


To the extent that this action challenges the fact, not a condition, of Simpson's incarceration it is improperly brought as a civil rights action under § 1983. Simpson's request that he be released from custody challenges the fact of his custody, not the conditions; therefore it must be brought in a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241 or 2254, as appropriate.*fn9

On the other hand, Simpson's claim that he is being involuntarily medicated does challenge a condition of his confinement. Thus, this Court must examine the Complaint to determine if it pleads facts sufficient to establish that the involuntary medication violates any constitutionally-protected right.

Involuntary medication of civilly committed MDO's in California is governed by the Lanterman--Petris--Short Act ("LPS Act").*fn10 Under the LPS Act, "an MDO can be compelled to take antipsychotic medication in a non-emergency situation only if a court, at the time the MDO is committed or recommitted, or in a separate proceeding, makes one of two findings: (1) that the MDO is incompetent or incapable of making decisions about his medical treatment; or (2) that the MDO is dangerous within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 5300."*fn11 For the purposes of this screening order the Court assumes, but does not necessarily decide, that the requirements of California law have not been satisfied. That does not, however, necessarily end the inquiry. In a § 1983 civil rights action, this Court is concerned with violations of federal constitutional law, not state law.*fn12

The Supreme Court has held that a person "possesses a significant liberty interest in avoiding the unwanted administration of antipsychotic drugs under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."*fn13 The right to refuse antipsychotic medication is not absolute, but is limited by countervailing state interests. One such state interest is parens patrie, the state's interest "in providing care to its citizens who are unable . . . to care for themselves."*fn14 The Due Process Clause permits the state to treat an "inmate who has a serious mental illness with antipsychotic drugs against his will, if the inmate is dangerous to himself or others and the treatment is in the inmate's medical interest."*fn15 The Due Process Clause does not, however, mandate a judicial hearing. A state procedure under which the medication is first prescribed by a psychiatrist, and then approved by a reviewing psychiatrist, meets the demands of due process.*fn16

The California statutory procedure under the LPS Act clearly satisfies the minimum requirements of the Due Process Clause. At most, Simpson has pleaded noncompliance with California law, not a federal constitutional violation. Consequently, Simpson ...

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