Court sides with Nevada in lawsuit on patient dumping
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit Friday that accused Nevada officials and the state psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas of violating patients’ civil rights by giving them bus tickets and dumping them in other states.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision said it could not consider the merits of the suit because the plaintiff, James Flavy Coy Brown, failed to raise a key argument in his initial appeal documents.
The ruling on procedural grounds upheld a lower court decision that dismissed the suit.
In a dissenting opinion, 9th Circuit Judge Susan Graber said Brown, a patient at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, had made allegations that would support a claim that the hospital put him in greater danger.
Brown, who was homeless, said the hospital discharged him in 2013 after two days of treatment for psychosis and suicidal thoughts and put him in a cab that took him to a bus station.
He had a three-day supply of anti-psychotic medication, nutritional supplements and a pre-paid ticket to Sacramento, California, where he knew no one, according to his lawsuit. Police in Sacramento took him to a homeless services center when he arrived.
Brown’s discharge prompted an investigation by the Sacramento Bee newspaper that found that Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital had sent about 1,500 patients to other states. Brown’s lawsuit sought class-action status on behalf of patients who it claimed had similar experiences.
State officials argued in court documents that they did not force Brown to ride a bus to California. U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan in Nevada agreed in a 2014 ruling, saying the lawsuit did not establish that Brown was compelled to leave the state, only that the defendants gave him the resources to do so.
Mahan said Nevada officials were entitled to decide how to allocate scarce psychiatric treatment resources.
Mark Merin, an attorney for Brown, said he will appeal the 9th Circuit’s ruling to a larger panel of the court. He acknowledged making a procedural error in the appeal but said the lower court judge’s ruling dismissing the case was “totally off base.”
“You can’t take mentally ill people, drug them, put them on a bus and send them to God knows where,” Merin said.