Ammons v. State of Washington Department of Social and Health Services

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Law
  • Date Filed: 08-17-2011
  • Case #: 09-36130
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge B. Fletcher for the Court; District Judge Wilken; Circuit Judge Bybee concur and dissent in part
  • Full Text Opinion

In a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit involving the “Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to safe conditions while involuntarily committed” to a state-run hospital, a state actor is not entitled to qualified immunity when he or she “demonstrate a substantial departure from reasonable professional judgment.”

Ammons sued LaFond and Webster, two former Chief Executive Officers of the Child Study and Treatment Center (CSTC), a state-run mental hospital for children in Washington. Ammons was admitted to CSTC when she was thirteen years old. Soon after, she became sexually involved with a 29 year-old CSTC staff member, Anthony Grant (Grant). Ammons sued LaFond and Webster under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her “Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to safe conditions while involuntarily committed to the custody of a state actor.” La Fond and Webster moved for summary judgment, arguing “that they were entitled to qualified immunity.” The district court denied the motion. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that “Webster is entitled to qualified immunity,” while LaFond is not. The Court reasoned that “a fact-finder could determine LaFond’s actions demonstrate a substantial departure from reasonable professional judgment” because 1) there is evidence “she knew that Grant had been previously investigated for sexual abuse of a female patient” but failed to take steps to “ensure that he was not given repeated opportunities to be alone” with female patients, and 2) “she took no action in spite of increasing and documented evidence of the inappropriate relationship between Ammons and Grant.” The Court held there was no such evidence against Webster. AFFIRMED IN PART AND REVERSED IN PART.

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