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Plaintiff, 13 Civ. 410 (KBF)
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Plaintiff Oren Ungerleider brought this action on January 17, 2013, in
connection with his involuntary confinement at St. Luke's Hospital. In his amended
complaint, he alleges that Continuum Health Partners, Inc., St. Luke's Hospital,
and Drs. Clemens Heiderhoff, Karin Dorell, Tara Malekshahi, and Howard Millman
violated his federal constitutional (and related state) rights by administering
medication to him against his will and by directing his involuntary commitment
in both instances, without a lawful basis for doing so.
On May 10, 2013, defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs amended
complaint. For the reasons set forth below, that motion is GRANTED.
The following facts are taken from the amended complaint, which the Court
accepts as true for purposes of this motion:
Case 1:13-cv-00410-KBF Document 33 Filed 06/21/13 Page 1 of 7
When the events giving rise to this action occurred, Ungerleider was a
student at Columbia University. (Am. CompI. , 2, ECF No. 26.) On December 20,
2010, he went to his Spanish class to take a final exam. (Id. ~ r 19.) Before the exam
started, his teacher gave him "50/100, F" on his final project along with a note
disparaging his Spanish ability. (ld.) Ungerleider "called her a bitch, sat down,
waited five minutes, and when the teacher handed him a copy of the final exam, he
handed it right back and left the room." (Id., 20.) The next day, he met with an
assistant to the dean at Columbia who told Ungerleider that she wanted him to see
a psychiatrist. (Id. ~ r 22.)
At 12:30 a.m. on December 22,2010, Stephanie Nixon, Columbia's Director of
Residential Programs, knocked on Ungerleider's door. (Id. ~ r 23.) After a vaguely
confrontational interaction between Ungerleider and Nixon (id. " 2324), three
New York City Police Department officers "arrived at [Ungerleider's] dorm,
handcuffed him, escorted him into an ambulance, and drove him to St. Luke's." (Id.
Plaintiff arrived at St. Luke's at around 1:00 a.m. that night. (Id. ~ r 26.)
Once there, Ungerleider was taken to a room where a psychiatrist asked questions
that Ungerleider found to be impertinent. (Id.) He refused to answer the questions
and, when asked to stay at the hospital over night, refused again. (ldJ To prevent
Ungerleider from leaving, three doctors "came over, tackled [him], and forcefully
injected him with ... HaldoL" (Id., 27.) The drug caused him to fall asleep (id. ,
28), and the next morning Drs. Heiderhoff and Dorell examined Ungerleider and
Case 1:13-cv-00410-KBF Document 33 Filed 06/21/13 Page 2 of 7
signed certifications for his involuntary commitment G.!:L. 1 r ~ 29-30). On December
23,2010, Dr. Malekshahi met with Ungerleider and, despite his "cooperative,
pleasant, and calm" demeanor, found that involuntary commitment and anti
psychotic medication were appropriate in light of Drs. Heiderhoff and Dorell's
certifications as well as her own observation of Ungerleider's "grandiose and
paranoid delusions" and his "illogical and at times incoherent thought process." (Id.
~ 32.) Dr. Millman signed Malekshahi's report and, on numerous occasions,
"supported" Ungerleider's continued involuntary commitment. (Id. ~ ~ 32-35.)
On January 4,2011, plaintiff requested a court hearing to challenge his
hospitalization, and on January 6,2011, a hearing was held at which Dr. Millman
argued for plaintiffs continued confinement. (Id. ~ ~ 34-35.) The court ruled that
St. Luke's could continue to hold Ungerleider involuntarily. (Id. ~ 35.) Ungerleider
was ultimately released on January 21, 2011 - nearly thirty days after his initial
confinement. (Id. ~ 33.)
On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual
allegations. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To avoid dismissal, "a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause
of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.
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Defendants argue that plaintiffs claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the U.S.
Constitution must fail because there is no state action. The Court agrees.
To state a claim under section 1983, "a plaintiff must allege that some person
acting under color of state law deprived him of a federal right." Ahlers v.
Rabinowitz, 684 F.3d 53, 60-61 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Washington v. James, 782
F.2d 1134, 1138 (2d Cir. 1986 (internal quotation mark omitted). For purposes of
section 1983, the conduct of private defendants can constitute state action when:
(1) the entity acts pursuant to the 'coercive power' of the state or
is 'controlled' by the state ('the compulsion tes1'); (2) ... the state
provides 'significant encouragement' to the entity, the entity is a
'willful participant in joint activity with the [s]tate,' or the
entity's functions are 'entwined with state policies ('the joint
action test' or 'close nexus test'); or (3) ... the entity 'has been
delegated a public function by the [s]tate,' ('the public function
Sybalski v. Indep. Grp. Home Living Program, Inc., 546 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 2008)
(quoting Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 296
Plaintiff argues that defendants "were acting under color of state law for the
reasons that (1) they were performing the public function of involuntary detention
of an individual, and (2) from January 6, 2011[,] through January 21, 2011, they
continued to confine Plaintiff pursuant to a court order." (PI.'s Resp. Defs.' Mot.
Dismiss Am. CompI. 1, ECF No. 29.)
If the Court were deciding this issue on blank slate, it would be a difficult
question to determine whether involuntarily detaining an individual as permitted
Case 1:13-cv-00410-KBF Document 33 Filed 06/21/13 Page 4 of 7
by state law constitutes state action. After all, involuntary detention is the kind of
coercive power that is ordinarily (though not exclusively) reserved for the state to
exercise. Intuitively, there are good reasons to believe it should also be the kind of
coercive power constrained by the United States Constitution and by the statute
that makes the Constitution privately enforceable: 42 U.S.C. 1983.
But the Court does not decide this issue on a blank slate. In a decision that
has since been sealed, the Second Circuit held that "involuntary commitment by a
private party pursuant to state statute does not convert private conduct into state
action for purposes of section 1983." Doe v. Harrison, 254 F. Supp. 2d 338, 342
(S.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing Doe v. Rosenberg, 166 F.3d 507 (2d Cir. 1999. More
recently, the Second Circuit reaffirmed Doe in a summary order, holding that the
involuntary commitment of a plaintiff for emergency psychiatric care by a private
hospital and private physician "does not fall within any of the tests for determining
when private conduct can be attributed to the State." Hogan v. A.O. Fox. Mem'l
Hosp., 346 F. App'x 627, 629 (2d Cir. 2009).
The Amended Complaint offered two possible distinctions to allow the Court
to find state action: first, an allegation that Dr. Millman was a medical designee of
the Director of Community Services under New York's Mental Hygiene Law (Am.
Compi. ~ r 8, ECF No. 26); and second, an allegation that, beginning on January 6,
2011, plaintiffs involuntary commitment was made with the blessing of a Court
order ~ ~ I 35). Neither distinction holds water. The first distinction fails because
plaintiff "accepts Defendants' evidence that Dr. Millman is not in fact a designee of
Case 1:13-cv-00410-KBF Document 33 Filed 06/21/13 Page 5 of 7
the Director of Community Services."l (PL's Resp. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Am. Compi.
1, ECF No. 29.)
The second distinction also fails. The mere existence of a court order
permitting defendants to engage in the challenged conduct does not transform that
conduct into state action. See Colombrito v. Kelly, 764 F.2d 122, 132 (2d Cir. 1985)
(citing Taylor v. Gilmartin, 686 F.2d 1346, 1355 (10th Cir. 1982. This result
follows from the relatively narrow tests for determining whether private conduct
constitutes state action. A court order permitting the challenged conduct to occur
without more - cannot be said to coerce that conduct, to significantly encourage it,
or to render the conduct a public function. From a policy perspective this result
makes sense, for to hold otherwise could potentially discourage parties from seeking
judicial approval of their conduct - though a court's review may be warranted or
There is, in short, no state action here and, accordingly, no basis for federal
For the reasons set forth above, defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint
is GRANTED. Plaintiffs claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the U.S. Constitution
are dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim.
While the Court would not ordinarily consider evidence tending to disprove an allegation of the
complaint on a motion to dismiss, plaintiffs concession here effectively waives the allegation.
Case 1:13-cv-00410-KBF Document 33 Filed 06/21/13 Page 6 of 7
The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs state
law claims. Those claims are DISMISSED, without prejudice, for want of subject
matter jurisdiction.
The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate the motion at ECF No. 27 and to
terminate this action.
Dated: New York, New York
June 7,... \ 2013
United States District Judge
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