The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Gray v. University of Colorado Hospital Authority on Monday, February 27, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Decedent sought treatment for epilepsy at Respondent hospital. “In the course of his withdrawal from medication, hospital staff left decedent unattended and he died after suffering a seizure. [Petitioners], decedent’s estate and family members, filed this civil rights suit” and in their complaint they alleged “that [Respondent] hospital, and affiliated doctors, nurses, and staff acting in their capacity as ‘employees and/or agents’ of the hospital, deprived decedent of life without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted [Respondents]‘ motion to dismiss the complaint . . . for failure to state a constitutional claim,”and Petitioners appealed.
The Court concluded that “[t]he Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by its plain language applies only to state action: ‘[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ . . . The state-created danger theory indulges the legal fiction that an act of private violence may deprive the victim of this constitutional guarantee. Before the fiction may operate, however, a state actor must create the danger or render the victim more vulnerable to the danger that occasions the deprivation of life, liberty, or property. The danger that the state actor creates or enhances must be differentiated from the harm that the private party inflicts. . . . Courts simply need not indulge this legal fiction where a state actor, rather than a private individual, is directly responsible for causing the harm. This is because the state actor directly responsible for the deprivation of life, liberty, or property may be held personally liable under § 1983. . . . But not just any private act will suffice. The private act must be a violent one. . . . [D]ue process guarantees historically have applied only to ‘deliberate decisions.’”
“The conduct Petitioners allege to be directly responsible for decedent’s death is neither private nor violent. Accordingly, because the state-created danger theory of constitutional liability has no role to play in a proper resolution of Plaintiffs’ grievance,” the Court affirmed the district court’s decision.