Unpublished Disposition, 924 F.2d 1063 (9th Cir. 1987)

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US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 924 F.2d 1063 (9th Cir. 1987)

Jan STEHLIK, M.D.; Renee Wright, as Special Administratrixof the Estate of Jan Jaroslav Stehlik, Plaintiff-Appellant,v.SOUTHERN MONO HOSPITAL DISTRICT, DBA Mammoth HospitalDistrict, Inc., Otis Clasby, Floyd B. Parks, M.D.,David Mattthews, M.D., James Vawter,M.D., Karen Tierney, M.D.,Defendants-Appellees.

No. 87-2007.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted April 5, 1989.Decided Feb. 1, 1991.

Before POOLE, REINHARDT and O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judges.


MEMORANDUM* 

Appellant Renee Wright, administratrix of the estate of Dr. Jan Stehlik, appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Southern Mono Hospital District ("Hospital"). Wright contends that the district court erred in not finding defendant's "intentional violation of his [decedent's] civil rights ... was a substantial and indeed compelling factor" in the suicide of her husband, Dr. Stehlik. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Dr. Stehlik began practicing orthopedic medicine in Mammoth Lakes, California, in July 1981. He was granted staff privileges at Mammoth Hospital. Mammoth Hospital is organized under California law as a "public hospital."

Defendants Dr. Tierney, Dr. Vawter and Dr. Parks were part of the medical staff at the hospital and collectively known as the "Mammoth Group." Defendant Otis Clasby was the civilian hospital administrator. There is dispute as to the working rapport that existed between Stehlik and the other members of the medical staff.

During the spring of 1982, Dr. Stehlik criticized the quality of medical care that the Mammoth Group was dispensing, especially Drs. Tierney and Vawter. Dr. Stehlik contacted one of the hospital Board members with his allegations of malpractice.

On May 22, 1982, Dr. Stehlik and one of the Mammoth Group, Dr. Matthews, (who was a black belt in karate) engaged in a fist fight in the radiology lab. There were no eyewitnesses to this altercation. Dr. Stehlik was severely beaten, resulting in a concussion and various lacerations, while Dr. Matthews was unharmed. On May 24, an emergency meeting of the medical staff was convened regarding the incident. Dr. Stehlik and his attorney attempted to attend the meeting but were told by hospital counsel that Stehlik's attorney could not be admitted. Without his attorney, Stehlik declined to attend the meeting. At the meeting, Dr. Matthews, accusing Dr. Stehlik of being the aggressor, recommended a one-year probation for Dr. Stehlik. The medical staff concurred, a majority consisting of the aforementioned defendants. No punishment was meted out to Dr. Matthews for his part in the fight.

The probation approved of consisted of the following terms:

1. No threats verbal or physical or any harassment of the Medical Staff be made by Dr. Stehlik for a period of one year following May 24, 1982.

2. No discussion of the issues or events occurring on May 22, 1982 be carried out with any person other than the individual's legal counsel.

Defendant Clasby informed Dr. Stehlik by letter, dated May 26, 1982, that he had a "right to a hearing." This statement was retracted by hospital counsel, who said that no such right existed because Dr. Stehlik's hospital privileges were not affected.

The local newspapers carried the story of the "mutual combat" on May 27, 1982. The probation of Dr. Stehlik was released to the papers with the implication that because Dr. Matthews was not reprimanded, Dr. Stehlik was the aggressor.

On June 14 and 15, additional medical staff meetings were held. Again, Dr. Stehlik's counsel was prohibited from attending. At those meetings, Drs. Matthews and Stehlik gave their respective sides to the fist fight. Additional corrective action letters lodged against Dr. Stehlik from the defendant doctors were discussed at that meeting. As a result of that meeting, Dr. Stehlik was placed on probation with the following terms:

1. Duration of one year from May 24, 1982.

2. No further threats or harassment will be tolerated toward other members of the staff.

3. All record of the probation and letters of corrective action will be removed from his file upon successful completion of the probationary period, or if for any reason, Dr. Stehlik voluntarily terminates his staff membership.

At some time during early February of 1983, Dr. Stehlik began receiving psychiatric care from Dr. Edward Liston. Dr. Liston found that Stehlik was suffering depression and that he had been abusing alcohol and marijuana.

Dr. Tierney, as Chief of Staff for the Hospital, wrote letters to the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, Inc. to prevent Dr. Stehlik from being certified as an Orthopedic Surgeon. It is unclear whether the Board had requested the letters. On April 1, 1983, the Board wrote Dr. Stehlik and informed him that he was ineligible to sit for the 1983 board exam. The reason given was that the Board received information "that you currently are on probation at Mammoth Hospital and because of questionable references received."

On May 20, 1983, Dr. Stehlik filed this action in U.S. district court alleging damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of civil rights, Sherman Act anti-trust violations and pendent state claims.

On May 30, 1983, Dr. Tierney wrote a letter to Dr. Stehlik informing him that he was ineligible for staff privileges at Mammoth Hospital, due to the fact that he was not practicing full time in the Mammoth Lakes area. Dr. Stehlik disputed this in a letter dated June 8, 1983.

Dr. Stehlik moved his practice to Carlsbad, California in June of 1983. On July 9, 1983, Dr. Stehlik committed suicide at his parents' home.

On December 12, 1983, Renee Wright was substituted as plaintiff in her capacity as administratrix of Dr. Stehlik's estate. She filed an amended complaint listing ten Sec. 1983 causes of action. The complaint alleges that the defendants deprived Dr. Stehlik of freedom of expression, freedom from illegal seizure of person, freedom from interference with liberty without due process, freedom from interference with property without due process, right to counsel, right to privacy, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, equal protection of laws, freedom from invasion of privileges and immunities, and freedom from deprivation of life without due process.

On February 6, 1985, the district court set June 24, 1985 as the last day for filing all dispositive motions. Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on June 24, 1985. The matter was argued on September 25, 1985. On October 21, 1985, plaintiff filed a counter-motion for summary judgment. The district court refused the motion as untimely filed.

On April 1, 1986, the court ruled on the requests for summary judgment on the various causes of action, granting some and denying others. Judge Ramirez found that the defendants acted under the color of state action. The decision, Wright v. Southern Mono Hospital, 631 F. Supp. 1294 (E.D. Cal. 1986), granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims except the due process claims for liberty and property deprivation and infringement of first amendment rights. These claims were scheduled for trial on March 31, 1987.

On April 11, 1986, the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration was denied by the district court. Permission for an interlocutory appeal from the denial of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was also denied.

On December 16, 1986, the parties agreed to settlement and dismissal of the action. The Settlement Agreement contained no admission of liability and the defendants agreed to pay $200,000. In return, the plaintiff agreed to dismiss the action and to waive appeal on any of the district court's rulings. The agreement did provide for appeal of the "remaining issue" as defined in the agreement. The remaining issue was " [w]hether the estate had a viable claim for damages arising out of the death of the decedent allegedly caused by conduct in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983...." Further, plaintiff agreed to limit damages to the amount of the Hospital's insurance policy and not to attack any of the personal assets of the remaining defendants. The district court approved the signed settlement and, pursuant to its terms, dismissed the action on April 22, 1987. The plaintiff appealed the same day.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court examines the granting of summary judgment by the district court de novo. Escamilla v. City of Santa Ana, 796 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1986).

DISCUSSION

Appellant contends that the district court erred in granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment regarding the deprivation of life cause of action. Since all other issues have been settled, the only "remaining issue" before this court is whether the estate has a viable claim for damages for the deprivation of the life of Stehlik. We hold that it does not.

Appellant contends that Stehlik's suicide was brought about by a series of actions taken by the medical staff of the Hospital. The evidence in this case does not show that the suicide was due to any "deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution or other federal law by an officer acting under color of state law." Escamillia, 796 F.2d at 268.

The only rights of which Stehlik was arguably deprived, according to the district court decision, were the due process and first amendment rights affected by the probation decree of June 15, 1983. These viable claims were settled in the agreement between the parties. Appellant's settlement agreement, incorporated into the record, limits the issues on this appeal to the viability of the estate of Dr. Stehlik's claim for deprivation of life. The $200,000 amount settled all other claims of constitutional deprivations existing prior to Dr. Stehlik's death.

Appellees concede that constitutional deprivation of life actions are actionable when there is a special relationship, such as a prisoner/jailer. Cf. Hirst v. Gertzen, 676 F.2d 1252 (9th Cir. 1982). While appellant contends that the relationship of a hospital to a medical staff is analogous to that of prisoner/jailer, that characterization is too extreme. Appellant cites several California decisions to stand for the proposition that physicians and hospitals have a relationship that affects liberty and property interests and therefore requires due process procedures. Stehlik does not show how hospitals are responsible for the health, housing, and mental health needs of their doctors, as jailers are responsible for their wards. We decline to reverse the district court on this dubious proposition.

Appellant contends that defendants' actions were a "substantial" cause of Dr. Stehlik's suicide. Appellant cites the California case of Tate v. Canonica, 180 Cal. App. 2d 898 (1960), to suggest that where an actor intends to cause mental suffering and a suicide follows, a cause of action for wrongful death results. However, that case dealt with a state wrongful death action, not a violation of constitutional rights. " [T]he Due Process clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty or property." Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986) (emphasis added).

In this case, there is no showing that defendants intended to have Stehlik commit suicide or had an intent to induce mental suffering. The only arguable deprivation that occurred was the lack of due process at the May and June, 1982, hearings regarding Stehlik's probation.

Appellant does not articulate a federal constitutional right that was denied in this case. Dr. Stehlik's suicide, while tragic, was not the result of the forces of the state. While certain actors may have had animosity toward Dr. Stehlik, appellant has not shown that the Hospital or an actor, acting under color of state laws deprived Dr. Stehlik of his life. Dr. Stehlik did that himself.

CONCLUSION

While Dr. Stehlik was deprived of some constitutional due process rights, those injuries have been compensated for in settlement. Appellant simply has not shown that the defendant's actions deprived Dr. Stehlik of his life.

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge, specially concurring:

I concur but write separately to emphasize the narrowness of the question before us; we affirm only that part of the district court opinion and order which granted summary judgment to defendants on the "remaining issue." See Wright v. Southern Mono Hosp. Dist., 631 F. Supp. 1294, 1310-11 (E.D. Cal. 1986) (section d. 4. of the opinion). We have had no occasion to address any other portions of the district court's judgment or opinion, and we have expressed no views thereon.

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This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3