Zinermon v. Burch

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In Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113 (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a claim under Section 1983 to proceed by a mental patient against the 11 petitioners, who are physicians, administrators, and staff members at Florida State Hospital (FSH) in Chattahoochee, and others. The patient alleged that petitioners deprived him of his liberty, without due process of law, by admitting him to FSH as a "voluntary" mental patient when he was incompetent to give informed consent to his admission. He argued that defendants should have afforded him procedural safeguards required by the U.S. Constitution before involuntary commitment of a mentally ill person, and that defendants' failure to do so violated his due process rights.

Defendants failed in their argument for dismissal of the complaint because it resulted from a "random, unauthorized violation of the Florida statutes governing admission of mental patients."

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the decision for the 5-4 Court. He rejected defendants' argument, which he summarized as follows:

"Their argument rests on Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) (overruled in part not relevant here, by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327. 330-331 (1986)), and Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984), where this Court held that a deprivation of a constitutionally protected property interest caused by a state employee's random, unauthorized conduct does not give rise to a § 1983 procedural due process claim, unless the State fails to provide an adequate postdeprivation remedy. The Court in those two cases reasoned that in a situation where the State cannot predict and guard in advance against a deprivation, a postdeprivation tort remedy is all the process the State can be expected to provide, and is constitutionally sufficient.

The Court did note that "the deprivation by state action of a constitutionally protected interest in life, liberty, or property is not in itself unconstitutional; what is unconstitutional is the deprivation of such an interest without due process of law." Id. at 125.