by Leah Willis
In February, the S.J. Quinney College of Law reported on a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that was filed by Professor John Tehranian and argued by third-year law students Maren Larson and Emily Wegener. (For the complete story, click here.)
On February 28, the Appeals Court delivered its opinion in the case, affirming in part and reversing in part the District Court’s decision. Significantly, the appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment against the Fourteenth Amendment claims raised by Tehranian’s client, Charles Christman. As a result of the Appeals Court ruling, Christman’s claims against psychiatrists at Atascadero State Hospital, where Christman resides as a civilly-committed sex offender, can proceed to trial and be adjudicated on their merits. The outcome represents a key victory for Tehranian and his client.
Christman claims the psychiatrists violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in treating him with the anti-androgen drug Lupron. The drug, experimentally used to minimize sexual urges, has been shown to cause osteoporosis. Christman alleges that he was never apprised of this potentially serious side effect. The District Court granted summary judgment for the Defendants on all counts.
The Appeals Court affirmed the District Court’s decision to dismiss Christman’s claims against the Defendants in their official capacities. Christman sought an injunction prohibiting the Defendants from administering Lupron without documented full disclosure of all possible side effects. The Court found that since Christman now is aware of all of Lupron’s potential side effects, “there is no future threat that his right to informed consent would again be violated with respect to Lupron.”
Next, in a favorable reversal of the District Court’s ruling, the Appeals Court determined that “Christman presented sufficient evidence to show that a question of fact exists as to whether he was provided with information that allowed him to give informed consent to the Lupron treatment. Accordingly, the district court erred in granting summary judgment on Christman’s Fourteenth Amendment claim.” Specifically, the Appeals Court found error in the District Court’s refusal to consider some “inartful,” but nevertheless relevant, filings made by Christman when he represented himself pro se.
Finally, Christman alleged that the Defendants kept him on Lupron, even though they had evidence that his bone density was deteriorating at an abnormal rate. Although the Appeals Court denied the appropriateness of an Eighth Amendment claim on this issue, they indicated that it may be reframed as a Fourteenth Amendment violation.
The Defendants countered “that even if there is an issue of triable fact as to whether Christman’s constitutional rights were violated, they are entitled to qualified immunity.” The Appeals Court asserted that Defendants did not offer specific reasoning for this claim in their motion for summary judgment, and that the District Court did not address this point in granting summary judgment. As a result, the Appeals Court declined to address the issue, instead remanding it to the District Court.
Tehranian says he is pleased with the outcome of the case, both for his client and for the broader implications of the Appeals Court’s ruling: “In short, it’s a great victory for our client and a decision that vindicates the ability of socioeconomically disadvantaged litigants—especially civilly committed individuals—to seek redress for the violation of their basic civil rights.