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City and Contractor Liable for Policy of Arresting and Seizing “Potentially Intoxicated” People

City and Contractor Liable for Policy of Arresting and Seizing "Potentially Intoxicated" People

The plaintiffs were seized by the police and detained in a private detoxification facility in a different town, sometimes for days; they include persons seized from their front porches, their bedrooms, and the back seats of cars. One was seized from his apartment after a report that he had slammed his apartment door. This happened pursuant to a program to drum up enough referrals to get the company to reopen a local detox facility that was closed for unprofitability. The police adopted a policy that anybody "who exhibits any potential of intoxication" from alcohol or drugs should be taken to the detox facility. Referrals jumped from 32 to 114 in a month. The program stopped when they arrested the Mayor's niece, home from college, while she was sitting in the back seat of a car after drinking some wine, with a blood alcohol count of 0.045.

The district court erred in holding that there was no constitutional violation and no municipal policy and all the defendants were protected by qualified immunity.

People can be arrested for intoxication "only with probable cause to believe the arrestee is a danger to himself or others." (590) Persons arrested for criminal offenses cannot automatically be taken to detox; probable cause for arrest does not equal probable cause for detox. The police General Order about "any potential of intoxication" is a municipal policy, and it was causally related to the Fourth Amendment violations because it set a standard lower than the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs' allegation that the unlawful seizures continued after the policy was rescinded--i.e., that a municipal custom had been established and continued--also states a claim of municipal liability, though the burden of proof will be difficult.

Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity, since six other circuits have held that probable cause is required to arrest the mentally ill, a question directly analogous to this one. It "seems incredible" that police officers, generally knowing of limits on their powers, would not know that detaining for "potential" intoxication is unconstitutional.

There is a triable issue whether the private company acted under color of law, applying the joint action test: "whether state officials and private parties have acted in concert" in violating the Constitution. Joint action is clearly established; the question is causation. At 597: "But Crossroads' mere lack of concern or even recklessness for causing the violation of others' constitutional rights would not seem to rise to the level of establishing Crossroads' liability under 1983. What might establish such liability, however, is Crossroads' role in creating the unconstitutional detention policy. ..." (Huh? If Crossroads itself had a policy of seeking unconstitutional action from the county and it succeeded, that would seem to be sufficient under the line of cases that applies Monell to corporations acting under color of law.) See: Anaya v. Crossroads Managed Care Systems, Inc., 195 F.3d 584 (10th Cir. 1999).

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Related legal case

Anaya v. Crossroads Managed Care Systems, Inc.