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Missouri federal appeals court affirms mental health department employees hold qualified immunity

by Kevin Bliss

A federal court of appeals held that employees of the Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH) were entitled to summary judgment against a claim filed by Dwayne Andrews on the basis of qualified immunity.

On August 9, 2003, Andrews experienced an episode of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fired a rifle in the direction of two police officers. No one was injured, and he was charged with assault.

Dr. Michael Armour evaluated Andrews for the purpose of trial. He found Andrews competent to proceed but not criminally responsible for his actions. Andrews’ attorney entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The prosecution agreed, and the court committed Andrews to the DMH for treatment.

In September 2010, Andrews underwent a conditional release evaluation performed by Dr. Jeffrey Kline. Kline found Andrews unlikely to be dangerous or to commit another crime, and his symptoms were in full remission and had been for several years.

Previously, Andrews filed three motions for conditional release, none of which were supported by the DMH. Due to Kline’s evaluation, the DMH filed a cross-petition for conditional release in Andrews’ case. It was opposed by the prosecution.

In June 2012, Andrews and the DMH refiled, and after a few amendments Andrews was granted conditional release on October 8, 2013.

On October 11, 2013, Andrews filed suit against employees of the DMH, alleging they deprived him of his due process rights by not releasing him the first time he filed. The district held that in order for Andrews to prevail he must demonstrate that the defendants’ actions were conscience-shocking, as well as violated fundamental rights that are so deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed. These actions must be so inspired by malice or sadism that the amounted to brutal and inhumane abuse of official powers else state employers were protected by qualified immunity.

The district court stated that Andrews did not show the actions of DMH that were so characteristic as to shock the conscience nor were they inspired by malice. Andrews appealed, and the appeals court affirmed the district court’s ruling that the defendants’ were entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment. See Andrews v. Schafer, ___ F.3d ___ (8th Circ. 2018)

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Related legal case

Andrews v. Schafer