United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
C. BUCKLEW United States District Judge.
cause comes before the Court on five motions: (1) St.
Joseph's Hospital's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 8),
which Plaintiff opposes (Doc. No. 18); (2) Agency for
Community Treatment Services, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. No. 12), which Plaintiff opposes (Doc. No. 20); (3)
Gracepoint's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 16), which
Plaintiff opposes (Doc. No. 22); (4) Pamela Troutman's
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 31), which Plaintiff opposes
(Doc. No. 39); and (5) St. Joseph's Hospital's Motion
for Sanctions (Doc. No. 23), which Plaintiff opposes (Doc.
Standard of Review for Motions to Dismiss
deciding a motion to dismiss, the district court is required
to view the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Murphy v. Federal Deposit Ins. Corp.,
208 F.3d 959, 962 (11th Cir. 2000)(citing Kirby v.
Siegelman, 195 F.3d 1285, 1289 (11th Cir. 1999)). The
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to
set out in detail the facts upon which she bases her claim.
Instead, Rule 8(a)(2) requires a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief in
order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is
and the grounds upon which it rests. See Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(citation
omitted). As such, a plaintiff is required to allege
“more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.” Id. (citation omitted). While the Court
must assume that all of the allegations in the complaint are
true, dismissal is appropriate if the allegations do not
“raise [the plaintiff's] right to relief above the
speculative level.” Id. (citation omitted).
The standard on a 12(b)(6) motion is not whether the
plaintiff will ultimately prevail in his or her theories, but
whether the allegations are sufficient to allow the plaintiff
to conduct discovery in an attempt to prove the allegations.
See Jackam v. Hospital Corp. of Am. Mideast, Ltd.,
800 F.2d 1577, 1579 (11th Cir. 1986).
Erika Bortolotti alleges the following in her complaint (Doc.
No. 1): On Friday, May 5, 2017, Plaintiff went to a bar with
a friend and had drinks to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. After a
few hours, Plaintiff's friend became concerned about
Plaintiff, and Plaintiff was taken to Defendant St.
Joseph's Hospital, Inc. (“St. Joseph's”).
According to Plaintiff, St. Joseph's involuntarily
committed her under the Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other
Drug Services Act, Florida Statutes § 397.301 et
seq. (“Marchman Act”), despite the fact that
she did not qualify for commitment under the Marchman
was transferred from St. Joseph's to a facility run by
Defendant Agency for Community Treatment Services, Inc.
(“ACTS”). ACTS physicians never evaluated
Plaintiff to determine whether she met the Marchman Act
criteria. While there, Plaintiff contends that she was denied
communication with her attorney, was illegally drugged, and
was imprisoned against her will.
Plaintiff was transferred to Defendant Gracepoint, which is a
drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. Gracepoint never
evaluated Plaintiff to determine whether she met the Marchman
Act criteria. While there, Plaintiff contends that she was
denied communication with her attorney, was illegally drugged
with Valium, and was imprisoned against her will.
point on Sunday, Plaintiff's attorney contacted
Gracepoint to insist that Plaintiff be released. Gracepoint
called its director, Defendant Pamela Troutman, and Troutman
refused to speak to Plaintiff's attorney or to release
Plaintiff. Again, on Monday at 7:00 p.m., Plaintiff's
attorney returned to Gracepoint, and Troutman still refused
to let Plaintiff's attorney speak with Plaintiff.
Plaintiff was not released until she had been held a full 72
3, 2019, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Defendants, in
which she asserts 14 claims. She asserts separate § 1983
claims, false imprisonment claims, and assault and battery
claims against Troutman, St. Joseph's, ACTS, and
Gracepoint. She also asserts a civil conspiracy claim against
Defendants, alleging that they conspired to violate her
constitutional rights and to falsely imprison her. Finally,
she challenges the constitutionality of the Marchman Act. In
response, each of the defendants has filed a motion to
St. Joseph's Motions
Joseph has filed a motion to dismiss all of the claims
asserted against it, as well as a motion for sanctions. As
explained below, the motion to dismiss is granted in part,
and the motion for sanctions is denied.
asserts a § 1983 claim against St. Joseph's. She
alleges that St. Joseph's, acting under color of state
law, deprived her of her constitutional right to liberty by
involuntarily committing her under the Marchman Act despite
the fact that she did not meet the criteria for commitment.
order to state a claim under § 1983, Plaintiff must
allege two things: (1) conduct of a person or entity acting
under color of state law; and (2) that such conduct resulted
in a deprivation of her rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
See Harvey v. Harvey, 949 F.2d 1127, 1130 (11th Cir.
1992). In this case, Plaintiff asserts a § 1983 claim
against St. Joseph's, a private hospital, and St.
Joseph's seeks dismissal on that basis. Specifically, St.
Joseph's argues that Plaintiff fails to state a §
1983 claim, because it did not act under color of state law.
responds that private parties are sometimes deemed to have
acted under color of state law for § 1983 purposes. The
Eleventh Circuit recognizes three tests to aid courts in
determining whether a private actor can be deemed a state
actor subject to liability under § 1983. The three tests
are: (1) the public function test; (2) the state compulsion
test; and (3) the nexus/joint action test. Id.
Accordingly, the Court will apply each test in order to
determine whether Plaintiff can assert a § 1983 claim
against St. Joseph's.
Public Function Test
first test the Court considers is the public function test.
This test permits courts to find state action on the part of
a private party where that party exercises powers that are
“‘traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the
State.'” National Broadcasting Co. Inc. v.
Comm. Workers of America, AFL-CIO, 860 F.2d 1022, 1026
(11th Cir. 1988) (quoting Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison
Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352 (1974)). A court may not find
state action, however, where the powers of a private party
are merely “co-extensive” with those of the
state. Harvey, 949 F.2d at 1131.
Harvey, one of the issues before the court was
whether the involuntary commitment of the plaintiff-appellant
under the state's mental health statute by a private
hospital was state action under the public function test.
See id. In finding that the private hospital was not
a state actor under the public function test, the court
stated the following:
Appellant finally argues that the commitment process is a
traditional public function, implying that state law guiding
private participation in this function effectively transforms
the private participant into a state actor. But this argument
does not take the public function analysis far enough. That
the private party has powers co-extensive with the
state is irrelevant; the public function test shows state
action only when private actors are given powers (or perform
functions) that are “traditionally the
exclusive prerogative of the State.” Few
activities are “exclusively reserved to the
states.” We are unwilling to categorize involuntary
commitment in Georgia as a function so reserved to the state
that action under the commitment statute transforms a private
actor into a state actor.
Id. (internal citations and footnotes omitted).
while the court in Harvey considered commitment to
be a public function - it did not consider the involuntary
commitment of mentally ill patients to be a function so
reserved to the state as to render the private hospital
a state actor for the plaintiff's § 1983 claim.
See id.; see also Rockwell v. Cape Cod
Hospital, 26 F.3d 254, 259 (1st Cir. 1994) (finding that
the history of involuntary treatment related to mental
illness was almost exclusively private and “by no means
[was it] the exclusive prerogative of the State”).
Courts typically find this requisite exclusivity in
situations where the state has expressly delegated its
responsibilities to a private actor. See, e.g., West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 56-57 (1988) (holding that a
physician to whom the state had delegated its constitutional
duty to provide adequate medical treatment to prisoners had
acted under color of state law).
argues that the Marchman Act by its own text reflects that it
meets the public function test. By shifting the practice of
holding substance abuse impaired people in jail cells from
the criminal justice system to hospitals and treatment
facilities, Plaintiff argues that St. Joseph's actions
with respect to her involuntary commitment should be
considered state action for § 1983 purposes under the
public function test. However, Plaintiff cites no specific
authority to support a finding that such commitment has been
the exclusive function of the State of Florida.
See Harvey, 949 F.2d at 1131. Here, the Marchman Act
merely provides for the civil commitment of substance abusers
as an alternative to criminal imprisonment - it does not
transfer or delegate a legal duty of care that would render
St. Joseph's a state actor within the meaning of §
1983. See West, 487 U.S. at 56. Given the lack of
allegations to show that St. Joseph's performed an
exclusively public function by arranging for and providing
emergency substance abuse assessment and stabilization
services, St. Joseph's cannot be considered a state actor
under the public function test.
State Compulsion Test
next test for the Court to consider is the state compulsion
test. This test limits state action to instances in which the
state “has coerced or at least significantly
encouraged” the conduct at issue. National
Broadcasting, 860 F.2d at 1026. State compulsion
requires more than a showing of approval or acquiescence by
the state. See id. at 1028 (citing Blum v.
Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982)).
court in Harvey held that Georgia's mental
health-based commitment statute was not sufficiently coercive
to transform the defendant, a private mental hospital, into a
state actor for purposes of the plaintiff's § 1983
claim. 949 F.2d at 1130, 1132. Rather, the court in
Harvey likened the statute to a “licensing
provision, ” enabling hospitals to receive mentally ill
patients rather than compelling or encouraging them to do so.
Id. Likewise, the court in Rockwell echoed
this reasoning, ruling that a state law permitting physicians
to hospitalize potentially dangerous mentally ill individuals
did not rise to the level of coercion or encouragement
required to be considered state compulsion. See
Rockwell, 26 F.3d at 257 n.2, 258.
argues St. Joseph's conduct satisfies the state
compulsion test on the grounds that St. Joseph's was
required to treat Plaintiff under Florida and Federal
However, the Court's focus for the state compulsion test
in this case is on the specific language of the Marchman Act.
See Harvey, 949 F.2d at 1131. Like the commitment
statute at issue in Harvey, the Marchman Act does
not require hospitals or physicians to pursue a
specific course of action when they encounter a substance
impaired patient. Rather, the Marchman Act sets forth
guidelines and procedures under which a physician
may initiate a patient's involuntary civil
commitment. See Fla. Stat. § 397.6791; Fla.
Stat. § 397.679. The Marchman Act is, at its core,
permissive - not mandatory. As such, it does not rise to the
level of encouragement or coercion by the state in order to
transform St. Joseph's conduct into state action.
Nexus/Joint Action Test
the Court considers the nexus/joint action test. Under this
test, private conduct falls under color of state law where
the state “has ‘so far insinuated itself into a
position of interdependence with the [private party] that it
was a joint participant in the enterprise.'”
Harvey, 949 F.2d at 1131 (quoting National
Broadcast, 860 F.2d at 1026). The Supreme Court has held
that state regulation or the receipt of state funding is
insufficient to transform a private party into a state actor.
See Blum, 457 U.S. at 1004, 1011 (holding that a
nursing home was not a state actor despite extensive
government regulation and state funding). Rather, this test
requires courts to look at the degree of the state's
involvement in the private entity's management and
control. See, e.g., Brentwood Academy
v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Ass'n, 531
U.S. 288, 297-99 (2001) (treating private athletic
association as a state actor due to the “pervasive
entwinement” of state school officials in the
association's structure and operations).
argues that the State of Florida so far insinuated itself
into a position of interdependence by virtue of the Marchman
Act as to render St. Joseph's a state actor under the
nexus/joint action test. According to Plaintiff, the content
of the Marchman Act itself establishes the pervasive
entwinement required for the Court to find joint action.
Specifically, Plaintiff argues that joint action is created
by the Marchman Act, which incorporates St. Joseph's into
a broader, government-created service provider network and
allows St. Joseph's to seize Plaintiff under its
authority. Plaintiff also contends that the state's
extensive regulation of private health care facilities is
sufficient to make the state a joint participant in St.
Joseph's alleged improper conduct.
finding of joint action, however, requires the Court to
consider the degree of the state's direct involvement in
St. Joseph's management and control. Thus, the relevant
question here is not whether St. Joseph's exercised its
powers co-extensively with the state or even by virtue of
state authority, but rather whether ...