Epileptic Who Voluntarily Entered Hospital Based on False Monitoring Assurances Died of Unmonitored Seizure But Was Not Deprived of Constitutional Guarantee

A state-owned hospital’s false assurances that an epileptic patient would be under constant monitoring in the epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU), without which the patient would not have voluntarily checked in, did not constitute “a restraint of liberty” for which a state actor can be liable for a deprivation of Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights. In this case, the estate and family members of the deceased patient brought a § 1983 action against the state university hospital and various doctors and staff, alleging the patient was deprived of life without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state-created danger theory for a § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim comprises the legal fiction that an act of private violence may deprive the victim of this constitutional guarantee.


The Tenth Circuit found the hospital employees’ assurances that they would provide the patient with uninterrupted monitoring during the withholding of his seizure medication did not constitute “affirmative conduct” as required for the § 1983 claim alleging a state-created danger in violation of the patient's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights when he died from a seizure while left unattended.


The court held the epileptic patient was not in custody at the time of his death while being treated for seizures as the hospital did not have a custodial relationship with the patient, such that it had duty to protect, as required for the § 1983 claim alleging violations of the patient's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights in his treatment. The patient voluntarily checked himself into the hospital for medical observation and testing, and he was not prohibited from seeking alternative sources of treatment. See: Gray v. University of Colorado Hosp. Authority, 2012 WL 604164 (10th Cir.(Colo.) Feb 27, 2012) (not designated for publication).