Thursday, October 16, 2014

Volunteer ambulance organization is not a “state actor” for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment


Volunteer ambulance organization held not a “state actor” for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment
Grogan v. Blooming Grove Volunteer Ambulance Corps, USCA, 2nd Circuit, 13-656-cv

The Blooming Grove Volunteer Ambulance Corps [BGVAC], a private volunteer ambulance organization, submitted a motion in federal district court seeking summary judgment dismissing claims brought against it pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 based on allegations that BCVAC had dismissed Lenore Grogan, one of its members, without a hearing.

Grogan alleged that various disciplinary charges levied against her by BGVAC, resulting in her suspension as an officer of BGVAC without a  hearing constituted “state action” and that such action violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The district court disagreed and granted BCVAC’s motion and dismissed Grogan’s complaint.

In her appeal to the Second Circuit Grogan contended that BGVAC was a “state actor” for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment as it had contracts with a municipality to provide emergency medical services. Accordingly, Grogan contended, BGVAC had violated her Constitutional rights when it issued disciplinary charges against her and then suspended her from the organization without a proper hearing.
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Grogan claimed that BGVAC’s conduct amounts to state action because: (1) the services BGVAC provides — emergency medical care and general ambulance services — are “traditionally exclusive public functions” that the State has delegated to BGVAC; and (2) the extensive State regulation and oversight under which BGVAC operates, coupled with BGVAC’s performance of a “municipally assumed” statutory function, so “entwines” BGVAC with the State that its actions are fairly attributable to the State.

The Circuit Court disagreed, sustaining the District Court’s determination that BGVAC’s conduct did not constitute state action.

The court explained that “Because the United States Constitution regulates only the Government, not private parties,” Grogan, who alleges that her “constitutional rights have been violated must first establish that the challenged conduct constitutes ‘state action.” To demonstrate state action, said the court, a plaintiff must establish both that the alleged constitutional deprivation was caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, and that the party charged with the deprivation is a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.’”

In this instance, said the court, there are two elements to consider:  

1. Has Grogan satisfied the “public function” test by demonstrating that there a “close nexus” between the challenged action and the State by showing that the private entity has exercised powers that are traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the State; and

2. Is the private entity so entwined with governmental policies, or is government entwined in the management or control of the private entity.

The court said that the statute authorizing the municipality to contract with BGVAC, New York Town Law §198(10-f), imposes no duty, obligation, or responsibility on New York towns to provide emergency medical services. Instead, the statute is entirely permissive, declaring that “the town board may . . . provide an emergency medical service, a general ambulance service, or a combination of such services . . . and to that end may . . . [c]ontract with one or more . . . organizations” to provide such services.”

Because the New York statutory scheme does not place an affirmative responsibility on towns or municipalities to provide ambulance services, those services cannot be considered “public functions.”

The Circuit Court futher explained that “even if we were to assume that the provision of emergency medical care and ambulance services constitutes state action under the public function theory (which we do not), that conclusion would be of no assistance to Grogan because the gravamen of her claims deals not with the performance of those ambulance services but instead with BGVAC’s employment decision to charge and suspend her.”

Concluding that Grogan” failed to demonstrate a sufficiently close nexus between the State or Town governmental entities and the disciplinary actions taken against her,” BGVAC’s actions cannot be fairly attributed to the State or the Town and, as a result, BGVAC cannot be held liable under  §1983,” the judgment of the District Court was affirmed.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/115153c9-61d9-4e7b-a767-d551a4ea8744/2/doc/13-656_opn.pdf#xml=http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/115153c9-61d9-4e7b-a767-d551a4ea8744/2/hilite/
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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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