Parents Lose Suit Over Baby’s Forced Spinal Tap

     BOISE, Idaho (CN) – The 9th Circuit refused to revive a civil rights case over the forced spinal tap of a 5-week-old baby whose parents would not consent.
     Eric and Corissa Mueller rushed their daughter Taige to St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in 2002 after they discovered she was running a fever of 100.8. After a battery of tests, Dr. Richard MacDonald insisted on a spinal tap to rule out meningitis, stressing the importance of a timely procedure. The Muellers insisted, however, on waiting until Taige’s blood work results returned before consenting to the procedure.
     Taige’s fever had already come down by the time child protective services showed up based on a complaint of neglect, according to a complaint the Muellers filed in 2004.
     The couple says three police officers showed up, and two held Corissa Mueller by her arms as the hospital took Taige and performed the spinal tap, which came back negative.
     The Muellers sued MacDonald; Boise Police Officers Ted Snyder and Tim Green; and Detective Dale Rogers, alleging violations of their due process rights under the 14th Amendment.
     They also named St. Luke’s and the city of Boise as defendants, but those claims were dismissed before trial.
     A federal jury sided ruled that the family had not faced a constitutional violation, and the 9th Circuit affirmed Monday.
     After a hearing in July, the three-judge panel found that qualified immunity protects the officers, given the fact they felt the infant was in “imminent danger.”
     “The lack of clearly established law is most apparent in Detective Rogers’ imminent danger analysis,” Judge Stephen Trott wrote for the panel. “He was confronted with a physician insisting (1) that the treatments be done, (2) that they be done quickly, (3) that they constituted the standard of care, (4) that the risk of foregoing treatments outweighed the risks of treatment, (5) that the treatments would completely eliminate any danger to Taige, and (6) that if Corissa left with Taige untreated, Taige’s condition could deteriorate so quickly that she could suffer serious injury or die before Corissa could return to the hospital. In this situation, no clearly established law existed to guide Detective Rogers. The phrase ‘imminent danger’ has not been given any detailed definition … that could have guided Detective Rogers.”
     Idaho police can “place a child in shelter care without a court order when necessary to prevent serious physical injury,” the decision states.
     Likewise, Dr. MacDonald says he made the best decision he could at a highly stressful moment and in very a short period of time.
     “If anything, the completed record shows that Dr. MacDonald exercised his best judgment in an emergency setting in favor of ensuring an infant’s safety from the very peril that caused he mother to take her in the middle of the night to a hospital emergency room,” Trott wrote. “This is hardly the stuff of which a cognizable civil rights violation can be made.”
     The panel also affirmed dismissal of St. Luke’s and Boise as defendants.
     “St. Luke’s did not become a state actor simply because it complied with state law requiring its personnel to report possible child neglect to Child Protective Services,” Trott wrote. “State law does not amount to an actionable hospital policy. Moreover, St. Luke’s medical standard of care under these circumstances isn’t a policy either. Neither did social worker Bob Condon’s testimony establish any actionable policy on the part of St. Luke’s. In fact, the record conclusively demonstrates that no appropriate amendment to the complaint could overcome these obvious problems. The hospital’s conduct in question was not fairly attributed to the state.”

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