(CN) – A Tampa rape victim can sue the Hillsborough County Sheriff for allowing a jail guard to refuse to give her a prescribed emergency contraception pill because it was against the guard’s religious beliefs, a federal judge ruled.
R.W., whose full name is not disclosed in court records, says she was raped on Jan. 27, 2007. After an examination at Tampa’s Rape Crisis Center, a doctor gave R.W. gave two anti-contraception pills, according to the complaint.
R.W. says she took one pill immediately and held the other to ingest 12 hours later, as directed.
While taking R.W.’s report of the crime, however, a Tampa police officer learned that there was an arrest warrant for R.W. for failure to pay restitution and failure to appear. At the Hillsborough County Jail, staff confiscated her second pill.
R.W. says she requested her second pill the next morning, but jail employee Michele Spinelli refused. “Spinelli told the Plaintiff that she would not give R.W. the pill because it was against Spinelli’s religious beliefs,” the first amended complaint states.
Although R.W. did not get pregnant, she sued Spinelli and Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee for gender discrimination and violations of the right to privacy and the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
The sheriff moved to dismiss the counts against him, alleging R.W.’s claims are “implausible and merely incant the legal conclusion that Spinelli is a final policy maker,” according to the ruling.
“However, in this amended complaint,” U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich wrote, “Plaintiff has plead additional facts sufficient to render her claims plausible.”
Kovachevich, who dismissed the claims against the sheriff in the second amended complaint, wrote, “The single action of a final policy-maker can represent official government policy, even when the action is not meant to control later decisions.”
She continues: “In the third amended complaint, plaintiff alleged the following additional facts to support her claim that Spinelli was a final policy-maker: (1) Gee allowed Spinelli to work at the jail as the only person on duty with the power to dispense anti-conceptive medication. (2) Gee did not provide Spinelli with any guidance, supervision, or direction on whether she could refuse to dispense anti-conceptive medication based on her religious beliefs, and (3) Gee did not promulgate any policy on refusals to dispense anti-conceptive medication based on religious beliefs. None of these facts are mere labels or legal conclusions.
“Taken as true, these three facts provide plausible grounds for relief. The holding of Mandel, the broad definition of policy, and the fact that all governmental actions are the result of some official policy, grant plausibility to the Plaintiffs claim. Even though Spinelli was apparently some type of medical employee and seems to have no statutorily-granted, traditional policy-making role, Mandel suggests that she may still be a final policy-maker. Even though her act did not govern subsequent decisions of jail employees, it plausibly falls under the definition of ‘policy.’ Gee, as the representative of the municipality, promulgated no policy on anticonceptive medication and provided no guidance or supervision to Spinelli on the matter. Given that some entity must set policy for the government in each situation, plaintiff has rendered plausible the claim that Spinelli was designated the final policy-maker with respect to her decision to withhold anti-conceptive medication for religious reasons.”That is not to say, of course, that the Plaintiff will ultimately prevail on her claims. To the contrary, plaintiff faces several key evidentiary hurdles before liability will be proved… But at this early juncture, the Court must take the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true. It has done just that here – nothing more. Accordingly, it is,” the ruling states.