The state committed John Montin to their Lincoln Regional Center (LRC) back in 1993 when a jury returned a verdict deeming him to be unfit to stand trial of charges including attempted murder. Under the insanity defense, the state detained him at the LRC facility for nearly twenty years when finally he was determined to present no clear danger to himself or others in 2013. In 2014, Montin brought a medical malpractice suit in a federal district court, in addition to a civil rights violation of unnecessary confinement against LRC employees including psychologists and psychiatrists. All named defendants were LRC employees at the time and had provided medical services such as psychological testing and various plans of treatment. Montin claimed he received inadequate care according to standards and that he was misdiagnosed as having a mental illness.
Montin’s medical malpractice claim had been dismissed by the district level court following a defense motion. The defendants were employees of the state at the time, thus shielded from civil claims based on sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity may be waived by states in rare instances, yet it generally prevails to bar any civil actions. Montin brought his action against the defendants in their own individual capacities. Although the complaint applied to the employees as individuals, the alleged malpractice still occurred while they were acting within their roles as state employees. The Nebraska law specifically bars claims during times when the defendants are operating under the scope of employment.
Claims involving governmental immunity are governed by the Nebraska State Tort Claims Act (STCA) which was put in place establishing uniformity in the manner in which actions of tort are brought against the state and its employees. If the state were to waive their immunity, the claims must be done in accordance with the STCA’s provisions. The law states that immunity waivers do not apply in actions in the federal court; rather, they must be pursued in a state district venue. This case was not compliant with the statute; therefore, it had to be dismissed.
Next, the appeals court examined the claim of unnecessary confinement based on a violation of the plaintiff’s civil rights. The court reviewed the provisions for entitling a state employee to immunity which include:
- If the plaintiff had their rights violated according to the constitution or statutes
- Whether their rights were violated after being openly established
- A violation of rights under the Constitution occurs when a state official took action that they knew (or should have) that violated the rights of the plaintiff or if the act (or inaction) was executed based on intentional malice.
Montin had a burden to prove that the employees acted in a manner beyond simply negligence, which the claim lacked facts or evidence to support. Due to his failure to support that a constitutional right was violated, the appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision to also dismiss the claim of unnecessary confinement.