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Civil Rights – Attack on patient was violation of rights

By: South Carolina Lawyers Weekly staff//February 20, 2020//

Civil Rights – Attack on patient was violation of rights

By: South Carolina Lawyers Weekly staff//February 20, 2020//

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Where the trial court’s finding that a defendant encouraged a hospital patient to attack the plaintiff was based on its credibility determination of the witnesses, it was affirmed. But where the doctor’s decision regarding treatment was based on his professional judgment, that decision was not a violation of the patient’s due process rights nor was the doctor now required to provide the treatment.


Brian Farabee, a former patient at Central State Hospital, brought this § 1983 suit against several hospital employees. He alleged that his due process rights were violated because he was denied mental health treatment that he needed, was forcibly medicated and unreasonably restrained and because hospital staff encouraged another patient to attack him.

Farabee and two of the defendants—Drs. Sridhar Yaratha and Rebecca Vauter—now appeal from the district court’s decision after a bench trial. Yaratha challenges the court’s rulings against him on two claims. Vauter appeals from an injunction entered against her. And Farabee contends that his forced-medication claim was improperly denied.


We first consider Yaratha’s argument that the district court clearly erred on Count One by finding that his denial of dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, was not based on a professional judgment and thereby violated Farabee’s due process rights. We agree with Yaratha. Absent a finding by the district court that Yaratha lied on the witness stand about why he withheld DBT, there’s simply no evidence that his decision—while perhaps misguided—was a sham. Indeed, the district court’s own summary of the evidence doesn’t support its conclusion.

Next, we consider Yaratha’s contention that the district court clearly erred on Count Four by finding that he encouraged Evans to attack Farabee and thereby violated Farabee’s due process right to safe conditions. Yaratha argues that Farabee’s and Evans’s testimonies were implausible, rife with inconsistencies and partially contradicted by documentary evidence. While Yaratha’s argument gives us some pause, we are constrained to affirm the district court on Count Four.

The district court found that Count Four boiled down to a credibility contest. In the court’s view, Evans and Farabee were credible because their testimonies were similar in some respects and because some of it was corroborated by circumstantial evidence. The court found that Yaratha wasn’t credible because his testimony was “inconsistent and conflicting in many important respects.”

While we review all factual findings for clear error, we give particular deference to findings based on witness-credibility determinations. Were we the trier of fact, perhaps the result might have been different. But we are not “left with the definite and firm conviction” that the district court erred. Thus, we are constrained to affirm on Count Four.

We turn now to consider whether the district court erred by enjoining Vauter to make DBT available to Farabee. We agree with Vauter that the injunction was improper, for three reasons. First, the district court didn’t find Vauter liable on any counts; i.e., the court didn’t find that she violated Farabee’s rights. Second, as explained above, we don’t think Yaratha’s denial of DBT violated Farabee’s due process rights, leaving no basis as to any defendant for the injunction. And third, Farabee’s claim for injunctive relief against Vauter is moot because he’s no longer in her custody.

Finally, we consider whether the district court erred on Count Two by placing upon Farabee the burden of proving that no emergencies justified his forced medications. The parties agree that when a treatment provider forcibly medicates a patient in response to an emergency—like when the patient may harm himself or others—the provider isn’t liable because he acted with professional judgment. They disagree as to whether emergencies existed in the eight instances in which Farabee was forcibly medicated in 2013 and 2014.

The district court ruled for Yaratha, stating that “while the evidence is conflicting, [Farabee] has not met his burden of proof.” Farabee now posits that the existence of an emergency is an affirmative defense, which a defendant must prove. We do not agree.

Affirmed in part, vacated in part, reversed in part and remanded.

Farabee v. Yaratha (Albert Diaz, J.) Case Nos. 18-1952 and 18-7062. Feb. 6, 2020. From E.D. Va. (Henry Coke Morgan Jr., S.J.) Lynn Jones Blain for Appellants/Cross-Appellees, Jeremiah A. Denton III for Appellee/Cross-Appellant. 22 pp.

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