The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is being asked to clear an emergency room physician of a claim that he violated a Richmond woman’s civil rights by depriving her of liberty without due process and subjecting her to an unreasonable search.
Dr. Scott Kemmerer is one of two defendants remaining in a lawsuit filed by Linda J. Clifford about her treatment at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s emergency department in Augusta on Sept. 25-26, 2007. The hospital itself is the other defendant.
Kemmerer, through his attorney, asked the court’s justices to order that the claim against him be dismissed. He maintains he did nothing wrong and also that he is immune to lawsuit because he was carrying out a governmental function by evaluating Clifford.
Oral arguments in the case were held last week in Portland.
Events as described by an investigator for the Maine Human Rights Commission say that Clifford, who has a mental disability described as “severe complex post-traumatic stress disorder with disassociation disorder,” was taken to the Augusta hospital twice after she sent three emails Sept. 25, 2007, to then-Gov. John Baldacci railing against budget cuts affecting mental health service agencies.
“The emails contained suicidal homicidal threats and references,” the investigator wrote.
Clifford later said she never intended for the emails to be threatening.
Clifford, now 54, said she was picked up by two state troopers and brought from her home for a second psychiatric evaluation within less than eight hours at the same hospital and strip-searched by male security guards. She said she was forced to sign herself into the hospital for a 24-hour period or be involuntarily committed for 72 hours. She was released the next day. Clifford later moved from Litchfield to Richmond.
Kemmerer’s attorney, Christopher Taintor, told the judges that Kemmerer became involved in the case “very late in the game” and understood that Clifford needed an evaluation after she was returned to the emergency department by police.
Taintor said there had been some miscommunication between state police and Crisis & Counseling, but that the agency wanted Clifford taken back to the hospital. An unnamed employee at Crisis & Counseling apparently asked that Clifford remain at the hospital. However, she already had been discharged by emergency department personnel and had left, according to the commission investigator’s report.
“Where does the law provide for a second exam after a first examination found she posed no problem?” Associate Justice Donald Alexander asked Taintor.
Curtis Webber, Clifford’s attorney, told the justices that a psychiatrist who spoke with Clifford the next day thought it was ridiculous that she had been returned to the hospital. Webber said the psychiatrist was so concerned about what had happened that he spoke to her and to her caseworker about finding a lawyer to look into whether Clifford’s rights were violated.
“It’s amazing the power that the crisis agency apparently had,” Webber said on Tuesday. “Their contract says they will advise the doctors and other staff people; it’s clear they’re not the decisionmakers.”
Even if the court finds in favor of Kemmerer, who no longer works at MaineGeneral, the lawsuit would return to Kennebec County Superior Court on another claim against Kemmerer as well as the claim against MaineGeneral. Justice Donald Marden has been assigned to the case in superior court, which was filed in September 2009.
Another defendant in the case, Dr. Harry Grimmnitz, already was dismissed. Taintor represented him as well.
Webber said a separate claim by Clifford against Crisis & Counseling Centers was settled previously.
He also said the experience of being returned to the hospital worsened Clifford’s PTSD.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard essentially the same arguments in the Clifford case argued in November 2013, and requested it be argued again in April.
The court issues written decisions sometimes months after oral arguments are held.
In connection with different claims by Clifford involving the same incident, the Maine Human Rights Commission voted in August 2009 against finding reasonable grounds to believe Clifford was discriminated against by either Crisis & Counseling Centers, Inc., or MaineGeneral Medical Center because of her mental disability.
Betty Adams — 621-5631