CA3: Public hospital’s taking child from ambulance at ER was reasonable since parents wouldn’t provide medical history or answer questions about child’s condition

Plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claim against the defendant public hospital for taking their baby from an ambulance and treating it in the emergency room was reasonable under the circumstances. The hospital staff couldn’t get answers from the parents about the child who was near death in the ambulance. The hospital and staff gets summary judgment on both claims. Ferris v. Milton S. Hershey Med. Ctr., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 12448 (3d Cir. July 12, 2017)

We conclude, therefore, that the hospital physicians’ belief that A.F.’s health and safety were at imminent risk was a reasonable one. According to the summary judgment record, A.F. was born premature, near death, in respiratory distress, and little if any information was available to attending medical personnel about the level of pre-natal care she received. Further, Mrs. Ferris could not confirm her Rh status, nor did she provide medical personnel with her GBS status. Her statements that A.F. received prenatal care from a midwife were contradicted by the midwife herself. Mrs. Ferris forbade treatment with such therapies as triple dye, erythromycin, and the Hepatitis B inoculation. Also, the record reflects Mrs. Ferris’ uncooperative and unhelpful interactions with the hospital physicians and the social worker, in addition to some unorthodox behavior such as insisting on holding the infant while she urinated and underwent a surgical procedure. All of these things were reasonably relied on by the hospital physicians and the social worker in deciding that A.F. was in serious risk of imminent harm and to remove her from her parent’s custody.

The underlying current of the Ferris’ Fourth Amendment argument on appeal is that the seizure of their daughter was unconstitutional because the medical treatments the hospital physicians sought to administer were unnecessary. Since these treatments were unnecessary—they argue—there was no immediate threat to A.F.’s health, and since there was no immediate threat to A.F.’s health, no seizure should have taken place. The Ferrises focus with particularity on the hospital physician’s desire to give A.F. a vaccine to protect against Hepititis B. They maintain that such treatment was “unnecessary” since it would have been equally effective if was administered within twenty-four hours of birth, as opposed to twelve hours. But, the Ferrises presented no clinical evidence to support their assertion. To the contrary, the hospital physicians testified that although the vaccine retains its effectiveness when given twenty-four hours after birth, the additional delay resulted in an increased risk of infection and/or transmission to the infant. Additionally, Mrs. Ferris’ Hepatitis status was unknown to the hospital physicians because she refused to provide them with any medical history. All of this allowed the hospital physicians to reasonably suspect neglect and therefore, the District Court did not err by upholding the seizure of their daughter as lawful.

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