Monday, September 29, 2014
In its opinion in Grogan v. Blooming Grove Volunteer Ambulance Corps, a panel of the Second Circuit affirmed the summary judgment of the district judge finding that the ambulance corps was not a state actor, leaving unsatisfied the "essential prerequisite" to the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim for her termination from the ambulance corps (the BGVAC).
The opinion noted that to demonstrate state action, a plaintiff must establish both that her “‘alleged constitutional deprivation [was] caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, and that the party charged with the deprivation [is] a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.’” The court focused on the fairly be said to be a state actor prong, rejecting the plaintiff's argument that emergency medical care and general ambulance services are “traditionally exclusive public functions,” similar to cases which have held fire protection and animal control within this category. The court stated that "ambulance services in this country historically were provided by an array of non- state actors, including hospitals, private ambulance services, and, in what seems to be somewhat of a conflict of interest, funeral homes."
Moreover, the court rejected the "entwinement" argument, noting that she was required to show that the State was so entwined with the BGVAC management that its personnel decisions are fairly attributable to the State. The court noted that it could
safely presume that BGVAC derives the vast majority of its funding from public sources given its $362,000 yearly contract with the Town and the contractual provision permitting the Town to audit BGVAC’s finances, Grogan has introduced no evidence suggesting that the Town appoints any portion of BGVAC’s Board or has any say in BGVAC’s management or personnel decisions. Nor has she presented any evidence to suggest that the Town played any role in the disciplinary process that resulted in her suspension. BGVAC’s contract with the Town, moreover, identifies it as an “independent contractor” and expressly disclaims any employment or agency relationship between BGVAC and the Town.
The plaintiff was pro se, so perhaps counsel could have developed additional facts that would weigh in favor of state action. Nevertheless, the court did not seem inclined to find governmental responsibility for actions of the "volunteer ambulance" corps.