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Governmental Immunity

Brief - Does the 11th Amendment bar EMTALA claims against state hospitals? - Ward v. Presbyterian Healthcare Services, 72 F.Supp.2d 1285 (D.N.M. 1999)

Defendant is decedent's mother.  She brought her daughter to two different New Mexico mental health clinics because her daughter was having psychiatric problems.  She was shuffled from clinic to clinic without being admitted or screened, as required by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) 42 U.S.C. s 1395dd.  At the final facility they sought admission from, they were told to wait while the facility tried to get pre-approval from their insurer.  The daughter was not screened or treated before being asked to wait.  As the wait grew longer, the administrator suggested that the daughter go outside and have a smoke to calm down.  She went out into the facility and jumped to her death from a 5th floor window. Her mother brought this action against the state hospital under EMTALA's statutory tort provision.  After a review of the United States Supreme Court's recent 11th amendment cases, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that congress did not properly abrogate 11th amendment immunity when it passed EMTALA.  The court dismissed plaintiff's EMTALA claim as barred by the 11th amendment.  The court also held that the New Mexico Tort Claims Act only waived sovereign immunity in state court and could not be used shelter an EMTALA action in federal court.  Although this decision does not prevent HCFA from enforcing EMTALA through federal agency action against the state, it does end EMTALA suits against state hospitals by private citizens.

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