Rita Stein, on behalf of herself and as executrix of the estate of her deceased husband Milton, brought an action against the County of Nassau, the Nassau County Police Department, and four emergency responders. She claimed that the emergency responders violated her and her husband’s Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights and committed the state-law torts of assault and negligence when they refused to transport Milton — who was unresponsive at the time — to the hospital of Rita’s choosing and then physically prevented Rita from interfering with their provision of emergency medical care to Milton.
Milton had appointed Rita as his health care agent in 1990, pursuant to a statutory Health Care Proxy. However, the U.S. District Court, Second Circuit found that the applicability of health care proxies to non-hospital settings had not been “clearly established” at the time of the incident, and therefore qualified immunity barred Rita’s suit against the emergency responders.
The court found that under New York law, the creation of a health care proxy did not trigger an agent’s authority to make health care decisions on behalf of her principal. Instead, that authority commences upon a determination, made pursuant to New York Public Health Law § 2983(1), that the principal lacks capacity to make health care decisions.
That determination must be made by an attending physician in writing. Since there was no indication that such a determination had been made in this case, the emergency responders had no reason to believe that Rita had authority to act on Milton’s behalf and were entitled to qualified immunity. The court granted summary judgment for the emergency responders on the constitutional claims. However it remanded the case to the U.S. District Court to determine the tort claims which did not necessarily involve the Health Care Proxy.