Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Schindler re: Schiavo: Decision Summary

This is a simplified summary, with no citations or other legal language, of the court judgment to deny Terri Schiavo's parents a temporary order to have her feeding tube re-inserted. Two links are provided to photocopies of the judgment document, for those who want to examine the original or follow up on the precedents cited. All ellipses are mine unless otherwise stated.

A federal court acting upon S.686, ""An Act for the relief of the parents of Teresa Marie Schiavo," has denied the motion of Terri Schiavo's parents for a temporary order to "reestablish her nutrition and hydration."

In the judgment statement, the court pointed out that the Act of Congress "provides the jurisdiction for the US District Court to hear this petition. This was needed because
...federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, "empowered to hear only those cases... which have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized by Congress." [Ellipsis per original.]
The court went on to explain the circumstances under which such a temporary restraining order might be issued:
... The issue concerning the court is whether temporary injunctive relief is warranted... While there may be substantial issues concerning the constitutionality of the Act, for the purposes of considering temporary injunctive relief, the Act is presumed to be constitutional... The purpose of a temporary restraining order... is to protect against irreparable injury and preserve the status quo until the district court renders a meaningful decision on the merits... A district court may grant a preliminary injunction only if...
  1. it has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits;
  2. irreparable injury will be suffered unless the injunction issues;
  3. the threatened injury... outweighs whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party; and
  4. if issued, the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest.
The court found that such an injunction was merited under items 2 through 4, because
...it is apparent that Teresa Schiavo will die unless temporary injunctive relief is granted... Moreover, that threatened injury outweighs any harm the proposed injunction would cause... Finally, the court is satisfied that an injunction would not be adverse to the public interest.
Nevertheless, the court denied the order because they found the "likelihood of success on the merits," to be lacking. The court examined four arguments of merit in making this decision:
  1. Violation of Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Right to a Fair and Impartial Trial (Fair Trial)
  2. Violation of Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process Rights (Procedural Due Process)
  3. Violation of Fourteenth Amendment Right to Equal Protection of the Law (Equal Protection)
  4. Violation of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and Violation of First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion Clause (Freedom of Religion)
The court dismissed as "without merit" the Schindler's Fair Trial contention, which was based on [Florida State Court] Judge Greer acting as "Terri's health surrogate" while he "purported to act as an impartial trial judge in the same proceeding." (The reason given for thus summarily dismissing this argument is that the court had appointed Michael Schiavo as "plenary guardian and proxy" for Teresa, thus removing that role from Judge Greer.) Terri Schiavo's parents allege that once he
..became an advocate for Terri's death, it became impossible for Judge Greer to maintain his role as an impartial judge in order to review his own decision that Terri would want to die.
The Procedural Due Process contention was based on Judge Greer's refusal to meet Terri Schiavo personally, and to personally assess her level of cognition and responsiveness (denial of access to court); and his failure to appoint an independent attorney to represent her legal rights (guardian ad litem). The court found, not one, but three guardians ad litem had been appointed, and dismissed the "denial of access" as not applicable to Terri Schiavo's case.
..."Due process is a flexible concept that varies with the particular circumstances of each case, and to determine [its] requirements... we must apply"... the Matthews balancing test...[which] requires consideration of three distinct factors... the private interest that will be affected...; the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used...; and finally, the Government's interest...
In dismissing the third contention, Equal Protection, as without merit, the court included a supporting statement (from the cited case found in the original) that reads (to my non-lawyerly eyes) like an argument for the Schindler's cause:
"The differences between the choice made by a competent person to refuse medical treatment, and the choice made for an incompetent person by someone else to refuse medical treatment, are so obviously different that the State is warranted in establishing rigorous procedures for the latter class of cases which do not apply to the former class." [Emphasis in original.]
The Freedom of Religion argument claims that Terri's right to freely exercise her religion have been "burdened by the state court's order authorizing removal of her feeding tube..." In dismissing this final contention, the court argued that the statute's language did not allow for merit, because the statute expressly requires that
[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person... [Emphasis in original.]
Since neither Michael Schiavo nor the Hospice are "state actors," the court refused to grant any merit to this argument, citing precedent that "Use of the courts by private parties does not constitute an act under the color of state law," to excuse the third defendant, Judge Greer, from consideration as a "state actor."

Having dismissed the substantial chance of success in the federal district court on the merits of the case, the judge then denied the Schindler's motion for a temporary restraining order.

Case No. 8:05-CV-530-T-27TBM
United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division

Signed by James D. Whittemore, United States District Judge on March 22, 2005.

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this post.


Blogger P-BS-Watcher said...

"'The plain language of the Fourteenth Amendment contemplates that a person can be deprived of life so long as due process of law is provided,' Whittemore wrote."

Conservatives have said that for a long time. This is the first time the liberals have resorted to "the plain language." See T + 7

3/25/2005 2:38 PM  
Blogger DrPat said...

Thanks for this link, p-bs-watcher. I'm very conflicted about this issue (as I believe many Americans are.)

Please join us on BlogCritics to discuss this further - I would welcome your reasoned support!

3/25/2005 5:11 PM  
Blogger samraat said...


4/03/2010 9:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home