A paranoid schizophrenic killed a stranger in a department store with a “ninja-butterfly” knife. The dead man’s family sued the hospital that had allowed the the schizophrenic to sign himself out of their facility.

732 F.Supp. 572 (1989)

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Decided, November 27, 1989

This matter arises from the tragic death of plaintiffs’ decedent, Donald M. Lee. The complaint, which we accept as undisputed for purposes of the motions to dismiss, alleges that Donald Lee was intentionally killed on April 21, 1987, by defendant Frederick E. Wommer. Wommer, a paranoid schizophrenic with known propensities for violent behavior, intoxication, and the collection of martial arts paraphernalia, stabbed Lee to death with a six inch “ninja-butterfly” knife in a Clearfield, Pennsylvania, department store. There was no motive for the attack; Wommer simply had encountered Lee, a complete stranger, in the store into which he had wandered after signing himself out of a local mental health center.

The claim is brought “under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, applied to claims for deprivation of life without due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

But the Court concludes that the plaintiff has neither a procedural nor substantive due process claim:

The defendants’ discharge of their duties toward defendant Wommer under the Mental Health Procedures Act, whether in accord with or in violation of their duties under the Act toward Wommer, simply does not implicate any constitutionally protected interest in life, liberty or property of the plaintiffs or of plaintiffs’ decedent.


there is no substantive due process right as against the state or state actors to be protected from criminal activity of private persons or from private violence generally

So neither the State nor the clinic have liability to the dead man for having released a paranoid schizophrenic with a “fascination for weapons”. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted – case dismissed.

ninja-butterfly knife: