The North West Regional Health Authority v Cheryl Miller
|Trinidad & Tobago
|A. Mendonça, J.A.,Bereaux J.A.,P. Rajkumar, J.A.
|28 July 2021
|TT 2021 CA 33
|Civil Appeal No. P 151 of 2015 Civil Appeal No. P 169 of 2015 Claim No. CV2013-03971
|Court of Appeal (Trinidad and Tobago)
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL
A. Mendonça, J.A.
N. Bereaux, J.A.
P. Rajkumar, J.A.
Civil Appeal No. P 151 of 2015
Claim No. CV2013-03971
Civil Appeal No. P 169 of 2015
Claim No. CV2013-03971
Mr. F. Hosein SC and Mr. D. Maharaj instructed by Ms. K. Bharath appeared on behalf of the Appellant/First-Named Defendant
Mr. S. Marcus SC and Ms. D. James instructed by Ms. M. Hinds appeared on behalf of the Respondent/Claimant and Appellant/Claimant
Mr. R. Rajcoomar instructed by Ms. S. Maharaj appeared on behalf of the Respondents/Defendants
Delivered by A. Mendonça, J.A.
This judgment is in relation to three appeals which arose out of a claim brought by Cheryl Miller (Miller) for assault, battery and false imprisonment. The appeals were heard together. It is convenient at the outset to identify some of the main players in the events that gave rise to these proceedings:
a. Miller was at all material times in the employ of the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development (the Ministry) and stationed at its offices at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain.
b. The North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) is a health authority incorporated pursuant to the provisions of the Regional Health Authorities Act. It owns and/or manages, among other facilities, the St. Ann's Psychiatric Hospital (the Hospital) with responsibility for its operations including the admission of persons to the Hospital.
c. Koreen Jackson Huggins (Huggins) was at all material times a mental health officer in the employ of the NWRHA.
d. Jessica Forteau-Vanderpool (Vanderpool) was at all material times a psychiatric social worker in the employ of the NWRHA.
e. Dr. Janice Laxmi Shavili was at the material time a house officer at the Hospital and Dr. Indar Ramtahal was a senior doctor at the Hospital.
No issue has been raised in the court below or on this appeal that the NWRHA is vicariously responsible for the acts of Huggins, Vanderpool and the afore-mentioned doctors.
f. Sandra Jones was the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry where Miller worked and Jasmine Pascall was the Deputy Permanent Secretary (Ag.).
On March 21, 2012 Miller was at her place of employment seated at her desk in her cubicle at the Ministry on the 21 st floor of Tower D. She was approached by Huggins in whose company was Vanderpool and other servants and/or agents of the NWRHA. Miller was taken into custody by Huggins against her will, removed from the Ministry, placed in an ambulance and conveyed to the Hospital. At the Hospital, Miller was interviewed by Dr. Shavili who made a provisional diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and a decision was taken to admit Miller to the L.F.E. Lewis Ward of the Hospital for treatment. Miller was subsequently kept at the Hospital until April 6, 2012 (a period of approximately 17 days) when she was released pursuant to an order made in habeas corpus proceedings instituted on Miller's behalf by her next friend, Doreen Miller, the sister of Miller. During her time at the Hospital treatment was administered to Miller by the staff at the Hospital.
Miller subsequently commenced these proceedings against the NWRHA, Jasmine Pascall, Sandra Jones, Verna St. Rose-Greaves and the Attorney General. Verna St. Rose-Greaves was at the time the Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development. The claim against her was not pursued so I need say no more in relation to her.
Miller claimed against the NWRHA damages (inclusive of aggravated and exemplary damages) for false imprisonment, assault and battery for the acts and omissions of the servants and/or agents of the NWRHA (for which it is vicariously liable) in taking Miller into custody, conveying and admitting her to the Hospital, detaining her and administering treatment to her there.
In relation to Jones and Pascall, Miller alleged that they jointly or severally decided to and did request and authorise her removal from her place of employment by the servants or agents of the NWRHA, namely Huggins and Vanderpool. Miller claimed against them damages (including aggravated and exemplary damages) for causing her to be unlawfully taken into custody, conveyed to the Hospital and unlawfully detained for seventeen days.
The Attorney General was named as a defendant pursuant to the provisions of the State Liability and Proceedings Act in respect of the actions of Pascall and Jones.
In its defence, the NWRHA as justification for the acts of its servants and/or agents relied on section 15 of the Mental Health Act (the Act) and further contended that it is immune and protected from civil liability by subsection (7) of section 15 and by section 49 of the Act. Sections 15 and 49 of the Act are as follows:
“15. (1) A person found wandering at large on a highway or in any public place and who by reason of his appearance, conduct or conversation, a mental health officer has reason to believe is mentally ill and in need of care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward may be taken into custody and conveyed to such hospital or ward for admission for observation in accordance with this section.
(2) The Psychiatric Hospital Director or a duly authorised medical officer may, on the application of a mental health officer, admit to a psychiatric hospital or ward a person conveyed thereto pursuant to subsection (1).
(3) The Psychiatric Hospital Director or a duly authorised medical officer, shall as soon as practicable after the patient has been admitted, make or cause to be made on the patient such examination as he may consider necessary for determining whether or not the person is in need of care and treatment.
(4) A person who has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital or ward under subsection (2) shall not be kept therein for more than seventy-two hours unless on examination the Psychiatric Hospital Director or the duly authorised medical officer is satisfied that the person is in need of further care and treatment.
(5) Where the Psychiatric Hospital Director is satisfied that a person to whom subsection (4) applies is in need of further care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward, the person shall be deemed to be a medically recommended patient and all the provisions of this Act relating to a medically recommended patient shall apply to such a person.
(6) A police officer shall, if required by a mental health officer, render such assistance as may be necessary for the apprehension and safe conveyance to a psychiatric hospital or ward of a person referred to in subsection (1).
(7) A person shall not be liable to any suit or action in respect of any act done pursuant to the provisions of this section, if he acted in good faith and on reasonable grounds.
49. No person is liable to any suit or action in respect of any act done under lawful direction and authority pursuant to the provisions of this Act or the Regulations unless it can be shown to the satisfaction of the Court that the person acted without good faith or reasonable care.”
Pascall, Jones and the Attorney General in their defences averred that because of the behaviour of Miller on the day in question Pascall and Jones decided to seek professional assistance for Miller and merely sought such assistance. At no point in time were Pascall and Jones in a position to request or authorise the taking of Miller into custody and her removal from the Ministry and did not do so. They say that if Miller was falsely imprisoned or deprived of her liberty it is not as a result of any act or omission attributable to Pascall and Jones.
The Trial Judge gave judgment for Miller. She held that section 15 of the Act did not authorise the servants or agents of the NWRHA to take Miller into custody, admit her to the Hospital, detain her there and administer treatment to her. Further, the Trial Judge held that section 15(7) and section 49 of the Act did not protect or grant immunity to the servants and/or agents of the NWRHA against civil liability in this case. Accordingly, the Trial judge held the NWRHA vicariously liable for the acts of its servants or agents which amounted to false imprisonment, assault and battery.
The Trial Judge, however, dismissed Miller's claim against Pascall, Jones and the Attorney General.
As against the NWRHA, the Trial Judge awarded Miller general damages in the amount of $450,000.00 (which included an element of aggravated damages), exemplary damages in the sum of $75,000.00 and special damages in the sum of $310,000.00. The sum of $310,000.00 represented monies paid on Miller's behalf for legal representation in the habeas corpus proceedings.
The NWRHA has appealed. It contends that the Trial Judge erred in deciding that section 15 of the Act did not provide lawful justification for the acts of its servants and/or agents and further erred in holding that they were not immune or protected from civil liability by virtue of section 15(7) or section 49. Alternatively, the NWRHA contends that the Trial Judge erred in finding (1) that Miller had made out a case in aggravated and/or exemplary damages; (2) that Miller was entitled to recover the sum of $310,000.00 as legal costs incurred in the habeas corpus proceedings; and (3) in any event, the award of general damages is inordinately high.
Miller has also appealed. In the appeal of the NWRHA she has filed a counter-notice of appeal in which she contends that the awards of general and exemplary damages are too small. She has also filed a separate appeal in which she challenges the dismissal of her claim against Pascall, Jones and the Attorney...
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