Allen v. Zhong
ORDER DISMISSING ACTION. As set forth in the attached order, the Court DISMISSES this action on the ground that plaintiff Matthew Allen's action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for money damages against defendant Dr. Rocksheng Zhong is barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity. The Clerk of Court shall close this case. It is so ordered. Signed by Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer on 01/08/2021. (Johnson, R.)
Case 3:20-cv-01860-JAM Document 9 Filed 01/08/21 Page 1 of 4
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
No. 3:20-cv-01860 (JAM)
ORDER DISMISSING ACTION
Plaintiff Matthew Allen has filed a pro se federal civil rights complaint for money
damages against a psychiatrist who performed a court-ordered competency examination. I
conclude that the complaint must be dismissed on the ground of absolute immunity.
Allen was arrested on misdemeanor charges by the police in June 2017. He alleges that
defendant Dr. Rocksheng Zhong performed a court-ordered psychological evaluation of Allen at
the Connecticut Mental Health Center. Dr. Zhong concluded that Allen was not competent to
stand trial and suggested that Allen be sent to a hospital for his competency to be restored. Doc.
#1 at 4, 7, 8. According to Allen, Dr. Zhong “falsely accused [Allen] of being incompetent to
stand trial and insane, allegations which would demonstrate severe injustice of his most crucial
constitutional rights on many levels and negligence and reckless wanton misconduct by Dr.
Zhong.” Id. at 8. He seeks damages against Dr. Zhong for being committed to a mental hospital
as a result of Dr. Zhong’s competency examination. Id. at 4.
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The Court has authority to review and dismiss a complaint if it is “frivolous or
malicious,” if it “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted,” or if it “seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). If a
plaintiff is a pro se litigant, the Court must afford the complaint a liberal construction and
interpret it to raise the strongest grounds for relief that its allegations suggest. See, e.g., Sykes v.
Bank of America, 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013).
It is well established that “[d]octors responsible for preparing and providing
psychological reports to the Connecticut courts concerning a person’s mental health and
confinement status are entitled to absolute immunity in the course of performing such function.”
Kalman v. Papapietro, 2006 WL 1609672, at *3 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2006); see also Harden v.
Green, 27 F. App'x 173, 177 (4th Cir. 2001); Moses v. Parwatikar, 813 F.2d 891, 892 (8th Cir.
1987); McKnight v. Middleton, 699 F. Supp. 2d 507, 526 (E.D.N.Y. 2010), aff'd, 434 F. App'x 32
(2d Cir. 2011); Kalman v. Carre, 352 F. Supp. 2d 205, 209 (D. Conn. 2005).
I have previously issued an order to show cause why this action should not be dismissed,
and I explained these immunity principles and invited Allen to file any response. Doc. #6; Allen
v. Zhong, 2020 WL 7645431 (D. Conn. 2020). Allen has now filed a response. Doc. #8.
As an initial matter, Allen’s response does not cite any case law or make any argument
why the many cases that have recognized immunity for court-appointed experts were wrongly
decided. Instead, Allen’s response focuses on facts of his case that lead him to believe that Dr.
Zhong should be liable.
First, he argues that the charges he faced were misdemeanors and that Dr. Zhong wrongly
recommended that he be committed to a maximum security facility for the criminally insane.
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Doc. #8 at 2. Even assuming these facts to be true, he does not identify any case law to suggest
that the immunity of a court-appointed mental health competency expert is dependent on the
severity of the underlying charges or the particular type of mental health institution that the
expert might recommend. See Harden, 27 Fed. Appx. at 177 (rejecting argument that courtappointed competency expert should be liable because he “allegedly authored a damaging and
overbroad competency evaluation that went beyond the inquiry directed by the district court”).
Moreover, Allen’s complaint alleges only that Dr. Zhong “suggested” that he be sent to a
particular facility. Doc. #1 at 7. He does not claim that it was Dr. Zhong—rather than the state
court judge who was presiding over Allen’s case—who actually ordered that Allen be sent to any
particular facility. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-56d(d) & (h)(1) (detailing statutory authority of
judge to order competency examination and to enter an order of placement for the defendant to
be treated for purpose of rendering competent to stand trial). A judge has absolute immunity with
respect to the determination whether to commit a defendant for mental health treatment to restore
his competency. See, e.g., Marczeski v. Handy, 213 F. Supp. 2d 135, 140 (D. Conn. 2002).
Allen also argues that he had no prior criminal history and was free on bail and appeared
for all his court dates. Doc. #8 at 2-3. Again, however, he does not identify any case law to
suggest that the immunity of a court-appointed mental health competency expert is dependent on
whether the person who is subject to a competency examination has a prior criminal history or
has voluntarily appeared for prior court hearings.
Allen also argues that Dr. Zhong should not have absolute immunity like a judge or a
prosecutor because “he likely was not technically considered to be employed by the court as with
a judge or SA [state’s attorney].” Doc. #8 at 3. The doctrine of absolute immunity, however,
depends on the actor’s function within the judicial system rather than the technicalities of their
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employment status. See Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 363 (2012) (describing the “functional
approach” to absolute immunity); McArde v. Tronetti, 961 F.2d 1083, 1085 (3d Cir. 1992)
(prison doctor who conducted court-ordered psychiatric exam had absolute judicial and witness
immunity because he was “functioning as an arm of the court”); Moses, 813 F.2d at 892 (courtappointed psychiatrist who conducted competency evaluation had absolute immunity because of
his performance of “functions essential to the judicial process”). Accordingly, even assuming Dr.
Zhong was not an employee of the state court system, he is still entitled to absolute immunity for
his court-ordered competency evaluation and report.
The Court DISMISSES this action on the ground that plaintiff Matthew Allen’s action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for money damages against defendant Dr. Rocksheng Zhong is barred by
the doctrine of absolute immunity.1 The Clerk of Court shall close this case.
It is so ordered.
Dated at New Haven this 8th day of January 2021.
/s/ Jeffrey Alker Meyer
Jeffrey Alker Meyer
United States District Judge
The order of dismissal in this case is solely as to the action filed by Allen against Dr. Zhong. This order of
dismissal is not with respect to Allen’s separate actions that he has filed against police officers and others related to
his mental health commitment. See Allen v. Sidaros et al., 20cv1276 (D. Conn.); Allen v. O’Neill et al., 20cv854 (D.
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