Pompeneo v. Verde Valley Guidance Clinic (CA1 3/24/11)

One of your standard murderer-sues-his-doctor-for-letting-him-murder cases.

Pompeneo murdered his girlfriend, pled guilty to avoid the death penalty, then sued the doctors who had tried unsuccessfully to control his various mental disorders. The murder, the suicide attempt he made after it, and his incarceration were, he claimed, their fault. The trial court granted summary judgment; this opinion affirms.

As to the suicide attempt, the Court of Appeals relies on a case (Tocci) to the effect that if the attempt is intentional – as opposed to the result of an insane impulse or an inability to realize the nature or risk of the act – then that intentional act is a superseding cause. The court then applies the same principle to the murder. There was no evidence of irresistible impulse, etc., and Pompeneo had said in his plea that he killed the girlfriend because of an argument and that it was premeditated.

Pompeneo sought various sorts of damage for being in prison. For some reason the court addresses this but it does not try to parse it too closely, contenting itself with saying that there was no evidence of at least some of them.

The doctors argued for a broad policy rule against recovery for criminal acts; the court mentions but doesn’t address that since standard summary judgment analysis resolves the matter.

(link to opinion)