Published Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 | 4:33 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 | 10 p.m.
A federal judge in Nevada rejected a lawsuit Thursday that accuses Nevada officials and the state psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas of violating a patient's civil rights by giving him a bus ticket and sending him to California.
But an American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada lawyer representing patient James Flavey Coy Brown characterized the ruling as a setback, not a fatal blow to the case. It seeks class-action status for Brown and as many as 1,500 unnamed people his lawyers claim were bused since 2008 from Nevada to other states.
U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan dismissed the lawsuit, but he left open the option for plaintiffs to rewrite and refile the case in state or federal court, ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein said.
"We're going to refile," Lichtenstein told The Associated Press. "The judge did not — repeat, did not — say Rawson-Neal (Psychiatric Hospital) was in the right and our client did not suffer. He didn't rule on the merits."
Mahan, in Las Vegas, bluntly rejected as "nonsensical" arguments by the ACLU and California attorney Mark Merin that officials at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas forced Brown to travel to Sacramento, Calif.
Nevada state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto issued a statement through her spokeswoman, Beatriz Aguirre, calling the decision well-reasoned.
Mary Woods, spokeswoman for Nevada Department of Health and Human Services chief Mike Willden, said the department was pleased to learn of the decision and said the ruling spoke for itself.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval wasn't named in the complaint, which claimed negligence, sought damages for Brown, and asked the judge to issue an order to stop Nevada from sending psychiatric patients out-of-state.
Brown told reporters in June in Las Vegas that he was a victim of patient dumping.
He said officials gave him a one-way bus ticket to a city where he had no family, no friends, no contacts and no firm housing arrangements, and put him in a taxi to the bus station.
"Plaintiff's complaint does not establish that he was compelled to leave the state," Mahan wrote, "merely that defendants gave him the resources by which to do so." The judge added his own emphasis to the word "compelled."
Mahan said Nevada officials are entitled to decide how to allocate scarce psychiatric treatment resources, and he said there was no claim that Brown was threatened with punishment if he didn't travel to Sacramento.
Merin said he still believes Brown has a strong case, but he said an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco could take months or years.
"The U.S. Constitution prevents state violations of liberty and life, and this appears to be right up there with the worst of them," Merin said.
Rawson-Neal is the only state adult psychiatric hospital in southern Nevada. It opened in 2006 with 190 beds, following years of complaints that mentally ill people clogged emergency rooms at for-profit hospitals in and around Las Vegas.
State officials reported in April that Rawson-Neal treated an average of more than 6,000 people per year during a five-year span, and that 1,473 patients had been provided bus transportation out of the state.