Brown v. Stone

Decision Date17 August 1999
Docket NumberNo. 96-CV-1485 (FB).,96-CV-1485 (FB).
PartiesLimoni BROWN, as Administrator of the Estate of Evelyn Hasson, Jed Rothstein, Brian DeMarco and Mental Disability Law Clinic, Touro Law Center, Plaintiffs, v. James STONE, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, Reginald Glover, personally, and Frank Tinker, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

William M. Brooks, Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, Kelly Sprissler, Kenneth Moeller, Nancy Clifford, Law Student Interns, Huntington, NY, for the plaintiffs.

Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, by Lisa M. Evans, Marion R. Buchbinder, Monica JHA, Assistant Attorneys General, New York City, for the defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

BLOCK, District Judge.

Under New York statutory law, the State of New York ("State") is obliged to provide free care and treatment at its psychiatric hospitals for mentally ill indigents. Accordingly, it will not bill or sue a patient for services rendered unless or until the patient has the ability to pay. If, however, an indigent patient, or an indigent expatient, sues the State in the Court of Claims to recover damages for injuries arising out of his or her psychiatric treatment, the State, in the personage of the defendant James Stone, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health ("Commissioner" or "OMH"), has adopted a policy and practice of then assessing full care and treatment charges, and interposing a counterclaim in that lawsuit for payment. The counterclaim is restricted, however, to any sum which the plaintiff may recover. See Stipulation of November 11, 1996 ("Stipulation"), ¶¶ 1, 6. In suits brought against an OMH employee in the State Supreme Court or in federal court, OMH does not maintain a policy of assessing full care and treatment charges, since the employee has no personal claim against the plaintiff which could arguably serve as the basis for a counterclaim. Nonetheless, OMH has acknowledged that it has assessed such charges in respect to plaintiffs Limoni Brown ("Brown"), as Administrator of the Estate of Evelyn Hasson ("Hasson"), and Jed Rothstein ("Rothstein"), indigent parties who have sued OMH employees in the State Supreme Court. Id. ¶ 2.

The third, and last, amended complaint ("complaint") in this action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenges the constitutionality of OMH's Court of Claims counterclaim policy, with its attendant assessment of charges. It also challenges the constitutionality of OMH's specific assessment of charges against Brown and Rothstein in response to their State Supreme Court lawsuits. The basis for the constitutional challenges in both respects is that OMH's conduct violates the indigent's rights under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it has a chilling effect upon the initiation and prosecution of lawsuits against OMH or its employees for patient abuse, and thereby effectively insulates them from civil liability for the violation of patient rights.

Brown and Rothstein seek declaratory and injunctive relief. Rothstein also seeks to hold the individual defendants, Reginald Glover ("Glover"), the Director of OMH's Bureau of Patient Resources, and Frank Tinker ("Tinker"), the former Director of the Attorney General Liaison Unit of OMH, personally accountable in damages because they allegedly were responsible for the assessment of full care and treatment charges when Rothstein brought his State Supreme Court lawsuit. Finally, the complaint seeks a declaration that OMH is preempted under federal statutory law from reaching any sums which any patient or former patient, whether or not indigent, may recover against OMH or its employees in any litigation emanating from the patient's maltreatment.

Plaintiff Mental Disability Law Clinic, Touro Law Center ("Clinic"), has joined the litigation in support of all of the individual plaintiffs' claims, and also sues on its own behalf.

Glover and Tinker have moved under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") to dismiss Rothstein's damage claims on the ground of qualified immunity. Defendants have moved to dismiss the balance of the complaint under FRCP 12(b)(6) for failure to state any cognizable claim. They have also moved, pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(1), to dismiss an ill-defined claim by plaintiff Brian DeMarco ("DeMarco") for lack of standing, and have separately questioned whether the Clinic has standing. See Stipulation ¶ 9.

The Court concludes that the constitutionality of OMH's counterclaim policy and the interrelated assessment of charges in respect thereto, is not properly before the Court, since the counterclaim would be contingent on the success of an indigent plaintiff's litigation in the Court of Claims and, as a matter of State law, contingent counterclaims are prohibited; that Brown and Rothstein have alleged cognizable constitutional challenges under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the alleged assessment of full care and treatment charges by OMH in retaliation for lawsuits brought by these plaintiffs against OMH employees in the State Supreme Court; that OMH is not preempted from seeking payment for its treatment and care costs from the proceeds of damage awards recovered by patients or former patients in litigation brought against OMH or its employees; and that Glover and Tinker are not now entitled to qualified immunity. In respect to the standing issues, the Court holds that DeMarco lacks standing, but that the Clinic has standing to sue both on behalf of the remaining plaintiffs, as well as on its own behalf.

I. BACKGROUND
A. The Parties

In the parties' Stipulation, which was "So Ordered" by the Court on November 21, 1996, they agreed, inter alia, that the challenge to OMH's Court of Claims counterclaim policy, and its concomitant assessment of charges in respect thereto, may be maintained as a class action by plaintiff Brown on behalf of Hasson's estate, and that the class consists of all those, such as Hasson, or her estate, who "(1) have resided, presently reside, or will reside in facilities operated by OMH and (2) have pending Court of Claims proceedings or intend to commence such proceedings in the future against OMH to compensate alleged injuries suffered in OMH facilities." Stipulation ¶ 5.

As alleged in the complaint: Hasson was a former patient in an OMH facility. She died because of Thorazine toxicity, which was caused by over-medication prescribed by OMH physicians while she was a patient in the facility. Consequently, on July 6, 1995, Brown brought suit on behalf of the deceased against OMH in the Court of Claims. Shortly thereafter, Brown also initiated a separate lawsuit in the State Supreme Court against the physicians and another individual who were responsible for the harm visited upon Hasson. Subsequent to the filing of these lawsuits, OMH assessed charges-in-full for the treatment provided to Hasson during her hospital confinement, in the amount of $220,136.90, and counterclaims were thereafter interposed in each lawsuit in that sum. Although the counterclaim in the Supreme Court action was later withdrawn because the individual defendants in that lawsuit did not have a claim against the deceased, the assessment of charges and OMH's counterclaim in the Court of Claims perdured. Hasson had always been indigent, and her estate could not satisfy the charges. As a result of the assessment of full charges, which Brown believed to be designed by OMH "to discourage patients or former patients from bringing lawsuits against the State and its employees," Complaint ¶ 62, Brown considered withdrawing both lawsuits.

Rothstein alleges in the complaint: He was a patient in an OMH facility and filed suit in State Supreme Court against the facility's director and his treating physician for damages under federal and state law because he was forcibly medicated against his will during his hospital confinement. After commencing the suit, OMH assessed full care and treatment charges against him in the amount of $24,760.14, and also informed him that he would be responsible for the payment of outpatient services rendered by OMH. Rothstein thereafter received a letter from the State's Department of Law notifying him that if he did not arrange payment within twenty-one days, a lawsuit would be commenced against him seeking such sum, together with interest and court costs. He did not pay because he was indigent, but seriously considered discontinuing his lawsuit, with prejudice, because OMH advised him that if he did, OMH would withdraw its assessment of charges. OMH has yet to sue him; nor has it advised him that it will withdraw its assessment.

Rothstein alleges that this conduct by OMH had previously been declared unconstitutional by the District Court for the Southern District of New York in Acevedo v. Surles, 778 F.Supp. 179 (S.D.N.Y.1991), where that court held that "[t]he State's policy to bill-in-full all OMH patients or ex-patients who sue the State violates plaintiffs' First Amendment right of access to the courts and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection." Complaint ¶ 89 (quoting Acevedo, 778 F.Supp. at 191). Consequently, Rothstein seeks to hold Glover and Tinker accountable in damages because these defendants knew, or should have known, that OMH had represented to the court in Acevedo that it would abide by the court's decision, but nonetheless Glover "decided to continue the policy of assessing charges-in-full against patients or former patients in OMH operated facilities who decide to file lawsuits," Complaint ¶ 90, and Tinker implemented this policy by assessing the charges against Rothstein.

As alleged in the complaint, DeMarco was a patient in an OMH facility who...

To continue reading

Request your trial
23 cases
  • Velazquez v. Legal Services Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • December 20, 2004
    ...is such that it has poignantly been argued that it is even more firmly rooted than the freedoms of speech and press." Brown v. Stone, 66 F.Supp.2d 412, 433 (E.D.N.Y.1999) (citing Kara E. Shea, Note, San Filippo v. Bongiovanni: The Public Concern Criteria and Scope of the Modern Petition Rig......
  • Small v. General Nutrition Companies, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • February 25, 2005
    ...efforts supports standing)). District courts within the Second Circuit have interpreted Ragin in this way. See, e.g., Brown v. Stone, 66 F.Supp.2d 412, 426 (E.D.N.Y.1999); Padberg v. McGrath-McKechnie, 203 F.Supp.2d 261, 274 (E.D.N.Y.2002). At least one district court within the Second Circ......
  • Young Advocates for Fair Educ. v. Cuomo, 18-CV-4167
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • January 16, 2019
    ...Health ("OMH") that would allegedly result in "[p]ervasive and systemic violations" against the mentally disabled, Brown v. Stone , 66 F.Supp.2d 412, 425 (E.D.N.Y. 1999), which required the clinic to divert resources away from its normal activities by challenging the OMH policy itself. See ......
  • Soundview Assoc.s v. Town Of Riverhead
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • July 14, 2010
    ...a cell phone antenna adjacent to his property and such failure was in retaliation for his First Amendment activity); Brown v. Stone, 66 F.Supp.2d 412, 433-37 (E.D.N.Y.1999) (denying motion to dismiss First Amendment retaliation claim where plaintiffs alleged that New York State Office of Me......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT