Coll v. Hyland

Decision Date15 April 1976
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 1525-73.
Citation411 F. Supp. 905
PartiesJohn F. COLL, Individually and on behalf of all other similarly situated persons, Plaintiffs, v. William F. HYLAND, Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey

Edward H. Tetelman and Joseph P. Murray, Newark, N.J., for plaintiffs.

Joseph T. Maloney, Deputy Atty. Gen., William F. Hyland, Atty. Gen., Trenton, N.J., for State defendants.

Joseph C. Glavin, Jr., Asst. County Counsel, Francis P. McQuade, Essex County Counsel, Newark, N.J., for County defendants.

Marilyn Morheuser, Deputy Public Advocate, Stanley Van Ness, N.J. Public Advocate, Trenton, N.J., amicus curiae.

Before WEIS, Circuit Judge, and BIUNNO and MEANOR, District Judges.


The constitutionality of the New Jersey statute and procedural rules governing civil commitments of the mentally ill are attacked in this suit. After careful consideration, we conclude that the challenge fails and the procedural plan meets constitutional standards.

Plaintiff John F. Coll was involuntarily committed to the Essex County Hospital Center pursuant to a final order of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Essex County, New Jersey entered on June 8, 1970. He was still a patient at that institution on October 23, 1973 when he filed suit in this court. The complaint alleges a deprivation of federal constitutional rights, and, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, requests injunctive and declaratory relief to a class which plaintiff seeks to represent.

Judge Biunno, to whom this case was originally assigned, ordered a hearing on Mr. Coll's competency. We need not detail the evidence, but it established the plaintiff's mental illness and that there is a strong probability he will require hospitalization from time to time in the future.1 However, despite the absence of any change in his condition, Coll was discharged from the hospital soon thereafter.

Since the plaintiff's suit challenged the constitutionality of New Jersey Civil Commitment statutes and the state's procedural rules, a three-judge statutory court was constituted on April 25, 1975, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284. Counsel agreed to a stipulation of facts, submitted extensive briefs and presented helpful oral argument to the court.

It is not necessary to discuss the factual background of the plaintiff's 1970 commitment in the present case because we confine our inquiry to the constitutionality of the current rules of court, which are substantially different from those previously in effect. Therefore, while the procedures which resulted in Coll's commitment in 1970 were arguably deficient, those events are not pertinent to the contentions which are now advanced.

The defendants argue that the case is moot and that plaintiff is not a proper class representative since he is no longer confined. Even though Coll is not presently in an institution, the record establishes the likelihood that he will be recommitted perhaps a number of times in the future. Thus, the allegedly unconstitutional commitment procedures could affect him, and the defendants, having control of his discharge, could render the controversy moot by his release. As a result, the issue may be said to be one which is "capable of repetition yet evading review" and consequently not moot. Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975); Super Tire Engineering Co. v. McCorkle, 416 U.S. 115, 94 S.Ct. 1694, 40 L.Ed.2d 1 (1974); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973); Conover v. Montemuro, 477 F.2d 1073 (3d Cir. 1973).

We conclude that Coll's past history of mental illness, together with the probability of future institutionalization, makes him a proper representative of the class.2 His threat of injury is "real and immediate" — not conjectural or hypothetical3 — and he is a member of the class which he seeks to represent. Since the focus of this suit is upon the current rules, we determine that the proper class be those persons 18 years or older who may hereafter be committed involuntarily to a mental institution through proceedings governed by the challenged statute and court rules.

Defendants also claim that abstention is proper. They contend that under the teachings of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), and its progeny, this suit is not appropriate for injunctive relief because of the interference with state activities. They rely primarily on Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975), and Schmidt v. Lessard, 421 U.S. 957, 95 S.Ct. 1943, 44 L.Ed.2d 445 (1975). However, these cases are readily distinguishable. In Huffman, the federal action was filed immediately after the state trial court had entered its judgment but during the period for appeal in the state system. In Schmidt v. Lessard, supra, a three-judge court declared the Wisconsin civil commitment procedures constitutionally defective, but the Supreme Court vacated that judgment and remanded for further consideration in light of Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., supra. Examination of the lower court opinions reveals that the federal intervention occurred immediately after the patient had been committed but before a hearing had been set in the state court.

In both of the preceding cases, federal interference with the state judicial process was clear. Here, however, there is no commitment proceeding presently pending in the state court. As the Supreme Court observed in Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 509, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 1757, 32 L.Ed.2d 257, 268 (1972), "considerations of equity practice and comity in our federal system . . . have little force in the absence of a pending state proceeding." Cf. Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d 505 (1974). Thus, the comity issue is not present.

Nor is this a proper case for abstention under Railroad Comm'n. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941). Abstention, a judicially-created doctrine, has application only in exceptional circumstances. Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483, 44 U.S.L.W. 4372 (1976). We must remain aware of the delays and expenses inherent in the abstention process and the fact that federal rights may be lost in the absence of expeditious federal adjudication. Harris County Commissioners Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 95 S.Ct. 870, 43 L.Ed.2d 32 (1975); Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444 (1967). We are examining a state program which does not have an uncertain meaning — there is little, if any, room for construction. As such, abstention has no application in the case. Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51, 55, 94 S.Ct. 303, 306, 38 L.Ed.2d 260, 265 (1973); Mariniello v. Shell Oil Co., 511 F.2d 853, 860 (3d Cir. 1975).

The plaintiff attacks the New Jersey statutes and procedural rules governing involuntary commitment, specifically N.J.S.A. 30:4-37; 38; 41; 42, and N.J. Court Rules, R. 4:74-7(b), (c), (e).4

The statutes provide for commitment in three types of situations classified as A, B, and C. Class A does not require a temporary commitment. Class B includes those cases in which the patient's condition "in the judgment of the certifying physicians, is such that he should be placed under immediate restraint in an institution, and where an order of temporary commitment can be obtained prior to his admission . . .." N.J.S.A. 30:4-37. Class C includes cases in which immediate restraint is needed and an order cannot be obtained before admission to an institution. N.J.S.A. 30:4-38.

The procedures to be followed in civil commitments are set out in R. 4:74-7, whose new version went into effect on September 8, 1975. Under this rule, an action for commitment is commenced when a complaining party files a written application accompanied and supported by the certificates of two physicians. They must state with particularity the facts justifying a conclusion that, if not committed, the patient would be a probable danger to himself or the community.5

The appropriate court then must set a date for a hearing — in a Class A case, not later than 20 days from the filing of the application; in a Class B case, not later than 20 days after the order of commitment; and in Class C, not more than 20 days after the patient's admission to an institution.6 If the patient is unrepresented, the court must assign legal counsel.

Notice of the hearing must be served on all interested parties not less than 10 days in advance, and, in the case of the patient, notice must be served personally. Counsel has the right to inspect all records pertaining to the patient's mental condition.

No permanent commitment order may be entered except after a hearing at which the patient must be represented by counsel. The rules require that at least one licensed psychiatrist shall testify orally. The patient must appear at the hearing, but may be excused from the courtroom during all or any portion of the testimony if good cause is shown. Testimony by a psychiatrist that the patient's mental condition would be adversely affected if he heard candid and complete testimony is considered good cause.

To order a permanent commitment, the court must make a finding that the patient is a danger to himself or the community. Periodic review of the commitment thereafter is required.

The plaintiff asserts that the civil commitment proceedings are unconstitutional in a number of respects. We will discuss the contentions seriatim.


The plaintiff cites the failure to require a preliminary hearing as a constitutional deficiency. Nothing in the state's procedures prevents a court from holding a preliminary inquiry either before signing an order for commitment or within a few days after the patient's admission to an institution. But it is clear that the rule does not...

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  • Plain v. Flicker
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • October 21, 1986
    ...of whether a hearing held up to twenty days after confinement meets constitutional standards was litigated in this court. Coll v. Hyland, 411 F.Supp. 905 (D.N.J.1976). A three judge panel upheld state commitment procedures, pointing to a summary affirmance by the Supreme Court of a three ju......
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    ...(C.D.Cal.1979), aff'd, 657 F.2d 1017 (9th Cir.1981); Suzuki v. Quisenberry, 411 F.Supp. 1113, 1125-26 (D.Hawaii 1976); Coll v. Hyland, 411 F.Supp. 905, 910 (D.N.J.1976) (three-judge court); Bartley v. Kremens, 402 F.Supp. 1039, 1049 (E.D.Pa.1975) (three-judge court), vacated, 431 U.S. 119, ......
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    ...Younger and Huffman is unwarranted in the instant case. See, e. g., French v. Blackburn, 428 F.Supp. 1351 (M.D.N.C.1977); Coll v. Hyland, 411 F.Supp. 905 (D.N.J.1976); Goldy v. Beal, 429 F.Supp. 640 (M.D.Pa.1976); Kidd v. Schmidt, 399 F.Supp. 301 (E.D.Wis.1975). In French, the court decline......
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    • July 11, 1977
    ...the state law is clear, Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 438-39, 91 S.Ct. 507, 510-11, 27 L.Ed.2d 515 (1971); Coll v. Hyland, 411 F.Supp. 905, 908 (D.N.J.1976) (three-judge court), or where the statute or regulation would be unconstitutional no matter how it might be construed by t......
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1 books & journal articles
  • The Clinton Mental Health Case-a Civil Procedure Lesson
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 19-9, September 1990
    • Invalid date
    ...21. 386 F.Supp. 378, 388 (M.D.Ala. 1974). 22. Lessard v. Schmidt, 349 F.Supp. 1078 (D.C.Wis. 1972) (10 to 14 days); Coll v. Hyland, 411 F.Supp. 905 (D.C.N.J. 1976) (19 days); Doremus v. Farrell, 407 F.Supp. 509 (D.C.Neb. 1975) (16 days). 23. CRS § 27-10-107(6). 24. CRS § 27-10-107(2). 25. C......

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