Project Release v. Prevost

Citation722 F.2d 960
Decision Date24 October 1983
Docket NumberD,No. 1310,1310
PartiesPROJECT RELEASE, Carrie Greene, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. James PREVOST, individually and as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene and Office of Mental Health; Ronald Gottlieb, individually and as Director of the Mental Health Information Service for the First Judicial Department; Alfred Besunder, individually and as Director of the Mental Health Information Service of the Second Judicial Department; James Donnelly, individually and as Director of the Mental Health Information Service for the Third Judicial Department; Kevin Kearney, individually and as Director of the Mental Health Information Service for the Fourth Judicial Department; Nicholas Dubner, individually and as Acting Director of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Defendants-Appellees. ocket 82-7943.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)

Robert M. Levy, New York City (New York Civil Liberties Union, Diana T. Tanaka, Christopher A. Hansen, New York City, of counsel), for plaintiffs-appellants.

Caren S. Brutten, Asst. Atty. Gen., New York City (Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen., of N.Y., Melvyn R. Leventhal, John P. Petrila, Seth Abrams, New York State Office of Mental Health, New York City, of counsel) for defendants-appellees.

Joel I. Klein, H. Bartow Farr, III, Stephen I. Glover, Onek, Klein & Farr, Washington, D.C. for The American Psychiatric Ass'n, as amicus curiae.

Before OAKES, CARDAMONE and PIERCE, Circuit Judges.

PIERCE, Circuit Judge:

This appeal requires us to determine whether standards and procedures for voluntary, involuntary and emergency civil commitment embodied in the New York State Mental Hygiene Law (M.H.L.) sections 9.13, 9.27, 9.37 and 9.39 (McKinney 1978), 1 meet federal constitutional due process minima. Appellants appeal from a ruling of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Edward R. Neaher, Judge, construing appellants' complaint as a facial challenge to the provisions in question, finding the challenged provisions constitutional on their face and granting summary judgment in favor of appellees as to "all substantive issues raised in the pleadings." Project Release v. James Prevost, 551 F.Supp. 1298, 1310 (E.D.N.Y.1982). Appellants contend initially that it was error to dispose of their claims via summary judgment; next, they contend that the district judge erred in holding that the challenged provisions of the M.H.L. are facially constitutional. For the reasons stated below, we reject these claims and affirm the decision of the district court.


Appellant Project Release is a not-for-profit corporation composed of persons who are or have been in New York State mental hospitals as either voluntary, involuntary or emergency patients. Appellant Carrie Greene was a patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, New York, when this action was filed but has since been released. Defendants are various New York State officials responsible for administering the New York State M.H.L.

On July 10, 1978, appellants filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 2 alleging that the standards and procedures embodied in M.H.L. Secs. 9.13 (voluntary), 9.27 (involuntary) and 9.39 (emergency) violate appellants' Fourteenth Amendment substantive and procedural due process rights. They sought a declaration, inter alia, that the above-noted provisions, and confinements pursuant thereto, violate the Fourteenth Amendment; that M.H.L. Sec. 29.09 unconstitutionally requires the Mental Health Information Service (MHIS) 3 to be both counsel for the patient and independent investigator for the court (adequacy of counsel claim); and that commitment standards and procedures should conform to certain guidelines proffered by appellants. 4 Appellants also alleged the following facts as to named plaintiff Carrie Greene: Greene was admitted on an emergency basis (M.H.L. Sec. 9.39) to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center on April 22, 1978; received no judicial hearing until thirteen days later, on April 24, 1978; was converted to voluntary status (M.H.L. Sec. 9.13) on April 28, 1978; pursuant to M.H.L. Sec. 9.13 gave notice of her desire to leave but was not permitted to do so; on May 4, 1978 was converted to involuntary status (M.H.L. Sec. 9.27) (with signatures of two physicians); requested release on May 11, 1978; and on May 23, 1978 was denied release after a hearing before New York State Supreme Court Justice Dufficy. 5 Although not specifically alleged in the complaint, appellants apparently claim on appeal that Greene's admission was not in accord with the notice and hearing requirements of the M.H.L.

On September 6, 1979, appellants moved for partial summary judgment as to those portions of their complaint constituting a facial challenge to the standards and procedures for involuntary and emergency commitment. 6 In their Memorandum of Law for Defendants in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Memorandum in Opposition), filed on November 5, 1979, appellees impliedly cross-moved 7 for summary judgment declaring constitutional New York's voluntary admission standards, as well as the procedures applicable to voluntary, involuntary and emergency commitments. 8

Construing appellants' complaint as a facial attack on the entire civil commitment scheme, and appellees' submissions as a motion to declare the entire scheme constitutional on its face, Judge Neaher granted summary judgment for the appellees on all substantive and procedural issues raised by the parties. Project Release v. James Prevost, 551 F.Supp. 1298 (E.D.N.Y.1982).


Appellants do present a facial federal constitutional challenge to civil commitment standards and procedures contained in the M.H.L. More specifically, at issue are sections 9.13, 9.27, 9.37 and 9.39, which provide for voluntary, involuntary and emergency civil commitment, respectively. See supra note 1. These provisions will be summarized below.

A. Standards
1. Voluntary

Under section 9.13 (voluntary), a hospital director may receive as a patient "any suitable person in need of care and treatment, who voluntarily makes written application therefor." To be "suitable," the individual must be notified of and be able to understand that the hospital to which he is requesting admission is a mental hospital and that he is applying for admission, and the nature of voluntary status and the provisions governing release or conversion to involuntary status. M.H.L. Sec. 9.17(a). To be "in need of care and treatment," the applicant must have a "mental illness for which in-patient care and treatment in a hospital is appropriate." Id. Sec. 9.01. "Mental illness" is defined as "an affliction with a mental disease or mental condition which is manifested by a disorder or disturbance in behavior, feeling, thinking, or judgment to such an extent that the person afflicted requires care, treatment and rehabilitation." Id. Sec. 1.03(20) (applicable to all admissions).

2. Involuntary

Admission criteria under section 9.27 (involuntary admission on medical certification) are more restrictive, requiring some measure of judgmental impairment. Such an individual must be shown to be "mentally ill and in need of involuntary care and treatment," meaning "that [the] person has a mental illness for which care and treatment as a patient in a hospital is essential to such person's welfare and whose judgment is so impaired that he is unable to understand the need for such care and treatment." Id. Secs. 9.27, 9.01. Involuntary commitment pursuant to M.H.L. Sec. 9.37 (on certificate of a director of community services or his designee) applies to persons who have "a mental illness for which immediate inpatient care and treatment in a hospital is appropriate and which is likely to result in serious harm to himself or others." "Likelihood of serious harm" is defined in the statute as follows:

1. substantial risk of physical harm to himself as manifested by threats of or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm or other conduct demonstrating that he is dangerous to himself, or

2. a substantial risk of physical harm to other persons as manifested by homicidal or other violent behavior by which others are placed in reasonable fear [of] serious physical harm.

Id. Sec. 9.37(a)(1) & (2).

Finally, for a person to be admitted as an emergency involuntary patient under section 9.39, he must have "a mental illness for which immediate observation, care, and treatment in a hospital is appropriate and which is likely to result in serious harm to himself or others." "Likelihood to result in serious harm" is defined for purposes of section 9.39 in the same way as for section 9.37. Id. Sec. 9.39(a)(1) & (2).

B. Procedures

Upon admission of any patient to a hospital or upon conversion to a different status, the director must inform the patient in writing of his status, his rights under the statute, including the availability of MHIS, and conspicuous, visible written notice must be posted of those rights throughout the hospital. Id. Sec. 9.07. In addition, various procedural safeguards attach to the different types of admission. These procedures are set forth below.

1. Voluntary and conversion to involuntary

If a patient is hospitalized under section 9.13, MHIS must conduct a yearly review of the patient's status, id. Sec. 9.25(a), and must move for a judicial determination if there is any doubt as to the suitability or willingness of an individual for voluntary hospitalization. Id. In connection with such a proceeding, a court hearing may be obtained upon request by MHIS, the patient or a person acting in his behalf. Id. If a voluntarily committed patient gives written notice to the hospital director of his desire to leave, he must be "promptly" released from the hospital, id. Sec. 9.13(b), unless the...

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