Rennie v. Klein, Civ. A. No. 77-2624.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Citation476 F. Supp. 1294
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 77-2624.
PartiesJohn E. RENNIE, Plaintiff, Caroline Mauger, Eugenio Burgeos, Leon Rossi, Hazel Moncrief, Ernie Welker, Mary Jane Weiss, Margaret Mary McGrath, Joseph Kamienski, Intervenors, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, v. Ann KLEIN, Commissioner, Department of Human Services, Michail Rotov, M.D., Director of the Division of Mental Health and Hospitals, Max Pepernick, M.D., Acting Medical Director at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Robert Wallis, Chief Executive Officer at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Engracio Balita, Consuelo Santos, Victor Ivanov, Gerald Abraham, Assistant Medical Directors at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Defendants.
Decision Date14 September 1979


Stanley C. Van Ness, Public Advocate, by Sheldon Gelman, Asst. Deputy Public Advocate, Trenton, N. J., for plaintiff and intervenors.

John J. Degnan, Atty. Gen. of New Jersey, by Steven Wallach, Deputy Atty. Gen., Dept. of Law and Public Safety Human Services and Corrections Section, Trenton, N. J., for defendants.


BROTMAN, District Judge.

This is a motion for a preliminary injunction by a class composed of patients in five hospitals for the mentally ill operated by the State of New Jersey. Plaintiffs seek to restrain the hospitals and their staffs from forcibly administering drugs to them unless a hearing is held and certain conditions are met. The court holds that plaintiffs do have a constitutional right to refuse medication in certain circumstances, and has fashioned a decree to enforce that right.


This litigation began when a complaint was filed by plaintiff John E. Rennie on December 22, 1977. The defendants were Ms. Ann Klein, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services of the State of New Jersey, Dr. Michail Rotov, Director of the Department's Division of Mental Health and Hospitals, and various officials at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, where Mr. Rennie is an involuntarily committed patient. The complaint charged defendants with violations of four rights: (1) the right to refuse medication in non-emergent circumstances, (2) the right to treatment, (3) the right of access to counsel, and (4) the right to be free from physical abuse while in custody.

Since the complaint was filed, the litigation has focused on the right to refuse treatment, and, tangentially, on the right to counsel, while the rights to adequate treatment, safe confinement, and access to counsel generally have been reserved for later consideration. On December 20, 1978, the court imposed a temporary restraining order on defendants preventing them from medicating Mr. Rennie against his will beyond a maintenance dosage except in emergencies. Plaintiff then moved for a preliminary injunction and the court held fourteen days of hearings between January 13 and April 28, 1978. On April 18, 1978, the temporary restraining order was dissolved after a consensus was reached concerning the proper treatment for Mr. Rennie at that time. However, on May 19 the plaintiff again sought temporary relief, which was denied pending a resolution of the preliminary injunction motion.

The court issued its decision on November 9, 1978. The opinion, reported at 462 F.Supp. 1131, provides a detailed chronicle of Mr. Rennie's medical history and the litigation up to that time. It also discusses the beneficial and detrimental effects of various medications and the several legal theories asserted by plaintiff to support a right to refuse treatment.

This court concluded that a right to refuse should be recognized, based on the constitutional right of privacy. 462 F.Supp. at 1144-45. However, because of countervailing state interests, the right must be a qualified one, and the following four factors must be considered in applying the right in a given situation: (1) the patient's physical threat to other patients and staff at the institution, (2) the patient's capacity to decide on his particular treatment, (3) the existence of any less restrictive treatments, and (4) the risk of permanent side effects from the proposed treatment. Id. at 1145-48.

This court also stated that a mental patient has a right to procedural due process, and noted in dictum that this might include a hearing and representation by a lawyer and independent psychiatrist before drugs are forcibly administered in a non-emergent situation. Id. at 1147-48.

It was held that, because of the extended court hearings, Mr. Rennie had received all the process which he was due. Id. at 1147. It was also noted that Mr. Rennie was not receiving undesired medication; therefore no injunction was issued. Id. at 1148 & n. 6. However, Mr. Rennie's condition worsened shortly after that time and the hospital again sought to administer thorazine against the patient's will. After a hearing on December 7, 1978, the court denied Mr. Rennie's renewed motion for a preliminary injunction. In an opinion issued December 12, the court found that Mr. Rennie's capacity was severely limited at that time and that thorazine was the least restrictive means of stabilizing his condition. Therefore, the four factors indicated that an injunction should not issue. 462 F.Supp. 1151, 1153.1

At this time plaintiff moved to enlarge his suit to a class action. By order dated March 20, 1979, the court allowed plaintiff to amend his complaint to add class action allegations, allowed various intervenors to join the action as plaintiffs and conditionally certified three subclasses pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2). The first subclass is composed of all persons who presently are or in the future may be hospitalized at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital. This subclass, according to the amended complaint, alleged violation of the rights to adequate treatment and safe confinement. The court has not yet been asked to hear the claims of this group.

The court also conditionally certified two statewide subclasses asserting the right to refuse treatment and to due process before treatment is forcibly administered. The amended complaint focused exclusively on the forcible administration of medication. See ¶ 13A. One subclass is composed of all adult patients involuntarily committed to five mental health facilities operated by the Division of Mental Health and Hospitals. The other subclass is composed of voluntarily committed adult patients at the five facilities: Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, and the Glen Gardner Center for Geriatrics.2

After extensive discovery, these two subclasses moved for a preliminary injunction to restrain the use of psychoactive drugs without the freely given consent of the patient and without procedural safeguards. The court held 17 days of hearings between June 13 and August 9, 1979. Transcripts (Tr.) XVII-XXXIII. The parties also supplemented the record with numerous depositions and exhibits.

The court heard testimony of several patients and staff personnel from the various facilities and was provided extensive medical records. Both sides produced highly qualified experts in psychiatry, psychopharmacology and hospital administration. Numerous scholarly articles were submitted. Courtroom or deposition testimony was provided by each of the five medical directors, who are the chief psychiatrists at the hospitals and supervise medical practices. This testimony was supplemented by memoranda, records and statistical studies concerning the use of medication at the facilities. A Division attorney who has addressed these issues also testified at length.

The following are the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).

I. Benefits and Side Effects of Psychotropic Medication

The benefits and side effects of psychotropic drugs were discussed in Part IV of the findings of fact in the November opinion. 402 F.Supp. 1136-38. Those findings are adopted and incorporated here. The court found that while psychotropic drug treatment had shown considerable success, recent studies had raised questions about the efficacy of using psychotropics in every case of mental illness. The present record provides additional evidence that many patients who would normally be treated with psychotropics can improve without them, and that smaller doses than are traditionally given can often be effective. Tr. XVII, 50-51; Tr. XXIV, 39; Tr. XXIX, 65; Crane, Clinical Psychopharmacology in Its 20th Year, 181 Science 124 (1973) (Exhibit P-46); Gardos & Cole, Maintenance Antipsychotic Therapy: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease? 133 Am. J. Psychiatry 32 (1976) (Ex. P-46). The drugs are most useful in diffusing schizophrenic thought patterns during acute psychotic episodes. Tr. XVI, 106-09; Tr. XXVI, 36; Tr. XIX, 58-59; Tr. XXVII, 31-32.

The evidence at the recent hearings also reconfirmed the fact that these drugs have dangerous side effects, including tardive dyskinesia. Tr. XIX, 41; Tr. XXI, 47; Tr. XXVI, 40-50. Testimony also indicated that the drugs inhibit a patient's ability to learn social skills needed to fully recover from psychosis, and might even cause cancer. Tr. XXVI, 41, 48. Even acutely disturbed patients might have good reason to refuse these drugs. Tr. XXXI, 66.

II. The Hospitals
A. Patient Population and Staffing

Ancora Psychiatric Hospital is a state facility for the mentally ill in Hammonton, New Jersey. It houses about 1000 patients at any one time. Tr. XXII, 37; Ex. P-42, p. 1. Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital is a state facility in Marlboro, New Jersey, with a patient population of approximately 800. Ex. P-42, p. 1. Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, in Morris Plains, New Jersey, has a population of 1100. Tr. XXXI, 90; Ex. P-42, p. 1. Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in Trenton has about 1000 patients. Ibid. The Glen Gardner Geriatric...

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