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MORGAN v. NULL

November 25, 1953

MORGAN
v.
NULL et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINFELD

This action was commenced against various state officials and three psychiatrists connected with the Bellevue Hospital, New York City, to recover damages for serious bodily injuries and mental anguish claimed by plaintiff by reason of an alleged conspiracy to deprive her 'or her civil rights and the equal protection of the laws, and for the substantial deprivation, denial and invasion thereof.'

Two of the defendants, an assistant district attorney of New York County and the medical examiner for the district attorney, move to dismiss the action on three grounds: (1) that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the defendants as they are quasi judicial officers of the State of New York; (2) that no federal question is involved; and (3) that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

 With respect to the first two grounds, defendants evidently overlook or disregard the fact that this action is brought under, and alleges violations of, Title 8, U.S.C. §§ 43, 47(2) and 47(3),* the Civil Rights Act. Immunity of state officials under state law from tort liability arising by reason of performance of official duties does not extend to a claim asserted under the Act. *fn1" The Civil Rights Statute gives the right of a civil action for deprivation of rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. *fn2" Federal jurisdiction is expressly conferred by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343. The motion to dismiss on the first two enumerated grounds is denied.

 There remains the motion to dismiss the action on the ground that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The plaintiff appears pro se, and, as is not uncommon in such a situation, has drawn a disparate, redundant and prolix complaint. Although the complaint may be 'hard to understand,' the Court has construed the pleading with liberality as required under the rules to determine whether sufficient can be drawn from its allegations upon which to base a claim. *fn3"

 The nub of plaintiff's complaint is contained in paragraph 4, which charges that the two moving defendants conspired 'to injure and oppress plaintiff and to deprive her of her civil rights and the equal protection of the laws in that they would and did prevent and deprive plaintiff of her right and privilege to submit to a lawfully constituted grand jury, information on public official misconduct relating to the fraudulent, deceitful, deceptive and illegal practices of public officers and officials of the Psychiatric Division, Bellevue Hospital in the City of New York arresting and imprisoning sane citizens of the United States and residents of the State of New York under false pretenses while said officers and officials purported to act under the color of state laws.' The plaintiff further alleges in paragraph 4 that by said conspiracy the two defendants 'did impede, hinder, obstruct and defeat the due course of justice with the intent to deny to plaintiff the equal protection of the laws' and 'for the purpose of preventing the constituted authorities from giving and securing to her the equal protection of the laws.' These last allegations are set forth substantially in the language of the statute. *fn4"

 Paragraph 5 and succeeding allegations of the complaint in substance charge that one of the moving defendants, the medical examiner for the district attorney, who is named as the 'arch conspirator,' in furtherance of the conspiracy 'banded together' with other named defendants and, acting in concert with them, performed various overt acts. *fn5"

 Thus, the basic claim of the plaintiff is grounded upon denial of 'her right and privilege to submit to a lawfully constituted grand jury, information on official misconduct.'

 No specific Federal Constitutional or statutory provision grants one the right or privilege to submit to a state grand jury information with respect to state offenses. Plaintiff's right to relief must be bottomed upon an alleged abridgement of her right to the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Accordingly, the essential question is whether or not persons under New York State law have the right and privilege to submit to a grand jury information of official misconduct or other offenses so that a denial thereof, either under color of law or as the result of a wilful or malicious conspiracy, violates plaintiff's constitutional right to the equal protection of the laws guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.

 Neither the Constitution nor any statute of the State of New York contains any provision which grants a person -- other than a district attorney or a prospective defendant -- the right or the privilege to appear before a grand jury, or to submit information to it with respect to alleged crimes. Inquiry into crime is committed to the grand jury, *fn6" and its prosecution to the district attorney. *fn7" The Code of Criminal Procedure of the State of New York defines the powers and duties of the grand jury and regulates its proceedings and also specifies the functions of the prosecutor with respect thereto. *fn8"

 In general, the statute confers upon the grand jury the duty and the power to investigate crime and official misconduct within its jurisdiction, *fn9" to call witnesses before it, to act upon its own initiative or on information from whatever source deemed reliable, or on the basis of matters directed to its attention by the district attorney. The district attorney is the official legal adviser of the body. Whenever required by the grand jury, the district attorney must attend them for the purpose of examining witnesses in their presence. *fn10"

 The statute commands the grand jury to hear but two groups: one is the district attorney; the other, prospective defendants. In the case of the district attorney, upon his request he 'must be allowed, at all times, to appear before the grand jury * * * for the purpose of giving information relative to any matter before them, but * * * shall (not) be present with the grand jury during the expression of their opinions or the giving of their votes upon any matter.' *fn11"

 The only other person who 'as a matter of right' may demand to be heard before the grand jury is one who has reason to believe that it is investigating a charge that he has committed a crime. *fn12" In the event he complies with the statute which requires him, among other matters, to sign a waiver of immunity, the grand jury 'shall hear such person * * * and need not hear any witness on his behalf unless the grand jury so desires'. Should a grand jury return an indictment without hearing such person, the Court is required to set it aside on the defendant's motion. Apart from these statutory provision, New York State does not grant any person the right or privilege to submit information to, or to be heard by, a grand jury.

 The grand jury is an independent body which functions as an arm of the Court. It may hear any person whom it desires, but it is under no compulsion to do so. *fn13" A grand jury '* * * is in some aspects a separate and independent tribunal, free from the restraint of the court, and at liberty to decide upon its own methods of procedure in so far as they are not controlled by statute or immemorial usage having the force of law. One of the attributes and powers of this independent existence is to decide when and in what order witnesses shall be called, and, to some extent, who shall be called. For all the ordinary purposes of procuring evidence a grand jury is a distinct body clothed with authority to conduct the examination of witnesses in any way that does not conflict with established legal rules.' *fn14"

 And just as the grand jury is the sole judge as to what persons it will hear and permit to submit evidence before it (except as the statute otherwise requires), so the district attorney, charged by law with the prosecution of crime, is the sole judge of what recommendations to make to the grand jury for indictment for crime committed ...


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