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MICHAEL L. CHOMENTOWSKI v. STATE NEW YORK (07/31/69)
COURT OF CLAIMS OF NEW YORK
Claim Nos. 39959, 39991, 40174, 49104
1969.NY.42718 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 303 N.Y.S.2d 278; 60 Misc. 2d 367
July 31, 1969
MICHAEL L. CHOMENTOWSKI, CLAIMANT,v.STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT
A. E. Schulgasser for claimant.
Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney-General (Mordecai Bressler and J. Joseph Murphy of counsel), for defendant.
Dorothea E. Donaldson, J.
Dorothea E. Donaldson, J.
These four claims, not assigned or submitted to any other court or tribunal for determination, for damages for periods of confinement in either Matteawan State Hospital or Marcy State Hospital, were predicated upon alleged false imprisonment and illegal detention.
Claim No. 39959 alleged false imprisonment and illegal detention at Matteawan State Hospital from February 27, 1957 to September 28, 1961.
Claim No. 39991 alleged false imprisonment and illegal detention at Marcy State Hospital from October 3, 1961 to October 26, 1961.
Claim No. 40174 alleged false imprisonment and illegal detention, in addition to abuse of process and negligence, from November 2, 1961 to December 12, 1961, at Marcy State Hospital.
Claim No. 49104 alleged abuse of process and false imprisonment without conviction in Matteawan State Hospital from June 23, 1955 to January 6, 1967. Proof at trial does not support the claim beyond December 12, 1961. The duration of time in this claim, therefore, is amended from June 23, 1955 to December 12, 1961.
Claimant alleged no claim for punitive damages.
The defendant's motion to dismiss Claim No. 49104 for failure to timely file is denied.
The exhibits submitted at trial, upon which objections where raised and the court reserved decision, are now received in evidence, the objections being overruled.
The request of claimant's counsel to conform pleadings to the proof, irregularly made in a reply brief and even though vague, is now granted.
In 1955, Michael Chomentowski operated a gas station and resided in an upper apartment on the site. On June 23, 1955 in the Town of Camillus, in the County of Onondaga, he was charged with two violations of section 1897 (subd. 1-a) and one violation of section 1897 (subd. 4) of the Penal Law, in the possession of two submachine guns and a 38-calibre revolver. After arraignment before the Justice of the Peace and held for action before the grand Jury, a Judge of the Onondaga County Court directed examination of the claimant with respect to his ability to understand the charges, and subsequently, by order dated August 2, 1955, directed that he be committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for custody and detention "until restored to his right mind". Indictment under the charges was not had until January, 1957.
From the date of the 1955 order until a dismissal of the indictment on August 16, 1966, numerous proceedings were had, some of which were the bases for the claims hereinabove recited, four of which were denials of, and two were opinions granting, writs of habeas corpus. Appeals on claimant's behalf between 1956 and 1964 were taken to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department and Second Department, to the Federal Court, Northern District and on writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, all of which were denied.
Claimant contended, first, that the orders committing him were invalid in that the medical authorities failed to follow strictly the statutory procedures under the Mental Hygiene Law and to properly take the authorized oath, which deprived the court of jurisdiction and constituted negligence and abuse of process substantiated as res judicata by opinions of Justices of the Supreme Court; second, that the order of August, 1955 was invalid on its face; and third, that claimant must be considered a sane person. The only testimony at trial was that of the claimant; most of the proof relied on was documentary evidence.
Two basic issues were presented in these claims; the first was whether the certification proceedings and the resulting orders were regular and valid or irregular and void. The Court of Appeals in Fischer v. Langbein (103 N. Y. 84, 90) has clearly defined the distinction between regular or voidable process and void process in false imprisonment cases, as follows: "Void process is such as the court has no power to award, or has not acquired jurisdiction to issue in the particular case, or which does not in some material respect comply in form with the legal requisites of such process, or which loses its vitality in consequence of non-compliance with a condition subsequent, obedience to which is rendered essential. Irregular process is such as a court has general jurisdiction to issue, but which is unauthorized in the particular case by reason of the existence or non-existence of some fact or circumstance rendering it improper in such a case. In all cases where a ...