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RUFFLER v. PHELPS MEM. HOSP.

June 13, 1978.

John M. RUFFLER, Plaintiff,
v.
PHELPS MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, the County of Westchester, the Westchester County Medical Center, Grasslands Hospital, New York Hospital, Dr. (first name unknown) DiCastro, Dr. (first name unknown) Di Carlo, Dr. "Astro" (phonetic spelling), Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GAGLIARDI

GAGLIARDI, District Judge.

Plaintiff John M. Ruffler commenced this civil rights action to recover damages for his allegedly involuntary and unlawful hospitalization by defendants Phelps Memorial Hospital (Phelps), Grasslands Hospital (Grasslands) and New York Hospital.Plaintiff claims that all of the defendants, while acting under color of state law, subjected him to physical mistreatment and deprived him of his liberty without due process, thus denying him his constitutional and civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Jurisdiction is alleged to exist under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the general federal question statute, and under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), the jurisdictional counterpart to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants County of Westchester, Westchester County Medical Center (Medical Center), Grasslands and Dr. DiCastro, a psychiatrist on the Medical Center staff, (collectively the "County defendants") and New York Hospital have now moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Fed.R.Civ.P. New York Hospital has also moved to dismiss certain causes of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(b)(6).

 The basic allegations of the complaint are as follows. On September 10, 1976 plaintiff Ruffler was induced to voluntarily enter Phelps, a private hospital in North Tarrytown, New York, upon being informed by defendant Jewett, a psychiatrist on the staff at Phelps, that without such consent an involuntary commitment could be effected. Sometime thereafter defendant Nitzberg, a psychiatric counsellor at Phelps, persuaded plaintiff's wife to sign a petition for plaintiff's involuntary commitment to a mental institution by informing Mrs. Ruffler that her husband could be involuntarily committed even without her execution of the petition. It is alleged that these representations concerning the availability of involuntary commitment were false, and resulted in plaintiff's unlawful confinement at Phelps and his subsequent involuntary and unlawful transfer on September 13, 1976 to Grasslands, an agency of Westchester County, where his confinement continued. On September 21, 1976 he was transferred to New York Hospital, a private facility, where his involuntary confinement continued. It is further claimed that in continuing this alleged wrongful deprivation of his personal liberty, New York Hospital interfered with plaintiff's right to judicial review of his involuntary status, delaying a scheduled court appearance until October 5, 1976, when he was discharged from the hospital before the court hearing was held. In connection with his initial commitment and his confinement and treatment thereafter, plaintiff alleges that he was not afforded the protections guaranteed by the New York Mental Hygiene Law (McKinney 1976 and Supp. 1977) (amended 1978), that he was physically mistreated and deprived of his freedom of movement by the various defendants and that consequently his federally protected liberty and due process interests were violated.Ruffler also claims that the defendants' conduct constituted a conspiracy to deprive him of those rights.

 Rule 12(b)(1) Motion of the County Defendants

 Claiming lack of jurisdiction under either 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or § 1343, the County defendants move to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Fed.R.Civ.P. *fn1" These defendants do not contest their state agency status, but rather argue that the complaint alleges a violation of state rather than federal law, and that plaintiff has an adequate remedy under New York state law to which he should be remitted. These contentions misconceive the nature of the federal remedy provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, *fn2" as well as the standard for determining whether an alleged federal question is substantial enough to support original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). *fn3"

 As held in Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 535-543, 94 S. Ct. 1372, 39 L. Ed. 2d 577 (1974), to justify dismissal for want of jurisdiction the alleged constitutional claim must be "patently without merit," id., at 542, 94 S. Ct. 1372, quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, at 683, 66 S. Ct. 773, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946), or "insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decision... or otherwise completely devoid of merit," id., at 543, 94 S. Ct. at 1382, quoting Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, at 666-67, 94 S. Ct. 772, 39 L. Ed. 2d 73 (1974). See also Goosby v. Osser, 409 U.S. 512, 518, 93 S. Ct. 854, 35 L. Ed. 2d 36 (1973).

 It is undisputed that a state cannot constitutionally subject an individual to involuntary civil commitment without satisfying due process safeguards. O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 573-76, 95 S. Ct. 2486, 45 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1975); cf. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1967); Miller v. Vitek, 437 F. Supp. 569 (D.Neb.1977) (three-judge court), vacated and remanded for consideration of mootness, 436 U.S. 407, 98 S. Ct. 2276, 56 L. Ed. 2d 381 (1978). In the instant case, plaintiff's claims of constitutional due process violations by the defendants include the allegations that he and his wife agreed to defendants' requests for voluntary and involuntary commitment due solely to deliberate misrepresentations by these defendants concerning their own authority to order plaintiff's involuntary commitment; that the defendants failed to advise him of his rights to challenge his involuntary status and prevented him from doing so; that he was deprived of proper medical and psychiatric care, and was in fact forcibly subjected to harmful medication and physically and emotionally abusive treatment, while in defendants' custody; and that the defendants were at all times acting under color of state law. As observed in O'Connor v. Donaldson, supra,

 There can be no doubt that involuntary confinement to a mental hospital, like involuntary confinement of an individual for any reason, is a deprivation of liberty which the State cannot accomplish without due process of law.... Commitment must be justified on the basis of a legitimate state interest, and the reasons for committing a particular individual must be established in an appropriate proceeding. Equally important, confinement must cease when those reasons no longer exist.

 422 U.S. at 580, 95 S. Ct. at 2496 (Burger, Ch. J., concurring) (citations omitted). Accordingly, plaintiff's claims readily satisfy the threshold standard of Hagans v. Lavine, supra, and jurisdiction is plainly proper. *fn4"

 The foregoing outline of plaintiff's contentions also makes clear that, although he does allege violations of the terms of New York's Mental Hygiene Law, his complaint does not restrict itself solely to claimed denials of state law. Cf. Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 7-8, 11, 64 S. Ct. 397, 88 L. Ed. 497 (1944). In these claims that he was denied his liberty without due process, plaintiff has clearly alleged acts which independently constitute deprivations of his federal constitutional "rights, privileges, or immunities," and which are therefore actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. O'Connor v. Donaldson, supra, 422 U.S. at 573-76, 95 S. Ct. 2486. "It is no answer that the State has a law which if enforced would give relief. The federal remedy [of § 1983] is supplementary to the state remedy, and the latter need not be first sought and refused before the federal one is invoked." Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 183, 81 S. Ct. 473, 482, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961). *fn5"

 It is of course well established that a plaintiff need not exhaust state judicial proceedings before proceeding in federal court under § 1983. Monroe v. Pape, supra; see Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 609-10 n. 21, 95 S. Ct. 1200, 43 L. Ed. 2d 482 (1975); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 472-73, 94 S. Ct. 1209, 39 L. Ed. 2d 505 (1974); Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 251, 92 S. Ct. 407, 30 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1971); McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 668, 83 S. Ct. 1433, 10 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1963).This universal rule is no less applicable to complaints alleging the deprivation of constitutional rights in the context of civil commitment by reason of mental illness. Woe v. Mathews, 408 F. Supp. 419, 426 (E.D. N.Y.1976), aff'd mem. sub nom. Woe v. Weinberger, 562 F.2d 40 (2d Cir. 1977). Although the Second Circuit does require exhaustion of administrative remedies in certain circumstances, Eisen v. Eastman, 421 F.2d 560 (2d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 841, 91 S. Ct. 82, 27 L. Ed. 2d 75 (1970); see Morgan v. LaVallee, 526 F.2d 221, 223 (2d Cir. 1975); Fuentes v. Roher, 519 F.2d 379, 386-87 (2d Cir. 1975); see also Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 186, 49 L. Ed. 2d 415, 96 S. Ct. 2586 n. *, 427 U.S. 160, 96 S. Ct. 2586, 49 L. Ed. 2d 415 (1976) (Powell, J., concurring); Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 574-75, 93 S. Ct. 1689, 36 L. Ed. 2d 488 (1973), defendants have failed to suggest any such available and adequate administrative recourse here. Their motion is thus without merit and must be denied.

 Rule 12(b)(1) Motion of Defendant New York Hospital

 In support of its motion for dismissal of the complaint against it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, defendant New York Hospital contends that it, unlike the County defendants, functioned at all times as a private hospital, not a public institution, and that consequently it is not subject to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

 It is firmly established that § 1983, see footnote 2, supra, and its parallel jurisdictional provision, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), note 3, supra, apply only when the defendant has acted "under color of state law," Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970), a jurisdictional prerequisite which is equivalent to the "state action" requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment. United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 794 n.7, 86 S. Ct. 1152, 16 L. Ed. 2d 267; Schlein v. Milford Hospital, Inc., 561 F.2d 427, 428 n. 1 (2d Cir. 1977). Although New York Hospital has established that it is privately financed and does not rely on significant public funding, *fn6" plaintiff contends that the hospital performed a "public function" such as to constitute state action in confining him involuntarily, and is consequently subject to § 1983 suit. This court must agree that the requisite state action is present for, as set out in detail below, the hospital's allegedly improper confinement of plaintiff and the nature of the statute pursuant to which it undertook that confinement establish that in the circumstances of this case the hospital was performing a "public function," and that in the field of mental health care the ...


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