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MANHATTAN STATE CITIZENS' GROUP v. BASS

October 30, 1981

MANHATTAN STATE CITIZENS' GROUP, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
James F. BASS, as President of the New York City Board of Elections; R. Wells Stout, as Chairman of the New York State Board of Elections; Hugh L. Carey, as Governor of the State of New York, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOETTEL

Under the New York Election Law, persons who have been adjudged incompetent, or are involuntarily committed to a mental institution by court order, lose their right to vote. N.Y. Election Law § 5-106(6) (McKinney 1978) ("section 5-106(6)"). Plaintiff Manhattan State Citizens' Group, Inc. ("Citizens' Group"), a not-for-profit corporation, some of whose members are involuntarily committed patients of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center ("Manhattan State"), challenge the constitutionality of this statute on the grounds that it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York, and the suffrage provisions of Article II, Sections 1 and 3 of the New York Constitution. In its complaint, the plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees. Because of the upcoming election, they have moved for a preliminary injunction restraining the defendants from enforcing this statute.

Named as defendants are the presidents of the New York City and New York State boards of elections and Hugh Carey, the Governor of New York. The state defendants have filed opposing papers and have cross-moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff lacks standing to prosecute this action. New York City takes a more passive approach. Its position is that it merely enforces the state election law and will comply with any order of this Court.

I. Standing

 The Supreme Court set forth the criteria under which an organization may assert the claims of its individual members in Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, 432 U.S. 333, 97 S. Ct. 2434, 53 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1977). It noted that an organization has standing if

 
(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.

 Id. 432 U.S. at 343, 97 S. Ct. at 2441.

 The only aspect of standing in dispute is whether the members of the Citizens' Group have standing to sue in their own right. The defendants contend that the plaintiff lacks standing because it failed to demonstrate that its members would be otherwise qualified to vote in the absence of the challenged provision, that is, that it has members who are United States citizens of at least eighteen years of age who are residents of the State, County, and City of New York, who have been involuntarily committed by court order and who have not been adjudged incompetent, and who are not precluded from voting by reason of having been convicted of a felony. Although the plaintiff should have been more careful to provide this information in its complaint, the plaintiff's counsel has represented to the Court that the Citizens' Group does include involuntarily committed patients at Manhattan State who are otherwise qualified to vote and, indeed, who plan to vote in the 1981 election if the Court grants the relief sought by the plaintiff. The plaintiff is directed to provide the names and pertinent backgrounds of some of these individuals to ensure that the Court has jurisdiction to hear this matter.

 II. Statutory Background

 Section 5-106(6) of the New York Election Law provides that

 
(n)o person who has been adjudged incompetent or committed to an institution for the mentally ill by order of a court of competent judicial authority shall have the right to register for or vote at any election in this state unless thereafter he shall have been adjudged competent or released from such institution pursuant to law.

 N.Y. Election Law § 5-106(6) (McKinney 1978). Although this is a seemingly simple statutory provision, a few comments are necessary to place this case into proper focus. First, persons who commit themselves voluntarily and persons involuntarily committed by means other than court order retain their right to vote. Second, the plaintiff does not challenge that aspect of the statute that excludes persons adjudged incompetent from voting. As will be discussed below, competency proceedings are quite different from commitment proceedings.

 a. Commitment Proceedings

 Article 9 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law *fn1" sets forth the methods by which a mentally ill person can be admitted to a hospital *fn2" as an in-patient. There are generally four admission classifications: informal admissions, voluntary admissions, involuntary admissions on medical certification, and emergency admissions for immediate observation, care and treatment. *fn3" Depending upon the admission procedure that has been used in a particular case, the hospital must at some point apply for a court order if it is to retain the patient on an involuntary basis. *fn4"

 The standard for granting court authorization to retain an involuntary patient is whether the court is "satisfied that the patient requires continued retention for care and treatment." N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 9.33 (McKinney 1978) ("MHL § 9.33"). Although this standard seems somewhat vague, when MHL § 9.33 is read in conjunction with the definitional section, MHL § 9.01, it becomes quite clear. For example, the phrase, "need for retention" means "that a person who has been admitted to a hospital ... is in need of involuntary care and treatment in a hospital for a further period." MHL § 9.01 (emphasis added). The phrase, "in need of involuntary care and treatment" is defined as a person having 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. (emphasis added). The phrase "in need of care and treatment" is defined as a person having a mental illness "for which in-patient care and treatment in a hospital is appropriate." Id. When read together, these various definitions create the following standard for court authorized retention: the person to be ...


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