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WOE v. CUOMO

March 16, 1983

WALTER WOE, by his mother and guardian, WILMA WOE, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARIO CUOMO, individually and as Governor of the State of New York, WILLIAM MORRIS, individually and as Acting Commissioner of the Department of Mental Hygiene of the State of New York, LOUIS SMITH, individually and as Director of Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEAHER

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 NEAHER, District Judge.

 This motion for summary judgment in the class action centers essentially on a single issue: whether a State mental hospital which is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals ("JCAH") is necessarily in compliance with due process requirements. *fn1" In addition to resolving that issue, however, a myriad of other outstanding procedural and substantive matters pending in this needlessly complex seven-and-one-half year old action will be disposed of. For clarification, a review of the lengthy history of this case is necessary.

 Background

 Walter Woe (a pseudonym) was an involuntarily committed mental patient at Brooklyn State Hospital (since renamed "Kingsboro Psychiatric Center"), a New York State public hospital for the mentally ill, when this class action commenced. *fn2" In his amended complaint, he alleged that the hospital was overcrowded, understaffed, and lacked adequate facilities, and that its population was more likely to be comprised of individuals who were less wealthy, more ill, and black than the population of private hospitals. He further contended that private hospitals, which provided adequate care, refused to accept poor, black, involuntarily committed patients. He sought an end to what he labelled an invidiously "sanist" and racist two-tiered system of mental health care.

 Woe raised multiple legal issues, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against numerous defendants. First, he attacked the constitutionality of certain disparities in the award of Medicaid benefits to patients in private and State mental hospitals. Next, he asserted that the New York Mental Hygiene Law ("MHL") unconstitutionally failed to provide for a right to treatment and a means to enforce that right. Finally, and most significant to the current motion, he claimed that an adequate standard of care could be achieved only if the care provided by the State matched the care provided in private hospitals. This claim was grounded in the fourteenth amendment equal protection and due process clauses.

 In the course of ruling on discovery matters and defining the scope of litigation, orders on multiple motions have been issued which eliminated certain issues and addressed other matters still at issue in the case. In Woe v. Mathews, 408 F. Supp. 419 (E.D.N.Y. 1976), aff'd sub nom. Woe v. Weinberger, 562 F.2d 40 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1048, 98 S. Ct. 895, 54 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1977), the Court dismissed the Medicaid claims against the federal defendants as meritless based on the Supreme Court's summary affirmance in Legion v. Richardson, 354 F. Supp. 456 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd sub nom. Legion v. Weinberger, 414 U.S. 1058, 38 L. Ed. 2d 465, 94 S. Ct. 564 (1973), id. at 424-26; upheld the constitutionality of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law ("MHL") against an inaccurate assertion that it failed to provide for a statutory right to treatment, id. at 426-28; and certified a class comprised of "all persons between the ages of 21 and 65 who are or will be involuntarily civilly committed to New York State mental institutions." Id. at 429. Denying the State defendants' motions to dismiss the remaining claims, the Court found that the plaintiff had stated two distinct constitutional claims which could not be summarily dismissed. Those claims, which remain the heart of this action, were described succinctly:

 
"Plaintiffs seek to end a self-styled 'two-tiered' system of mental care in which, they allege, some persons, those voluntarily admitted to mental hospitals, receive care in equipped facilities and the remainder, involuntary committees, are condemned to custodial care in State mental institutions.
 
"They have constructed the following argument. An involuntarily committed mental patient has a right, under the due process clause, to adequate treatment. . . . Involuntarily civilly committed patients are only sent to State mental institutions; voluntary committees go to psychiatric facilities in general hospitals. Patients in State mental institutions do not receive adequate treatment; patients in general hospitals do receive treatment. Therefore patients in State mental institutions have a right to be committed in general hospitals with adequate funds for treatment, or, at a minimum, to adequate care and treatment in State institutions." Id. at 428 (citation omitted).

 Plaintiffs' first claim was and is that the "two-tiered" system violates their rights under the equal protection clause by treating similarly situated mentally ill individuals differently. Plaintiffs sought originally and apparently persist in desiring injunctive relief mandating "a change in State practices in involuntary commitments from State institutions to other facilities," id., presumably private institutions. As this Court noted in its earlier order, however, a mental patient does not have a constitutional right to be committed to a private, rather than a State, hospital. Thus, only the narrower equal protection claim of whether the State is treating "similarly situated mental patients in an evenhanded manner" remains at issue in this case. Id. at 429.

 Plaintiffs' second claim then and now alleges that certain State hospitals, or possibly the State system in its entirety, provide constitutionally inadequate care, treatment, and facilities in violation of plaintiffs' due process rights. As this Court noted:

 
"Involuntary commitment to a mental hospital involving, as it does, a deprivation of liberty, must be scrutinized under the due process clause. O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S. Ct. 2486, 2496, 45 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1975). The right to a humane and safe living environment, Welsch v. Likins [373 F. Supp.] at 502-03, the right to the least restrictive alternative in confinement, id. at 501, the right to be protected from harm, New York Association for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Rockefeller [357 F. Supp.] at 764, and most recently, the constitutional obligation of the State not to 'confine without more a nondangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself' or with the help of others, O'Connor v. Donaldson, supra, 95 S. Ct. at 2494, have each been recognized by courts for those civilly confined under State authority.
 
". . . As a tentative formulation it would seem encumbent upon the State as confiner to minimize the mode of confinement, Welsch v. Likins, supra, and to employ whatever means are necessary, including such care and treatment as are reasonably possible in the circumstances of the case, to promote the speedy release and return to liberty of the person confined. The State defendants' motions to dismiss the constitutional claims are therefore denied." Id. at 428-29 (footnote omitted).

 Finally, various motions to amend the complaint to add new plaintiffs, defendants, and causes of action were dismissed without prejudice. Most significantly, the joinder of a class of federal defendants based on the allegation that the federal accreditation criteria used to determine whether patients received Social Security Income benefits was unconstitutional was denied because the program "was different in nature and purpose than those which Woe has attacked, and [the claim involved] a class different from that which Woe purports to represent." Id. at 430. Also important to the present claims, a motion to add the JCAH and certain of its agents and a claim alleging that the JCAH denied plaintiffs their constitutional rights by utilizing disparate accreditation standards for public and private mental hospitals was denied because the Court found that "this new claim will be better examined in a separate action as it raises decidedly new issues and a different array of defendants." Id.

 A year later, multiple procedural motions were resolved in a second, unpublished Order. Woe v. Mathews, 75 CV 1029 (E.D.N.Y., Jan. 13, 1977). Plaintiffs had moved to consolidate the apparently related cases of Koe v. Mathews, 76 CV 64, and Yoe v. Kolb, 75 CV 2178. The Court dismissed Koe as moot because the federal defendants had already rescinded the challenged termination of benefits. *fn3" Id., slip op. at 4-5. The Court then dismissed the claims against the federal defendants in Yoe as barred by the first Woe decision, 408 F. Supp. at 424-26, and by Legion, supra, id., slip op. at 3, and consolidated the claims against the State defendants into the instant case. Id., slip op. at 7.

 Plaintiffs again sought to add new defendants and new causes of action, including a challenge to a State statute which denied the right to vote to institutionalized mental patients. Finding "no valid reason for joinder," the proposed amendment was denied "in the interests of orderly litigation and the forthright presentation of the proposed claim." Id., slip op. at 5. Plaintiffs also renewed and were again denied their previous motion to add the JCAH defendants. Id.

 Finally, defendants' motions to limit the class to patients at the Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, and plaintiffs' motion to enlarge the class to eliminate the age restrictions, were both denied "pending clarification of the issues which will form the essence of the action as discovery progresses." Id. The Second Circuit affirmed the order on March 29, 1978. In the interim, only one conference was held, resulting in an indefinite adjournment of the case.

 The case remained dormant until late February, 1980, when plaintiffs brought on an order to show cause why the Kings Park Psychiatric Center should not be enjoined from further operations. This motion was precipitated by Kings Park's loss of JCAH accreditation. Papers were filed by all parties. Plaintiffs' papers additionally requested an enlargement of the class; joinder as defendants of the directors of the three nonparty departments of the Mental Health Information Services; certification of several defendant classes, including the directors of all State and private mental hospitals, the chairmen of all medical schools within the State, and all State court judges; reconsideration of the constitutionality of the MHL; *fn4" reconsideration of the denial of the motion to amend the complaint to add the right to vote issue and the defendants appropriate to that issue; *fn5" and reconsideration of the denial of the motion to add the JCAH as a defendant and to assert new claims against the JCAH, all of which defendants opposed.

 On May 13, 1980, plaintiffs delivered a letter discussing, amidst numerous discovery matters, their intention to seek an injunction of the operation of Hudson River Psychiatric Center. A conference was held the next day and discovery matters, procedural complications, and scope of the litigation were discussed at length. The pending and proposed injunction motions and all related legal motions were held in abeyance to await the outcome of discovery and a more definitive focus of the case. See Transcript of Conference dated May 14, 1980.

 Both the docket sheet and the transcripts of subsequent conferences depict a preoccupation by all parties with discovery and procedural matters for well over one year. In the interim, Kings Park and Hudson River apparently regained their accreditation. The status of certain other institutions was in flux as well.

 Finally, the parties appeared to focus on what they saw as remaining at issue in the case, and on May 24, 1982, defendants filed this summary judgment motion, addressing essentially the same legal issues underlying the preliminary injunction motion. The Court established deadlines extending into November for opposing and reply papers, indicating an intention to decide finally the long-disputed applicable legal standard.

 In response, however, the plaintiffs attempted to bring on yet another order to show cause as to why the Court should not enjoin the operations of Manhattan Psychiatric Center, a State facility which had lost its JCAH accreditation and HHS certification, and South Beach Psychiatric Center, which had lost its HHS accreditation. Given the numerous pending procedural motions and the anticipated clarification ...


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