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Shrader v. Granninger

decided: March 21, 1989.

MICHAEL SHRADER, KURT MEMMERTH, CASAUNDRA ERNST, MENTAL HYGIENE LEGAL SERVICE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CLARK C. GRANNINGER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DIRECTOR OF THE ALBANY VETERANS ADMINISTRATION MEDICAL CENTER, AND THE ALBANY VETERANS ADMINISTRATION MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



This is an appeal from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Munson, J., pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b), granting in part defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiffs-appellants contend that state law controls the procedures defendant-appellee Albany Veterans Administration Medical Center must use to commit and treat mental patients involuntarily, and that due process rights were violated by defendants' procedures. We dismiss the appeal, as the Rule 54(b) certification was improvidently granted. Appeal dismissed.

Van Graafeiland, Meskill and Miner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Meskill

MESKILL, Circuit Judge

Plaintiffs-appellants appeal from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Munson, J., granting defendants-appellees Albany Veterans Administration Medical Center (AVAMC) and Clark Granninger, the director of AVAMC, partial judgment on the pleadings. The court determined that AVAMC did not have to follow state procedures for involuntarily committing and treating mentally ill persons, as Congress intended the federal government "to control the procedures . . . [that] govern the admission, retention and treatment of patients at Veterans Hospitals." The court then entered judgment on this issue, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b), and plaintiffs filed an appeal from that judgment.

We dismiss the appeal, as the judgment was improvidently entered under Rule 54(b).

BACKGROUND

This declaratory judgment action was filed by individuals who had been involuntarily committed or treated in the psychiatric ward at AVAMC, and by the New York State agency charged with providing legal services to psychiatric patients. Each of the individual plaintiffs is a civilian, and none of them is currently confined at AVAMC.

Plaintiff Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS) is an agency within the judicial branch of New York State government, and has the following statutory duties: to review the admission of all patients receiving services intended for mentally disabled persons; to inform those patients of their rights to judicial review, legal counsel and an independent medical opinion; to provide legal services for those patients; and to take any legal action necessary to safeguard those patients' rights. N.Y. Mental Hyg. L. § 47.03(a)-(c), (e) (McKinney 1988). To help MHLS carry out these functions, hospitals and other facilities are to grant MHLS access to their records, in accordance with federal law and privacy interests. Id. § 47.03(d).

This suit was brought in New York State court, but was removed to the Northern District of New York on the motion of defendants, on the ground that they are an agency and an employee of the federal government. 28 U.S.C. § 1442 (1982). The declaratory relief sought is not premised on the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201 (1982); the suit maintains its original character as a state declaratory judgment action.

In their amended complaint, plaintiffs allege that defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under New York statutory and constitutional law and under the United States Constitution. Specifically, the individual plaintiffs claim that AVAMC did not follow proper New York State procedures when it committed and treated them involuntarily and that the procedures of AVAMC, both on their face and as applied, violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. MHLS claims that AVAMC prevented it from carrying out its statutory duties. New York State law itself explicitly provides that New York State procedures are to be applied by Veterans' Administration hospitals. N.Y. Mental Hyg. L. § 79.29 (McKinney 1988). At oral argument, counsel for plaintiffs asserted that one of the reasons they sought a declaratory judgment was that defendants were not following section 79.29 and that MHLS did not know what law governed their clients at AVAMC.

Plaintiffs have asked only for declaratory relief. In particular, they have asked that the court declare that defendants must abide by article 9 of the Mental Hygiene Law (article 9); that defendants must comply with the requirements for treating patients involuntarily, as set forth in Rivers v. Katz, 67 N.Y.2d 485, 495 N.E.2d 337, 504 N.Y.S.2d 74 (1986); and that defendants must grant MHLS access to patient records. In addition, plaintiffs have made the boiler-plate request for any other relief the court may deem appropriate. Presumably, in light of their equal protection and due process claims, this includes a declaration that plaintiffs' rights have been violated by AVAMC procedures.

Regarding their article 9 request, it is not clear just what it is that plaintiffs are looking for. At oral argument, plaintiffs' attorney asserted that they were requesting that the Court declare that all those provisions of article 9 "that would not unduly burden or impair federal functions" apply to AVAMC. Nevertheless, plaintiffs have not informed the Court which provisions of article 9 are included within this standard, and the district court has not made this determination.

Defendants, in their answer, responded, inter alia, that New York State law does not apply to their actions because the Supremacy Clause shields federal facilities, such as AVAMC, from regulation by the states. See, e.g., Goodyear Atomic Corp. v. Miller, 486 U.S. 174, 56 U.S.L.W. 4447, 4449, 100 L. Ed. 2d 158, 108 S. Ct. 1704 (U.S. May 23, 1988).

In an oral ruling on December 28, 1987, Judge Munson held that Congress had "clearly, and . . . unequivocally, evidenced its intention to regulate the area of procedures at veterans' hospitals." He therefore held that New York cannot regulate procedures at AVAMC, even in the field of mental health, a field traditionally reserved to the states. See, e.g., United States v. Cohen, 236 U.S. App. D.C. 36, 733 F.2d 128, 137 n. 15, 138 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (in banc). The district court declined to rule on the other ...


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