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GOETZ v. CROSSON

January 12, 1990

LYLE R. GOETZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE HONORABLE MATTHEW CROSSON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF CHIEF ADMINISTRATOR OF THE COURTS OF NEW YORK, THE HONORABLE JOHN R. KING, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF ACTING SUPREME COURT JUSTICE, THE HONORABLE JUDITH A. HILLERY, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF ACTING SUPREME COURT JUSTICE, AND DR. RICHARD C. SURLES, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY OF COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL HEALTH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goettel, District Judge:

OPINION

This action challenges the procedures by which an individual may be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital in Dutchess County. The plaintiff alleges that the current practices of the Dutchess County Supreme Court violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by denying the involuntary committee access to psychiatric or other expert assistance at civil commitment or retention proceedings. The plaintiff further alleges that the failure to permit the committee to assert the fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination during examination by a non-treating psychiatrist further violates the Due Process Clause. The plaintiff seeks to have his action certified pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 as a class action seeking a declaration that an individual facing retention has the right to the appointment of a state-funded psychiatrist or other appropriate expert who would be available to testify on the patient's behalf if his clinical condition warrants such testimony and otherwise assist in the preparation and presentation of the patient's case. He further seeks to certify a second class to obtain a declaration that the patient may not be compelled to submit to psychiatric examinations conducted by a non-treating psychiatrist who may then testify adversely at the patient's retention proceeding.

The defendants have cross-moved to dismiss the action claiming that it is not ripe for adjudication and that the plaintiff's fifth amendment claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

I. CIVIL COMMITMENT

Pursuant to New York Mental Hygiene Law, the State of New York may involuntarily hospitalize an individual for up to sixty days upon the signature of two physicians. N.Y.Mental Hyg.Law § 9.27(a) (1988). During this initial sixty-day period, an involuntarily hospitalized patient may request a hearing, known as a retention hearing, to contest his confinement. N Y Mental Hyg.Law § 9.31(a) (1988). If, within the sixty-day period, the State proves that a patient satisfies the criteria for involuntary hospitalization, the State may confine such individual for up to sixty days from the date of the patient's admission to a psychiatric facility or thirty days from the date of an order denying the application for the patient's release, whichever is longer. N.Y.Mental Hyg.Law § 9.33(a) (1988).

Once this time period has expired, the director of the facility in which the patient is confined must apply for an order of retention if the facility wishes to further hospitalize the patient. A facility must also apply for an order of retention if it wishes to retain beyond a sixty-day period an involuntary patient who has not previously challenged judicially his initial commitment. N.Y.Mental Hyg.Law § 9.33(b) (1988). A patient for whom a facility has sought an order of retention may request a court hearing to challenge his confinement. N.Y.Mental Hyg.Law § 9.33(a) (1988). If the court determines that a patient satisfies the criteria for involuntary hospitalization and signs an order of retention pursuant to N.Y.Mental Hyg.Law § 9.33, the patient may request a rehearing and review pursuant to N.Y.Mental Hyg.Law § 9.35 (1988).

II. FACTS

A. Lyle Goetz

The plaintiff, Lyle Goetz, was involuntarily committed to the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center ("HVPC") on or about March 21, 1987 and has remained there pursuant to an order of retention that expired on February 6, 1989. On February 2, 1989, at a retention hearing held in New York State Supreme Court, Dutchess County, Acting Supreme Court Justice Hillery ordered the plaintiff confined to the HVPC for a period not to exceed twenty-four months.*fn1 Because this hearing was conducted without notice to the plaintiff's attorney, upon motion of plaintiff's counsel Justice Hillery vacated the order of retention on March 16, 1989 and recused herself from further proceedings on the matter. Mr. Goetz's retention hearing was then assigned to Acting Supreme Court Justice King and placed on the calendar for March 23, 1989. Justice King also recused himself.*fn2 Subsequently, Mr. Goetz's retention proceeding was assigned to Supreme Court Justice Ralph Beisner. In June 1989, the plaintiff moved before Justice Beisner for the appointment of a psychiatrist pursuant to the fourteenth amendment and specifically requested Dr. Lawrence Siegel. The state opposed the motion but did not object to the appointment of a psychiatrist under section 35 of the Judiciary Law.*fn3 Pursuant to section 35, Justice Beisner appointed Dr. Siegel. Dr. Siegel declined appointment and the court subsequently appointed Dr. Werner Cohn. Dr. Cohn examined Mr. Goetz and testified at Mr. Goetz's retention hearing in August 1989. He was called, however, as a witness for the hospital and was cross-examined by Mr. Goetz's attorney. At the conclusion of the hearing, Justice Beisner ordered Mr. Goetz retained.

B. Mark Cans

C. Anna Selletti

In August 1989, Anna Selletti moved to intervene and serve as class representative. Ms. Selletti is an involuntarily retained psychiatric patient at the HVPC whose order of retention expired on September 10, 1989. Ms. Selletti's retention hearing is currently pending before Justice Beisner. Presumably because of the setbacks experienced by the other ...


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