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Monaco v. Carpinello

June 1, 2006

GREGORY B. MONACO, ETC., ET ANO., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SHARON CARPINELLO, ETC., ET ALIA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sifton, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Gregory B. Monaco, on behalf of himself and similarly situated individuals facing civil commitment, and the Mental Disability Law Clinic of Touro Law Center ("the Clinic") bring this class action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the following defendants: Sharon Carpinello, in her official capacity as Acting Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health ("OMH"); Catherine Cahill, in her official capacity as Justice of the East Hampton Town Justice Court, on behalf of herself and all other local criminal court judges in New York State; Benjamin Chu, in his official capacity as the Director of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation ("HHC"); Mark Sedler, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospital of the State University at Stony Brook; Kenneth Skodnek, in his official capacity as Chairman of Psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center ("NUMC"); Arnold Licht, in his official capacity as Director of the psychiatric unit of Long Island College Hospital; Alfred Tisch, in his official capacity of Sheriff of Suffolk County; and Martin Horn, in his official capacity of Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections.*fn1

Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fourth Amendment, the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state law claims for false imprisonment negligence, and medical malpractice. As amended, the complaint contains two major components: 1) a challenge to the constitutionality of the practices of Cahill, Horn, and Tisch in unnecessarily keeping confined individuals found incompetent to stand trial for minor felonies and misdemeanors and those awaiting such a determination; 2) a challenge to the constitutionality of the procedures used by Chu, Sedler, Skodnek, and Licht to involuntarily hospitalize individuals deemed mentally ill.

Previously, I found it appropriate to certify a plaintiff class of all individuals who have been or will be: (1) charged with a minor felony or misdemeanor; (2) evaluated to determine whether or not they are competent to stand trial; and (3) found by court appointed psychiatrists to lack the capacity to stand trial and await a determination of the competency issue by the local criminal court.

I also found it appropriate to certify a subclass, to be represented by plaintiff Gregory Monaco, of all individuals who have been or will be: (1) charged with a minor felony or misdemeanor; (2) evaluated to determine whether they are competent to stand trial; (3) found by court appointed psychiatrists to lack the capacity to stand trial; and (4) confined to a local jail while awaiting a determination of the competency issue by the local criminal court. Presently before the Court is plaintiff's request for a fairness hearing concerning the proposed settlement of claims seven through ten. Before such a hearing may be conducted I must first make a preliminary determination of fairness and must address the adequacy of the proposed notice to the class.

BACKGROUND

The relevant claims for relief reads as follows:

Seventh Cause of Action:

As a result of physicians at OMH and HHC operated facilities, Stony Brook and NUMC certifying individuals who have been evaluated for civil commitment purposes as dangerous because the physician believe that such individuals' clinical condition warrants in-patient care and treatment, defendants Carpinello, Chu, Skodnek, Sedler, and Licht are responsible for the confinement of non-dangerous individuals, which violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Eighth Cause of Action:

By failing to examine and employ significant criteria related to the likelihood of causing harm when examining allegedly mentally ill individuals for civil commitment purposes, physicians at OMH and HHC operated facilities, Stony Brook and NUMC make clinical determinations that do not promise some degree of accuracy and such decisions result in the confinement of nondangerous individuals, both of which violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Ninth Cause of Action

By conducting clinical evaluations that frequently do not last more than five or ten minutes when examining allegedly mentally ill individuals for civil commitment purposes, physicians at OMH and HHC operated facilities, Stony brook, and NUMC make clinical determinations that do not promise some degree of accuracy and such decisions result in the confinement of nondangerous individual [sic], both of which violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Tenth cause of Action

By failing to apply the statutory criteria of the provisions of the New York Mental Hygiene Law pursuant to which the physicians act, physicians at HHC operated facilities, Stony Brook, and NUMC violated the procedural component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §1983.

The plaintiffs and defendant Chu have agreed to settle these claims for relief. Plaintiffs have provided a copy of the proposed settlement. It reads as follows;

Definitions

1. For the purposes of this Stipulation, "psychiatric emergency staff" refers to any physician assigned to the psychiatric emergency service at HHC who is authorized to involuntarily admit patients to HHC psychiatric units pursuant to article 9 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law.

Risk Assessment Form

2. HHC agrees to require psychiatric emergency staff to use a standard form to evaluate patients for involuntary civil commitment to any HHC facility. This form shall require psychiatric emergency staff to document any risk factors for danger to self or others.

3. The parties agree that the Psychiatric Emergency Department Assessment From annexed hereto as Exhibit A satisfies the requirements of paragraph 2 above. HHC may revise this form, except that any revised form must require psychiatric emergency staff to document any risk factors for danger to self or others, and ...


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