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Monaco v. Sharon Carpinello

April 19, 2007

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 subclass of all individuals in the counties of Kings, Queens, Richmond, Nassau, and Suffolk who are subject to civil commitment evaluations at facilities operated by the Office of Mental Health or other state entities and local governments (the "Civil Commitment Subclass").*fn2

On June 1, 2006 I granted preliminary approval to the proposed settlement between members of the Civil Commitment Subclass who are subject to civil commitment evaluations at facilities operated by the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation and Allan Aviles, as president of the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation (successor to defendant Chu). I also approved the proposed notice, with some modifications. I subsequently approved notice by publication on November 22, 2006 (as amended by my order of December 12, 2006). A fairness hearing was held February 26, 2007, prior to which defendants submitted an affidavit attesting to the fact that they materially complied with this Court's instructions regarding notice.*fn3 There have been no objections to the proposed settlement. The Court now considers final approval of the proposed class action settlement agreement pursuant to Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, final approval is granted.

BACKGROUND

The relevant claims for relief read 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 Aviles (successor to 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 revisions may only be made after 30 days advance notice to plaintiff's counsel.

Training

4. HHC agrees to provide training for all current psychiatric emergency staff, and all new psychiatric emergency staff who begin working at psychiatric emergency services in HHC hospitals during the term of this Stipulation, on the following topics: a) the legal standards for involuntary civil commitment pursuant to Article 9 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law; b) risk factors relevant to evaluating whether a patient is dangerous to self or others; c) use of the HHC form described in paragraph 2 above; and d) the legal requirements for involuntary medication of patients. The training materials will convey that involuntary civil commitment decisions are legal determinations as well as clinical determinations. The training materials concerning involuntary medication will instruct staff to write involuntary medication orders consistent with the requirements of 14 N.Y.C.R.R. 527.8(c)(1), and will further instruct staff not to write medication orders that authorize the intramuscular administration of psychotropic medication on a "PRN" ...


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