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BARTLEY v. KREMENS

July 24, 1975

KEVIN BARTLEY, et al.
v.
JACK B. KREMENS, individually and as Hospital Director of Haverford State Hospital, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HUYETT

HUYETT, D. J.

 Plaintiffs have filed this class action *fn1" on behalf of the named plaintiffs and all persons eighteen years of age or younger who have been, are, or may be admitted or committed to mental health facilities in Pennsylvania under the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act (Act). 50 P.S. §§ 4402 and 4403 (§§ 402 and 403). *fn2" Invoking 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1343 (3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs ask us to declare §§ 402 and 403 unconstitutional and to enjoin their enforcement. *fn3"

 Plaintiffs contend that in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, they are being denied both due process of law and equal protection of law because Pennsylvania allows plaintiffs and their class to be detained -- denied their liberty -- in mental institutions without substantial procedural safeguards including the: (1) right to notice; (2) right to a precommitment hearing; (3) right to counsel and if indigent appointment of counsel; (4) right to present evidence on their own behalf; (5) right to subpoena witnesses and documents; (6) right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against them and those who wish to admit or commit them; (7) right to be involuntarily detained only upon a decision of a judicial officer; (8) right to be involuntarily detained only upon a decision that they are in need of treatment, care, or observation. *fn4" Plaintiffs also contend that the regulations supplementing §§ 402 and 403 do not cure these sections of their constitutional infirmities because they apply only to children 13 years of age or older, require no pre-commitment hearing, and designate no time by which a post-commitment hearing must be held. *fn5" In essence, plaintiffs claim that the present procedures do not adequately assure against the mistaken commitment of children who are not mentally ill.

 In support of their claim that §§ 402 and 403 are unconstitutional, plaintiffs have submitted brief summaries of the reasons for the commitment of the named plaintiffs and other members of their class to demonstrate that many decisions to commit involve factual determinations requiring substantial procedures to guard against wrongful or erroneous commitment. We rely for our findings on the summaries contained in the final pretrial order which have been stipulated to and on defendants' exhibit numbered eight (8).

 Members of plaintiffs' class have been institutionalized for various other reasons. Patient number 13,173, a moderately retarded 13 year old child, was institutionalized in Polk State Hospital because of very sudden, explosive, rage reactions during which he attacked others and of which he has no recollection. His behavior rather than his mental retardation was the primary obstacle to his return to the community. Patient number 13,212, an educable mongoloid boy with the capacity to participate in many educable and trainable activities and who can be helped by an active special elementary program in public schools, was institutionalized in Polk State Hospital for a 1 to 2 week period so that the other members of his family could go on a family vacation. Patient number 288, a mentally retarded child, was placed in Western State Hospital because of a poor family situation. The mother of the child did not get along well with the child, and the family was afraid that she would have another nervous breakdown if the child were not placed in Western State Hospital. Patient number 281, a mentally retarded child, was placed in a state institution because she had become a management problem to both her parents and the community. Patient number 15, a mentally retarded child, was placed in Western State Hospital because the child interfered with the routine of the household and disturbed family members. The placement was based on a fear that if the child remained in his home, the mother might break down, the marriage of the child's parents might end in separation, the father's health might fail, and an adolescent daughter might be pushed into a premature marriage to escape an unhappy home. Class members have also been committed to mental hospitals for running away, robbing a gas station, stealing in general, chasing and striking a girl, arson, delinquent behavior in general, truancy, physical ailments such as colitis and weight loss, school phobia, and drug overdose.

 At the time this action was filed defendants were all Pennsylvania officials with specific duties under the Act. Defendant Jack B. Kremens as Hospital Director of Haverford State Hospital was charged under 50 P.S. §§ 4102 and 4203 with supervision and administration of Haverford State Hospital. It was to Kremens or his delegates that application for admission and commitment under §§ 402 (b) and 403 (b) of the Act had to be made. Defendant Helene Wohlegemuth as Secretary of Public Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Secretary) had the power under 50 P.S. §§ 4201 and 4202(a) to enforce the Act, to make all regulations necessary and appropriate to the proper accomplishment of the Act, and to operate and assign functions to all state facilities. Defendant William B. Beach as the Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Mental Retardation of the Department of Public Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had the general authority to supervise and regulate mental health facilities in Pennsylvania.

 At the outset, defendants contend that since the purpose of the Act is to meet the child's needs through treatment and rehabilitation rather than to punish the child by incarceration for what he has done, the requirements of due process do not apply to the institutionalizing of children under §§ 402 and 403. *fn7" Defendants proceed to argue that if we determine that due process applies, we should find that in light of Pennsylvania's interest in protecting the child, preserving the family unit, maintaining the rights of parents to the custody, care, and upbringing of their children, and protecting society, the present statutes and regulations satisfy any due process requirements. Finally, defendants argue that since under §§ 402 and 403 the parents, guardians ad litem, or persons standing in loco parentis must set into motion the commitment machinery, these persons effectively waive any due process rights of plaintiffs and their class.

 DISCUSSION

 Under the constitutional guarantee of procedural due process, we have developed a system whereby a person who may be subjected to a grievous loss of liberty is entitled to adequate procedural safeguards. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974). Generally, the state is required to provide substantial procedures when there is the possibility of erroneously and wrongfully depriving persons of their liberty by committing them to mental institutions. See, concurring Opinion of Chief Justice Burger in O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S. Ct. 2486, 45 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1975); Lynch v. Baxley, 386 F. Supp. 378 (M.D. Ala. 1974); Lessard v. Schmidt, 349 F. Supp. 1078 (E.D. Wis.), remanded, 414 U.S. 473, 94 S. Ct. 713, 38 L. Ed. 2d 661 (1974), redecided 379 F. Supp. 1376 (1974), remanded 421 U.S. 967, 44 L. Ed. 2d 445, 95 S. Ct. 1943, 43 U.S.L.W. 3600 (May 12, 1975); Dixon v. Attorney General Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 325 F. Supp. 966 (M.D. Pa. 1971). These safeguards attempt to protect persons from an arbitrary or erroneous erroneous deprivation of liberty or property, whether that deprivation be imposed for benevolent or punitive reasons. They are "our best instruments for the distillation and evaluation of essential facts from the conflicting welter of data that life and our adversary methods present." They "enhance the possibility that truth will emerge from the confrontations of opposing versions and conflicting data." In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 21, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527, 87 S. Ct. 1428 (1966). As Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said: "The history of American freedom is, in no small measure, the history of procedure." Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 414, 89 L. Ed. 1029, 65 S. Ct. 781 (1945) (separate opinion) cited by the majority in In re Gault, at 21. If we are to preserve our traditional liberty we must scrutinize with care any claim that it is being arbitrarily denied.

 In deciding whether the requirements of due process apply in any given case, the threshold question is whether the interest of the complaining party is within the contemplation of the liberty or property language of the Fourteenth Amendment. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481, 33 L. Ed. 2d 484, 92 S. Ct. 2593 (1971). The particular question here is whether or not a child's interest in not being institutionalized under §§ 402 and 403 is safeguarded by the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants would have us find that because Pennsylvania is acting as parens patriae and not as an adversary, and because the admission and commitment proceedings are civil, not criminal, in nature, plaintiffs and their class may not complain of the deprivation of procedures available in criminal cases. Such a finding would ignore that the child is involuntarily removed from his home and familiar surroundings and is committed to an institution where "[he] suddenly faces the regimented routine of ward life and daily confrontation with state employees, however capable, rather than family and friends." In re Ballay, 157 U.S. App. D.C. 59, 482 F.2d 648, 669 (D.C. Cir. 1973). As the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit noted in Heryford v. Parker, 396 F.2d 393, 396 (1968):

 
It matters not whether the proceedings be labeled "civil" or "criminal" or whether the subject matter be mental instability or juvenile delinquency. It is the likelihood of involuntary incarceration -- whether for punishment as an adult for a crime, rehabilitation as a juvenile for delinquency, or treatment and training as a feeble-minded or mental incompetent -- which commands observance of the constitutional safeguards of due process.

 Defendants' contention also ignores the stigma associated with civil commitment which some commentators and courts have noted may render civil commitment a more lasting abridgement of personal freedom than imprisonment for commission of a crime. *fn8" The child who faces the possibility of being physically confined for an indeterminate period with all of the ramifications of such confinement clearly has an interest within the contemplation of the liberty and property language of the Fourteenth Amendment.

 Having decided that due process applies, we are left with the questions of what process is due, Morrissey v. Brewer supra, at 481, and whether this process may effectively be waived by plaintiffs' parents, guardians ad litem, or persons standing in loco parentis. *fn9" Before discussing the process due, we shall first consider whether or not parents, guardians ad litem, or persons standing in loco parentis may effectively waive the personal rights of children, since such a finding obviates the need to decide whether the present procedure violates the constitutional right of plaintiffs to procedural due process. The question is both difficult and unique. Viewing the issue as whether or not a parent may effectively waive personal rights of a child when the child objects to the waiver creates a confrontation between a liberty interest of plaintiffs we find constitutionally protected and the consistently recognized authority of parents to direct the rearing of their children. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 639, 20 L. Ed. 2d 195, 88 S. Ct. 1274 (1968).

 We presume that in most instances parents, proceeding in utmost good faith, acting for the child, in the child's best interests, properly guide, protect, and control their children. In Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 231, 232, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1971) the Supreme Court, stating that it was not determining the proper ...


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