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JOE BELL v. HONORABLE RICHARD THORNBURGH (09/22/80)

decided: September 22, 1980.

JOE BELL, BY HIS GUARDIAN AND FATHER, TIMOTHY BELL; VICKI BOYER, BY HER GUARDIAN AND SISTER, ROMAINE REN; LEO GERLETSKI, BY HIS GUARDIAN AND BROTHER, FRANK GERLETSKI; SHARON KHOURR, BY HER GUARDIAN AND MOTHER, HELEN BOYER; SAM KANYUCK, BY HIS GUARDIAN AND BROTHER, ALBERT KANYUCK; MARIE LAROSA, BY HER GUARDIAN AND HUSBAND, MICHAEL LAROSA; IDA LISNOV, BY HER GUARDIAN AND DAUGHTER, FLORENCE WEINER; JAMES MORAN, BY HIS GUARDIANS AND PARENTS, MR. AND MRS. JAMES MORAN; IRENE NICE, BY HER GUARDIAN AND DAUGHTER, CATHERINE; BEVERLY SMITH, BY HER GUARDIAN AND HUSBAND, CHARLES SMITH; ALEX WERON, BY HIS GUARDIAN AND SISTER, HELEN LEE; WILLIAM WUNCH, BY HIS GUARDIAN AND MOTHER, MILDRED WUNCH; PATIENTS AT RETREAT STATE HOSPITAL ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, AND FRANK CROSSIN, COUNTY COMMISSIONER OF LUZERNE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA AND JOHN MCDONALD, TRUSTEE OF RETREAT STATE HOSPITAL, AND FRANCIS J. O'CONNEL, SENATOR, 20TH SENATORIAL DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND BERNARD O'BRIEN, REPRESENTATIVE, 121ST DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND RONALD GATSKI, REPRESENTATIVE, 116TH DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND FRED J. SHUPNIK, REPRESENTATIVE, 119TH DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND RAPHAEL MUSTO, REPRESENTATIVE, 118TH DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND GEORGE HASAY, REPRESENTATIVE, 117TH DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND FRANKLIN COSLETT, REPRESENTATIVE, 120TH DISTRICT, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND COUNCIL 13, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY & MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO, BY ITS TRUSTEE AD LITEM, GERALD W. MCENTEE, APPELLEES,
v.
HONORABLE RICHARD THORNBURGH, GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA: DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE: HELEN O'BANNON, SECRETARY OF PUBLIC WELFARE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; JOHN CUDDY, EXECUTIVE DEPUTY SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; KATHRYN MCKENNA, REGIONAL SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES; WALTER BARAN, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES, APPELLANTS



No. 80-2-283, No. 80-2-296

COUNSEL

Jonathan Vipond, III, Philadelphia, for appellants.

Richard Kirschner, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Kauffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Larsen

[ 491 Pa. Page 266]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal from a preliminary injunction issued by the President Judge of the Commonwealth Court (sitting as a Chancellor in equity) which, among other things,*fn1 prohibited the Commonwealth from proceeding with its plans to close Retreat State Hospital ("Retreat") and prohibited the transfer of Retreat's patients to other state facilities. For the reasons stated below, we reverse that order and dissolve the injunction.

Appellants are the Governor, the Commonwealth, the Department of General Services and the Secretary of that Department, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) and the Secretary of that Department, and a number of subordinate officials in DPW. In March of 1980, DPW Secretary Helen O'Bannon announced appellants' decision to close Retreat, a state-owned and operated mental health facility in Luzerne County providing inpatient services to mentally ill residents, and disclosed a plan for transferring the residents to other state mental health facilities.*fn2

[ 491 Pa. Page 267]

Appellants' decision predictably proved unpopular with appellees-the employees of Retreat (Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), a Luzerne County Commissioner, a member of Retreat's Board of Trustees, seven members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly from Luzerne County, and twelve persons who are guardians of residents at Retreat. Appellees presented a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction to the Chancellor seeking to enjoin the closing of Retreat, which motion was granted following hearings and argument. The Chancellor issued an order on April 14, 1980 preliminarily enjoining appellants from transferring mentally disabled patients at Retreat to other mental health facilities without the express consent of the patient or his or her guardian and enjoining appellants from reducing the staff or level of operations at Retreat. Subsequent modifications of that order substantially restricted the appellants and their agents from attempting to solicit the consent of the patients. This expedited appeal followed.

Our standard of review of preliminary injunctions is well settled.

[ 491 Pa. Page 268]

As a preliminary consideration, we recognize that on an appeal from the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction, we do not inquire into the merits of the controversy, but only examine the record to determine if there were any apparently reasonable grounds for the action of the court below. Only if it is plain that no grounds exist to support the decree or that the rule of law relied upon was palpably erroneous or misapplied will we interfere with the decision of the Chancellor. Intraworld Inc. v. Girard Trust Bank, 461 Pa. 343, 336 A.2d 316 (1975); Credit Alliance Corp. v. Philadelphia Minit-Man Car Wash Corp., 450 Pa. 367, 301 A.2d 816 (1973); Zebra v. Pittsburgh School District, 449 Pa. 432, 296 A.2d 748 (1972). "In order to sustain a preliminary injunction, the plaintiff's Page 268} right to relief must be clear, the need for relief must be immediate, and the injury must be irreparable if the injunction is not granted." Zebra v. Pittsburgh School District, 449 Pa. at 437, 296 A.2d at 750. (emphasis added). Roberts v. School District of Scranton, 462 Pa. 464, 469, 341 A.2d 475, 478 (1975). (emphasis added)

In the instant case, the appellees' right to relief was far from clear-in fact, there was no right to relief. Therefore, the preliminary injunction must be vacated.

Appellees premised their Motion for Preliminary Injunction on two contentions:

"[I] The proposed transfer of Retreat patients to other state facilities violates Section 207 of the Mental Health Procedures Act, Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 817, No. 143, as amended, 50 P.S. § 7207 . . . which states that patients who are voluntarily committed to state hospitals may not be transferred without their consent.

[II] The transfer of patients without their consent will subject them to "transfer trauma," a recognized syndrome which will cause substantial physical and psychological damage to those transferred. Transfer trauma will, in all likelihood, have lethal consequences for a number of patients. The transferring of Retreat patients thus violates Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, in that it denies to the patients the right to enjoy life and liberty; and the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, in that it denies patients life, liberty and property interests without due process of law." Brief for Appellees at 2-3.

Contention I

Alleged Violation of Section 207 of the Mental Health Procedures Act

This section provides "A person who is in voluntary treatment may not be transferred from one facility to another without his written consent." 50 P.S. § 7207 (supp.1979-80). The section is silent with regards to the situation where transfer is required due to the closing of a particular facility,

[ 491 Pa. Page 269]

    and its application to such a situation is, therefore, a matter to be resolved by statutory interpretation.

Since almost all of Retreat's residents are voluntarily committed patients, appellees interpret section 207 as prohibiting the closing of Retreat as, they argue, closing would necessitate transfers without the consent of the patients in derogation of that section. Such an interpretation ignores the purpose of the Act and the intent of the General Assembly, and leads to an unreasonable and unwarranted result.

We are guided by several salient provisions of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 1501-1991 (supp. pamphlet 1979-80). First, the object of all statutory interpretation and construction is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly, giving effect, if possible, to all provisions of a statute. Section 1921(a). Section 1921(b) further provides that "[w]hen the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit." (emphasis added). Applied to pending transfers of voluntarily committed patients from a facility in the process of closing, section 207 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (the Act) is certainly not "clear and free from all ambiguity." Thus, we must go beyond section 207 to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature.

Some of the relevant considerations are the occasion and necessity for the statute, the circumstances under which it was enacted, the object to be obtained and the consequences of a particular interpretation. Section 1921(c). Further, section 1922 of the Statutory Construction Act establishes certain presumptions in ascertaining legislative intent, as follows:

In ascertaining the intention of the General Assembly in the enactment of a statute the following presumptions, among others, may be used:

[ 491 Pa. Page 270]

(1) That the General Assembly does not intend a result that is absurd, impossible of execution or unreasonable.

(2) That the General Assembly intends the entire statute to be effective and certain.

(5) That the General Assembly intends to favor the public interest as against any private interest. (emphasis added).

Applying these principles of statutory construction, and a little common sense, it is apparent the legislature did not intend section 207 of the Act to be used as a bar to the closing of a particular institution. It is the appellants-not the patients-who are statutorily charged with the responsibilities and duties of maintaining the state-wide system of mental health facilities and programs and of "assur[ing] the availability of adequate treatment to persons who are mentally ill." Section 102 of the Act, 50 P.S. § 7102. Appellees' interpretation of section 207 would lead to the unreasonable result that a few patients could, by withholding their consent to transfer, prevent the closing of a particular facility which had been deemed unsafe, uneconomical and unnecessary by those who are charged with the responsibility to make such decisions, and are in fact, in a better position to evaluate and analyze the needs of the entire mental health system.

Section 104, 50 P.S. § 7104 of the Act requires that adequate treatment shall be provided to all persons in treatment who are subject to the Act, and provides that adequate inpatient treatment shall include "such accommodations, diet, heat, light, sanitary facilities, clothing, recreation, education and medical care as are necessary to maintain decent, safe and healthful living conditions." (emphasis added). DPW must assure the availability and equitable provision of adequate mental health and mental ...


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