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Scott v. Plante

decided: February 5, 1981.



Before Gibbons, Weis and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Gibbons


Allen Bodine Scott appeals, and certain defendants cross-appeal, from a final judgment which disposed of all Scott's claims after trial of his numerous complaints charging violations of his civil rights. Several of those claims were submitted to a jury, which returned a verdict in his favor on two of them and in favor of the defendants on one. On a post-trial motion the district court granted partial relief from the verdicts in Scott's favor. Those claims that were not submitted to the jury were tried to the court, which denied all requests for injunctive, declaratory and habeas corpus relief. What remains is a judgment on the jury verdict of one dollar nominal damages for violation of Scott's constitutional rights. We vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Scott has been involuntarily confined to the Vroom Building, a maximum security section of the Trenton State Psychiatric Hospital, for approximately 25 years. In 1954 he was indicted by a grand jury in Burlington County, New Jersey, for the murder of his grandmother. In February 1955 a hearing was held in Burlington County in which a jury determined that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial, and an order was entered that he be removed from the County Jail and confined to Trenton State Hospital "until such time as he may be restored to reason, but not to be released from such confinement except on the order of this court."*fn1 Scott was placed in the Vroom Building, where he has remained continuously, except for brief periods when he was returned to Burlington County to stand trial on the indictment. No trial ever took place. On October 7, 1968 the indictment was dismissed on the ground that Scott was insane when the offense was committed. Upon the dismissal of the indictment he was returned to Trenton State Hospital "until the further order of (the Burlington County) Court."*fn2

In July of 1973 Scott filed in the District Court the first of a series of pro se complaints addressed to the fact and conditions of his confinement in the Vroom Building. By December 30, 1974 five such complaints had been filed. Scott repeatedly requested appointment of counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), but all such requests were denied. Early in 1975 all his complaints were summarily dismissed, and Scott appealed. We granted a motion for a certificate of probable cause, 28 U.S.C. § 2253, and appointed counsel. In Scott v. Plante, 532 F.2d 939 (3d Cir. 1976), we reversed. Reviewing his complaints and the pleadings and affidavits on file, we discerned five separate claims:

1. That he had been subjected to the involuntary administration of psychotherapeutic substances, 532 F.2d at 945;

2. that he was being confined to the Vroom Building without treatment, 532 F.2d at 947;

3. that the physical conditions at the Vroom Building subjected him to violations of federally protected rights, 532 F.2d at 947;

4. that his confinement in the Vroom Building after the dismissal of the indictment was unconstitutional, 532 F.2d at 948; and

5. that the procedures by which New Jersey determined from time to time that his confinement must continue did not meet minimum federal due process requirements. 532 F.2d at 949.

We held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on Scott's involuntary medication claims, and in granting a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal on each of the remaining claims. In remanding for further proceedings we suggested that his request for the appointment of counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) be given serious consideration. 532 F.2d at 950.


This court's judgment reversing dismissal of Scott's complaints was received by the District Court on April 21, 1976. On August 17, 1976 the court appointed Michael J. Weintraub, Esq. to represent him. Scott was dissatisfied with this appointment, and moved that the court dismiss Mr. Weintraub, and appoint instead David Ferleger, Esq. of the Mental Patient Civil Liberties Project in Philadelphia. On September 2, 1976 that motion was denied. No progress was made in disposing of the case for a considerable period. Meanwhile Scott filed pro se applications for interim relief in the form of the appointment of a manager to run Trenton State Hospital and stop the abuses of which he complained, and for a change of venue. On November 21, 1977 an order was entered:

1. Michael J. Weintraub, Esq., of 227 East Hanover St., Trenton, N.J. 08608 is appointed as guardian ad litem for the plaintiff, Allen Bodine Scott, for these consolidated actions, and is to serve in that capacity as well as his attorney.

2. The stay of these consolidated proceedings pending appointment of a guardian ad litem is vacated.

3. The requirement that a single amended complaint be prepared and filed is vacated, but without precluding the taking of that step at or before entry of pretrial order.

4. The consolidated cases will be reinstated to the active civil calendar.

The order is unusual in several respects. First, there is nothing of record disclosing by what procedure or on what authority the court acted in appointing a guardian ad litem.*fn3 Second, there is no record of any order staying the proceedings pending such an appointment. Third, there is no record of an order requiring the filing of a single amended complaint. However, the absence of significant docket entries between September 2, 1976 and November 21, 1977 suggests that some action was taken by the court to stay the cases for reasons unknown.

On January 25, 1978 Michael J. Weintraub filed an amended complaint, bearing the docket numbers of the five consolidated cases which were before us on Scott's prior appeal. The prayers for relief of the amended complaint are quoted in the margin.*fn4 The factual allegations, while more concisely and artfully set out, preserve all the claims which we previously considered. The prayers for relief included virtually all modes of relief which it is within the power of the court to grant to the plaintiff. An answer was filed on behalf of all defendants on February 23, 1978. Thereafter on March 13, 1978 the court filed a memorandum and order granting leave to file an amended complaint. The memorandum and order refer to a prior order directing that an amended complaint be filed, and to an order vacating the order, neither of which appear of record. The memorandum also refers to another Scott complaint, No. 78-2367, in which he seeks habeas corpus relief, and directs that it be consolidated with the five cases we had previously consolidated. An order to that effect was entered on October 3, 1978, and the defendants' answer to the complaint in No. 78-2367 was filed seven days later. On October 18, 1978, thirty months after our mandate was received by the district court, a status conference was held. There is no record of what transpired at this conference. Nothing more transpired about scheduling the cases for trial until February 15, 1979, when the district judge to whom it was assigned sent a memorandum to Mr. Weintraub, and to the District Court clerk, but not to the Attorney General who was representing the defendants, asking to be advised "as to necessary time for final trial preparation so date can be set." Meanwhile Scott sent to this court and to other places a number of letters asking for disposition of his case. Finally, on April 23, 1979 an order was entered by the Chief Judge of the District Court reassigning the case to himself and reallocating the place of trial from Newark to Trenton. Chief Judge Fisher promptly scheduled a trial date and issued a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum for Scott's appearance. The trial commenced on May 31, 1979, 37 months after the date our mandate reached the district court, and 58 months after Scott first sought relief in the district court.


At the trial Scott testified and also presented the testimony of Dr. Robert Sadoff, a psychiatrist, and 58 exhibits. The exhibits were for the most part excerpts from the records about his condition and treatment maintained by Trenton Psychiatric Hospital during the course of his stay. Others dealt with the physical condition of the Vroom Building. Still others were written complaints by Scott and by his mother to various state officials, including defendants, respecting his treatment and the conditions he was being subjected to.

At the end of the plaintiff's case the court, on motion by the Attorney General, dismissed the State of New Jersey as a defendant, ruling that it was not a "person" subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court also dismissed as defendants Governor Brendan T. Byrne, on the grounds that there was no evidence he either participated in or knew of and allowed continuance of any wrong to Scott, and the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, because "I can't tell the Supreme Court to enforce their rules...." (Transcript, June 6, 1979, at 44). Motions to dismiss were rejected as to the remaining defendants. Dr. Ingre R. Plante and Dr. Martin Weinberg, who each held the positions of Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, and Ann Klein, State Commissioner of the Department of Institutions and Agencies, of which Trenton Psychiatric Hospital is a part.*fn5 The court also dismissed all of Scott's state law claims, which included false imprisonment, assault and battery, and malpractice. Neither the transcript nor the court's post-trial opinion discloses whether the state law claims were dismissed for failure of proof or as a matter of discretion with respect to the exercise of pendent jurisdiction. The effect of these rulings was to dismiss the State, the Governor, and the Supreme Court of New Jersey not only on the damage claims which were going to the jury, but also on any claims for injunctive or declaratory relief on either state or federal grounds. Dismissal of the pendent state law claims also withdrew from the case any possibility of an award of money damages or injunctive or declaratory relief on those claims.

The defendants' case included the testimony of Harvey Musikoff, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, who was from October 1977 to April 1978 Chief of the Forensic Section of that hospital, contained in the Vroom Building. Dr. Musikoff holds a Ph. D. in rehabilitation counseling and has taught forensic psychology. While he was on the stand five packets of hospital records, Exhibits D-1 through D-4 and Exhibit D-8, were marked in evidence, comprising all records relating to Scott for his entire stay in Vroom. The defendants also introduced Exhibit D-5, a group of documents dealing with requests to the Governor and the Legislature for additional funding for the Vroom Building over the past four or five years. Finally Exhibits D-6 and D-7 included various New Jersey State court orders dealing with Scott's confinement. The defendants presented no medical testimony. None of the three defendants left in the case testified. Instead, at the close of Dr. Musikoff's testimony they renewed their motion to dismiss the complaint. The court denied that motion.


Only the claims for money damages were submitted to the jury. Those were submitted in the form of special verdict interrogatories to which the defendants made no objection. The interrogatories and the jury's answers are as follows:


Thus the case was, with the defendants' apparent acquiescence, submitted on three separate theories, against three separate defendants, but with a request for a single verdict on compensatory damages and a single verdict on punitive damages. It appears, therefore, that the jury found the defendants jointly and severally liable for compensatory and punitive damages. The special verdict interrogatories predicate liability on deprivation of adequate treatment and on deprivation of due process with respect to the conditions of incarceration in the Vroom Building, but do not separate the damages among the two bases of recovery. Since the defendants did not in the trial court object to the form of the interrogatories either before or after the verdict, and do not on appeal argue that they were prejudiced by the way the questions were formulated, we must read them in a manner which reconciles them with the jurors' probable intention in light of the Court's instructions. Cf. Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd., 369 U.S. 355, 364, 82 S. Ct. 780, 786, 7 L. Ed. 2d 798 (1962); Barnhart v. Dollar Rent A Car Systems, Inc., 595 F.2d 914, 917 (3d Cir. 1979) (resolution of facially inconsistent answers to special interrogatories).

In its instruction to the jury the court observed:

[The] plaintiff breaks his claims against defendant(s) down to three categories: First, the right to treatment, secondly, the right to refuse treatment and thirdly, that the conditions of the Vroom Building, that is as you have heard them, were a violation of his Constitutional rights to due process.

The jury's verdict was adverse to Scott on the alleged violation of a right to refuse treatment, and he does not on appeal raise any question about that verdict. Thus we are concerned only with his right to ...

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