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JULIA S. YEZERSKI v. JOHN FONG (04/22/81)

decided: April 22, 1981.

JULIA S. YEZERSKI, APPELLANT
v.
JOHN FONG, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SUPERINTENDENT, HAVERFORD STATE HOSPITAL ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County in the case of Julia S. Yezerski v. John Fong, Individually and as Superintendent, Haverford State Hospital; and O. Warren Higgins, Individually and as Mental Health Review Officer of Delaware County; and Dr. Theodore Barry, Individually and as Staff Psychiatrist at Haverford State Hospital; and Dr. David Wicoff, Individually and as Staff Psychiatrist at Haverford State Hospital; and Dr. J. Hummell, Individually and as a Physician associated with Taylor Hospital, Ridley Park, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, No. 78-12209.

COUNSEL

Penelope A. Boyd, with her Gail M. Whitaker, for appellant.

Nicholas J. Emper, with him Murray S. Eckell, Eckell, Sparks, Vadino, Auerbach and Monte, and John S. J. Brooks and Stanley Slipakoff, Deputy Attorneys General, for appellees.

President Judge Crumlish, and Judges Williams, Jr. and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig. Judge Wilkinson, Jr. did not participate in the decision in this case.

Author: Craig

[ 58 Pa. Commw. Page 568]

Appellant instituted this action in July 1978 by filing a petition in equity in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, which requests, inter alia, (1) declarations that the involuntary emergency commitments of her on June 13 and July 5, 1978 were invalid, because not complying with the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA)*fn1 and violative of her right to due process under the state and federal constitutions, and also requests (2) an order requiring the destruction of the state hospital records generated by those commitments.

The trial court dismissed appellant's petition, sustaining a preliminary objection on the ground that, because this court has exclusive original jurisdiction over Commonwealth agencies such as a state hospital, pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 761(a)(1), the common pleas court had no jurisdiction to grant the requested order of destruction, characterized by the court as the "ultimate" relief sought. The appeal was first taken to the Superior Court, which transferred the case to us upon appellees' motion.

The court's conclusion that it could not issue such an order against the hospital director is correct, Wolfe v. Beal, 23 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 475, 353 A.2d 481 (1976), rev'd. on other grounds, 477 Pa. 477, 384 A.2d 1187 (1978); however, that does not compel the conclusion that the court had no jurisdiction over the case brought to it.

[ 58 Pa. Commw. Page 569]

We reiterate that which our Supreme Court recited in Studio Theaters, Inc. v. Washington, 418 Pa. 73, 77, 209 A.2d 802, 804-5 (1965):

In Zerbe Township School District v. Thomas, 353 Pa. 162, 44 A.2d 566, we stated the principles which are here applicable, namely that even though a plaintiff had no standing to bring his action, even though his complaint be demurrable, even though he failed to establish its allegations, even though the court should finally conclude that the relief he seeks should not be granted, not any or all of these circumstances would enter into, much less determine, the question whether the court had jurisdiction of the litigation. We there pointed out that the test of jurisdiction was the competency of the court to determine controversies of the general class to which the case presented for its consideration belonged, -- whether the court had power to enter upon the inquiry, not whether it might ultimately decide that it was unable to grant the relief sought in the particular case. . . . (Emphasis in original.)

Thus the relevant question is not whether the trial court could have or should have granted an order of destruction, but is, rather, whether the court had the power to inquire into the general class to which the case presented belonged, i.e., cases of commitments ordered pursuant to the MHPA.

Section 113 of the MHPA, 50 P.S. § 7113, provides that "[a]ctions requesting damages, declaratory judgment, injunction, mandamus, writs of prohibition, habeas corpus, including challenges to the legality of detention or degree of restraint, and any other remedies or relief granted by law may be ...


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