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MEDYNSKI v. MARGOLIS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


January 8, 1975

ELSIE MEDYNSKI Plaintiff
v.
LAWRENCE S. MARGOLIS Defendant

The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON

ORDER

 This case came before this Three-Judge Court, The Honorable Spottswood W. Robinson, III, United States Circuit Court, The Honorable John Lewis Smith, Jr., United States District Court, and The Honorable June L. Green, United States District Court, presiding, and the issues having been duly considered and a decision having been duly rendered, it is this 7th day of January 1975,

 ORDERED and ADJUDGED that defendant's Motion to Dismiss be and the same hereby is granted; and it is further

 ORDERED that this case be and the same hereby is dismissed.

 SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III

 JOHN L SMITH

 JONE L GREEN

 Circuit Judge Robinson would vote to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, for the reasons fully set forth in his dissenting opinion.

 This matter is before the Court on defendant's Motion to Dismiss *fn1" and plaintiff's opposition thereto. Pursuant to this Court's Order of February 21, 1974, the parties also submitted supplemental memoranda which the Court has considered. Oral argument by counsel was presented on May 8, 1974.

 Plaintiff Elsie Medynski alleges, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, *fn2" that the procedure for involuntary detention and commitment of mentally ill persons, pursuant to 21 D.C. Code § 901 et seq. (Mentally Ill Persons Found in Certain Federal Reservations) is violative of due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiff Medynski was detained on a federal reservation, the Washington National Airport in Virginia, pursuant to 21 D.C. Code § 901 et seq., supra. She was thereafter admitted to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in conformity with the statutory provisions of § 901 et seq. The plaintiff has since been released from the Hospital and has presumably returned to Canada, her place of residence.

 The first issue before the Court is that of mootness because of plaintiff Medynski's discharge from the Hospital during the pendency of this litigation. The Court concludes that this case is not moot. Inherent in mental health proceedings is the occurrence of short-term detention and/or confinement. In the case of John Ballay, Judge Tamm concluded, as we must, that mental health proceedings often fall outside the customary definition of mootness. In Re: John Ballay, 157 U.S. App. D.C. 59, 482 F.2d 648, 651-3, ( D.C. Cir. 1973). The Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed this narrow "capable of repetition, yet evading review" exception to the mootness doctrine. DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 94 S. Ct. 1704, 40 L. Ed. 2d 164 (decided April 23, 1974), citing Southern Pacific Terminal Co. v. ICC, 219 U.S. 498, 515, 55 L. Ed. 310, 31 S. Ct. 279 (1911); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147, 93 S. Ct. 705 (1973). Plaintiff Medynski may, in the future, attempt to travel by air in the United States and Canada and be forced to stop at the National Airport. She may again be detained pursuant to § 901, supra, and advance the same alleged violations of the Constitution. Plaintiff should not therefore be deprived of an opportunity to be heard simply because she is discharged from the Hospital before her legal remedies have been perfected.

 An additional, independent reason for deciding that this case is not moot exists -- "the collateral consequences of being adjudged mentally ill remain to plague appellant". In Re: John Ballay, supra, at 651-53. A case is moot only if it is shown that there is no possibility that any collateral legal consequence will be imposed on the basis of a challenged conviction. Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 57, 20 L. Ed. 2d 917, 88 S. Ct. 1889 (1968). Our Court of Appeals has subsequently extended this holding to cases involving contested civil commitment adjudications. Justin v. Jacobs, 145 U.S. App. D.C. 355, 449 F.2d 1017, 1018-20 ( D.C. Cir. 1970). In the case at bar, plaintiff may suffer the collateral consequences of rehospitalization based on this "past record" of hospitalization. Further, her non-citizen status may be affected in that her right to travel, work or reside in the United States may be restricted by virtue of having been found mentally ill. Plaintiff therefore needs to be advised by a court of law whether her complaint has any on-going validity.

 Turning now to the substance of plaintiff's claim, *fn3" the Court concludes that 21 D.C. § 901 et seq. and the application thereof does not present a substantial question of deprivation of the plaintiff's right to due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiff bases her complaint on a comparison between the detention provisions of 21 D.C. Code § 901 et seq. (Mentally Ill Persons Found in Certain Federal Reservations) and the detention provisions of 21 D.C. Code § 501 et seq. (Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill). Plaintiff alleges that the two statutes do not contain the same provisions and that therefore those mentally ill persons detained on federal reservations adjacent to the District of Columbia (§ 901) are treated differently from those detained within the District of Columbia (§ 501).

  The Court does not find that the differences between 21 D.C. Code § 901 and 21 D.C. Code § 501 rise to the level of presenting a substantial constitutional question. A reading of the two statutes reveals some minor procedural differences, *fn4" but none which can be construed by this Court as significant. In fact, this Court is guided by the Supreme Court's warning "that a statute should be interpreted, if fairly possible, in such a way as to free it from not insubstantial constitutional doubts". Lynch v. Overholser, 369 U.S. 705, 711, 8 L. Ed. 2d 211, 82 S. Ct. 1063 (1962) and cases cited therein. The comparison which plaintiff finds so damaging, in reality reveals that the two statutes are to be read together in a parallel and consistent fashion. For example, 21 D.C. Code § 906 specifically provides that the laws of the District of Columbia ; that is, 21 D.C. Code § 501 et seq. apply to the adjudications of those found mentally ill under § 901 et seq. That this was Congress' intent is clear since § 901 et seq. has been changed twice since the passage of § 501 et seq. Therefore, the two statutes, when read together, do not present any major constitutional inconsistencies.

 The Court further notes that simply because Congress has legislated two statutes for detaining mentally ill persons, one applicable to the Metropolitan District of Columbia area containing federal reservations and one applicable to the District of Columbia does not present a constitutionally suspect situation. Because the District of Columbia is neither a state nor territory, but a federal enclave, housing the federal government, Congress may legislate a detention statute applicable only within the District. District of Columbia v. Carter, 409 U.S. 418, 34 L. Ed. 2d 613, 93 S. Ct. 602 (1972). The District's statute need not contain the same provisions as those embodied in surrounding jurisdictions to pass constitutional muster.

 The Court therefore concludes that the claim raised by the plaintiff does not present a substantial constitutional question which would justify further consideration by us.

 In accordance with this Opinion, this Court would dismiss this action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 Circuit Judge Spottswood W. Robinson, III would dismiss the action for failure of plaintiff's complaint to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, as more fully set forth in his concurring opinion.

 John L. Smith

 June L. Green


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