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In re Petition of Daniel Van Winkle

Decided: January 3, 1950.

IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITION OF DANIEL VAN WINKLE FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS


On appeal from Passaic County Court.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Case, Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.

Burling

[3 NJ Page 350] This is an appeal by Robena Van Winkle and Joseph Greendyke, co-guardians of Daniel Van Winkle, to review an order dated August 19, 1949, of the Passaic County Court for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus ad

subjiciendum and the judgment entered pursuant thereto by said Court on August 25, 1949. The appeal is addressed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court but has been certified by the Supreme Court on its own motion. Rule 1:5-1(a).

On June 16, 1947, by an inquisition pursuant to a commission de lunatico inquirendo issued out of the former Court of Chancery, Daniel Van Winkle was found to be an habitual drunkard and incapable of managing himself or personal property and real estate of which he was seized. These proceedings were confirmed by the Court of Chancery on July 1, 1947. Shortly thereafter Robena Van Winkle, who is the aunt of Daniel Van Winkle, and Joseph Greendyke were appointed co-guardians of Daniel Van Winkle by the Judge of the Orphans Court of Passaic County.

On November 17, 1948, pursuant to a petition filed by the co-guardians, an order was made by the County Court of Passaic County confining Daniel Van Winkle as an insane person in the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane at Greystone Park, in Morris County, New Jersey, to which institution the said Daniel Van Winkle had been committed on October 23, 1948. The order provided that the said Daniel Van Winkle be confined "until he be restored to reason, or removed or discharged, according to law;".

On August 18, 1949, while Daniel Van Winkle was confined to Greystone Park, he signed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum addressed to the Passaic County Court charging that his detention was illegal.

On August 19, 1949, the Judge of the Passaic County Court made an order for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus returnable before him on August 25, 1949, which order provided that notice be given to Robena Van Winkle and Joseph Greendyke, co-guardians of said Daniel Van Winkle, they being the persons upon whose application Daniel Van Winkle was committed to Greystone Park.

On August 22, 1949, a writ of habeas corpus issued out of Passaic County Court directed to Marcus A. Curry, Medical Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey

State Hospital at Greystone Park, Morris County, New Jersey, commanding him to have the body of Daniel Van Winkle before the Judge of the Passaic County Court on August 25, 1949.

On August 25, 1949, a hearing was held by the Judge of the Passaic County Court pursuant to the writ of habeas corpus. Counsel for the co-guardians objected to the jurisdiction of the Court and offered no testimony at the hearing; although he did cross-examine the Senior Resident Physician of Greystone Park who testified that Daniel Van Winkle was not insane at the time of the hearing on August 25, 1949. The only testimony offered being that Daniel Van Winkle was then sane, the Judge of the Passaic County Court entered a judgment that Daniel Van Winkle was then sane and ordered his discharge forthwith.

Appellants ground their appeal on the theory that the County Court of Passaic County had no jurisdiction to issue a writ of habeas corpus directed to the Medical Superintendent of Greystone Park because (a) the case is a civil matter and (b) Greystone Park is situated in Morris County, and that therefore the judgment entered on August 25, 1949, is void. Appellants contend that the County Courts, which have been invested with the jurisdiction of the former Common Pleas Courts under the 1947 Constitution, are limited to the issuance of writs of habeas corpus in criminal cases where the person is confined within the county. They contend that there is no jurisdiction in said courts to issue such a writ except as is given by R.S. 2:82-14 which provides as follows:

"The power and authority to issue writs of habeas corpus shall be and reside in:

a. The supreme court during its sitting, or the chief justice or an associate justice, at chambers during any term or vacation of the supreme court;

b. The judge of a court of common pleas, who shall have concurrent jurisdiction in his county with the justices of the supreme court to grant such writ in all criminal cases where a person may be confined in prison or detained in custody, and to hear and determine the same in like manner as though the application had been made before a justice of the supreme court."

It is advanced on behalf of the respondent that, (1) the Passaic County Court had jurisdiction to issue the writ of habeas corpus, to adjudicate the question of respondent's sanity; and to order his discharge; (2) the question of the court's jurisdiction is now academic and (3) the appellants have no standing to appeal because they are not aggrieved by the decision.

We shall proceed first to determine the question of the jurisdiction of the County Court to issue the writ of habeas corpus. Respondent's contention that the County Court had jurisdiction to issue the writ of habeas corpus is based upon the following reasoning: The County Court is the successor to the former Court of Common Pleas. The latter mentioned court succeeded to all rights inherent in the English Court of Common Pleas; habeas corpus was a common law writ; the Court of Common Pleas in England had the common law right to issue the writ and that, ergo, the present County Courts have the inherent common law right to issue such writ.

An examination of the law and the history of our County Courts leads us to a contrary conclusion. By the 1947 Constitution and legislation thereunder, the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas was preserved and made to form a part of the jurisdiction of the County Court. 1947 Constitution, Art. VI, Sec. I, Par. 1, Art. VI, Sec. IV, Par. 1, Art. XI, Sec. IV, Pars. 2, 4, Art. XI, Sec. I, Par. 2, P.L. 1948, c. 365. The County Court, accordingly, has been invested with the jurisdiction of the former Common Pleas Court, as well as of the former Orphans Court, Court of Oyer and Terminer, Court of Quarter Sessions and Court of Special Sessions. The Common Pleas Court, the origin of which is traced to the ordinance of Lord Cornbury in 1704, was preserved inferentially by the 1776 Constitution, Art. XII, and was retained by the 1844 Constitution, since at the time of the adoption of that constitution it was one of the "inferior ...


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