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In re Bennett

Decided: February 23, 1981.

IN THE MATTER OF ALICE BENNETT, AN ALLEGED MENTAL INCOMPETENT


Yaccarino, J.s.c.

Yaccarino

[180 NJSuper Page 407] This matter came before the court on a notice of motion for an order vacating the judgment of incompetency of Alice Bennett

on the grounds that this court is without jurisdiction to grant such an order by reason of plaintiff's lack of standing.

The material facts may be stated as follows:

On August 29, 1980 plaintiff Protective Services for the Elderly, located at 191 Bath Avenue, Long Branch, New Jersey, filed a complaint seeking to have Alice Bennett declared incompetent as a result of unsoundness of mind. Plaintiff also sought the appointment of a guardian of her person and property.

Plaintiff alleged that it had an interest in the action by reason of its status as an agency funded from the Office on Aging through Family and Children's Services to protect the frail elderly in Monmouth County who are in need of crisis intervention. Plaintiff's involvement stemmed from a request by the Monmouth County Board of Social Services, Freehold, New Jersey, to provide protective services to Alice Bennett, who had been found wandering in the streets of Belmar, New Jersey.

Pursuant to statute and court rule, this court conducted an incompetency hearing and, upon the basis of the testimony of Dr. Carlos A. Perosio and Alice Bennett, declared her to be incompetent.

Alice Bennett is 82 years old. She has two grandsons, the movant Harold Bennett and Francis Broda, and a niece Barbara Chase.

Neither the present statute, N.J.S.A. 3A:6-35, nor the applicable court rule, R. 4:83-1 et seq. , defines standing. The answer lies in history.

The authority of the early Chancellor in England to conduct proceedings of this kind did not exist by virtue of his office or as part of his general extraordinary jurisdiction. The power was derived by special authority from the sovereign in whom, as parens patriae , the care of idiots and lunatics was vested. Bispham's Principles of Equity (6 ed. 1899), 677; 4 Pomeroy's Equity Jurisprudence (5 ed. 1941), § 1311 at 883. The King delegated his authority over such persons to the Chancellor by

means of an official instrument called a "sign manual." Bispham, supra; Pomeroy, supra. Originally the effect of the delegation was merely to give the Chancellor the power to grant the custody of the lunatic, "but after the Court of Chancery became well established, successive holders of the great seal imported into the exercise of their special jurisdiction under the sign manual all the powers which they wielded as chiefs of the Court of Chancery" (emphasis supplied). Bispham, supra. See, also, 4 Pomeroy, supra , § 1312 at 884: "The proceedings in which this jurisdiction is exercised (in England) are substantially as follows: Some friend of the alleged lunatic addresses a petition to the Chancellor personally, or other judge in lunacy. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

On November 21, 1794 the people of this State granted the administration over lunatics to the Chancellor, who was at that time also the Governor. Paterson's Laws 125. The act provided that the Chancellor should have the care of idiots and lunatics and provided for the safekeeping of them and their lands and tenements, goods and chattels, that they and their households might be supported, that no waste or destruction should come to their property, and that in case of their recovery their estates should be restored to them; otherwise at ...


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