United States Johnson v. Shaughnessy/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

336 U.S. 806

United States Johnson  v.  Shaughnessy

 Argued: April 19, 20, 1949. --- Decided: May 9, 1949

The American Foreign Service at Stockholm issued to petitioner an immigration visa to come to the United States as a Swedish quota immigrant. On the ground that she was a mental defective, authorities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service declined to admit her into this country and ordered her detention at Ellis Island pending deportation to Sweden. She filed this habeas corpus proceeding contending that she was not a mental defective and challenging in several respects the legality of the exclusion order. The District Court discharged the writ and ordered petitioner remanded to the immigration authorities. 82 F.Supp. 36. The Court of Appeals affirmed, one judge dissenting. 170 F.2d 1009. Certiorari was granted because important questions were raised concerning administration of the immigration laws.

Section 3 of the Immigration Act of 1917 excludes from admission into this country certain classes of aliens deemed undesirable. Among those excluded are persons 'who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally * * * defective * * *.' 39 Stat. 874, 875, 8 U.S.C. § 136(d), 8 U.S.C.A. § 136(d). Section 16 of the Act [1] provides that mental examinations of arriving aliens shall be made by not less than two United States Public Health Service medical officers especially trained in the diagnosis of insanity and mental defects. The same section authorizes an appeal to a special board of medical officers of the Public Health Service for any alien who is certified by the two medical officers as a mental defective. Finally § 17 of the Act as amended, 8 U.S.C. § 153, 8 U.S.C.A. § 153, provides that boards of special inquiry shall be appointed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, subject to approval of the Attorney General. These boards of specia inquiry are granted 'authority to determine whether an alien who has been duly held shall be allowed to land or shall be deported.' It was a board of special inquiry of this kind that ordered petitioner excluded from the United States.

First. Two medical officers of the Public Health Service signed a certificate that petitioner was a mental defective. On appeal a board of three Public Health medical officers affirmed the finding of this certificate. Later when her case was under consideration by a board of special inquiry of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, petitioner asked for time to produce additional evidence to show that she was not a mental defective. The board refused to hear such evidence holding that it was bound by § 17 of the Immigration Act to accept as final the medical certification that she was a mental defective. Petitioner contends that this holding was error which invalidates the exclusion order. We hold that the Court of Appeals correctly rejected this contention.

Section 17 provides, with an exception not here relevant, that 'The decision of a board of special inquiry shall be based upon the certificate of the examining medical officer and * * * shall be final as to the rejection of aliens affected with * * * any mental * * * disability which would bring such aliens within any of the classes excluded from admission to the United States under section three of this Act.' We agree with the following statement of the Court of Appeals. 'A certificate by the medical board if its action conformed to the statute and regulations and its decision was made after a fair hearing was plainly intended to be conclusive.' 170 F.2d 1009, 1012. This conclusion is particularly compelling in the light of the legislative history referred to in that court's opinion. We therefore turn to the medical certificates to consider the contention that they were not issued as the result of the kind of examinations required by the statute and regulations, and that the certificates themselves failed to conform to those requirements.

Second. Petitioner attacks the validity of both the initial medical certificate and that of the appellate medical board, contending that they provide an inadequate basis for excluding her from the United States. The importance of these medical certificates is underscored by our holding that Congress has made the findings and conclusions in the certificates final on the question of whether an alien is so mentally defective that admission into the country must be denied. Congress has taken note of the crucial importance of this medical determination by prescribing certain minimum procedural requirements that the Public Health Service must follow, such as special qualifications of examining doctors, the minimum number of doctors that must examine the applying alien, and the right of an alien to have an initial adverse certificate reviewed by a special board of doctors. In order that further safeguards might be provided, Congress authorized the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service to prescribe additional regulations governing the procedure to be observed in the exercise of that Service's exclusive authority over medical questions.

Pursuant to this statutory authority the Surgeon General issued regulations which detail the manner in which medical examinations shall be held and the type of certificates by which examining doctors and boards shall report their findings and conclusions. As shown by the dissenting opinion below, serious challenges have been made to the sufficiency of the certificate of the medical appeal board as well as to the initial medical certificate in which two doctors certified petitioner to be a mental defective. [2] The shortcomings of the initial certificate, however, probably could have been rendered harmless by a proper examination and certificate by the medical board of appellate review. Since our conclusion is that the appellate review failed to meet the requisite standards prescribed by statute and regulations, we need not consider the challenges directed against the original certificate standing alone.

Regulations of the Public Health Service provide the way in which medical appeal boards shall be convened and detail a procedure for the boards to follow. The regulations impose a duty on such boards 'to re-examine an alien'; they further provide that 're-examination shall include * * * a medical examination by the board'; that the 'findings and conclusions of the board shall be based on its medical examination of the alien'; and that 'The board shall report its findings and conclusions to the Immigration Service * * *.' [3] The report of the medical appeal board here shows only that it 'considered the appeal * * * and after taking into consideration the certificate of March 11, 1948, and the testimony given by Dr. Carlton Simon, reports that it concurs with the above dated certificate.' The report of this medical board therefore wholly failed to show any compliance with the requirement of § 34.13(g) that the board base its 'findings and conclusions * * * upon its medical examination of the alien * * *.' We think the record makes clear that the appeal board made no such medical examination as was required by the regulations.

The report itself shows that the appellate board based its conclusion on two considerations: (1) the initial certificate of the two public health doctors; (2) testimony given by Dr. Carlton Simon. But the appellate board could not rest its finding that petitioner was a mental defective on the original certificate without denying petitioner the independent review and re-examination which Congress and the Surgeon General had prescribed. Nor could the appellate board relieve itself of its duty to make an independent re-examination by relying on the testimony of Dr. Simon. Moreover, Dr. Simon testified that petitioner was not a mental defective. His testimony was that she was 'normal.' It hardly seems necessary to add that the statement of the appellate board that it had 'considered the appeal,' cannot be treated as a certification that petitioner had been given an independent medical examination. We therefore hold that the appellate board's certificate is an inadequate basis on which to rest the exclusion order of the board of special inquiry.

The Government contends, however, that additional data in the record shows that the board did re-examine the petitioner. We may assume without deciding that the defects in the appellate board's report could be cured by additional record data, but we find no such data in the record sufficient to cure the defect. The data on which the Government relies is contained in a stenographic report of evidence given by petitioner and Dr. Simon, petitioner's witness. Petitioner's evidence, like that of Dr. Simon, was an emphatic denial of any condition which could justify her classification as a mental defective. The stenographic report thus falls far short of showing that the medical appeal board made an independent medical examination of petitioner's mental qualities. That report tends to confirm the fact that the board's conclusions were rested only on the report of the initial examination by the two Public Health Service doctors and on a report of the physician of the ship on which petitioner came to this country. This makes necessary a short statement concerning this report by the ship's doctor and the circumstances under which the record discloses that report was made.

Apparently the second day after petitioner had commenced her voyage to America the ship's doctor visited her. He found her weak and dizzy. She stated that 'she could not stand the sea' and would not go to the dining room. The doctor's impression after his first visit was that she was seasick. The next day, according to the doctor's report, she admitted hallucinations, stating that at night she heard cries and saw faces, said she had given the consul 'wrong information,' and thought this sinful. At this time the ship's doctor wrote down his 'impression of incipient psychosis' and transferred her to the isolation ward of the ship's hospital. The next day according to the doctor, petitioner stated that she had been treated for insanity at her home in Sweden for a six-month period two years before. On the last day of the sea trip, the ship's doctor reported that she had cleared up 'remarkably,' that she had no recollection of 'a lot of strange things she had said before,' was sleeping well, denied having any hallucinations, and looked 'considerably better.' In her evidence before the medical board petitioner stated that she spoke 'terribly bad English'; that prior to boarding the ship she had been to a number of parties and was very tired when she came aboard; that after coming aboard and during the voyage she had taken bromides and sleeping tablets; and that in her condition she just slept and said 'yes' to every question the doctor asked.

From the foregoing it appears that the data relied on by the Government was totally inadequate to show that the appellate medical board 're-examined' petitioner. The sum total of that data is testimony given by petitioner and her medical specialist to the effect that petitioner was mentally normal, plus petitioner's admissions that while seasick and under the influence of drugs she had said things that prompted the ship's doctor at one time to suspect 'incipient psychosis.'

So far as the medical findings and evidence here show, the daily reports made by the ship's doctor while petitioner was a passenger constitute the only affirmative evidence that petitioner is or was a mental defective. The Public Health regulations plainly prohibit the issuance of exclusion orders resting on nothing but a single episode reported by a non-Public-Health doctor. For Congress has provided that before aliens supected of mental defects are excluded, findings and conclusions shall be made by Public Health doctors based on their own examinations made in compliance with procedural safeguards defined or authorized by Congress. Medical certificates barring aliens are even then to be issued 'only if the presence of such * * * defect is clearly established.' 42 Code Fed.Regs. § 34.4 (Supp.1947). And such c rtificates 'shall in no case be issued with respect to an alien having only mental shortcomings due to ignorance, or suffering only from a mental condition attributable to remedial physical causes, or from a psychosis of a temporary nature caused by a toxin, drug, or disease.' 42 Code Fed.Regs. § 34.7. So far as appears from the appellate certificate here, the board made no examination to determine whether the ship episode, as reported by the physician, was the result of petitioner's ignorance of English plus temporary debility or was the result of a mental defect justifying exclusion. Even the report of the ship physician contained no finding on this point, and it is not amiss to add that the verified petition for habeas corpus contains an undenied allegation that the ship's doctor has now stated that 'in his opinion the alien is not mentally defective.'

Our holding that the appellate board's medical certificate and additional data are inadequate to support the exclusion order makes it unnecessary to decide other questions relating to applicability of the Administrative Procedure Act to hearings before the board of special inquiry. 60 Stat. 237, 239, 5 U.S.C. §§ 1001, 1004, 5 U.S.C.A. §§ 1001, 1004.

The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the District Court for entry of an order affording petitioner a proper hearing and medical examination before the appropriate Public Health authorities.

Reversed and remanded.

Mr. Justice REED, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Mr. Justice BURTON join, dissenting.


^1  39 Stat. 885, as amended, 8 U.S.C. § 152, 8 U.S.C.A. § 152.

^2  During the hearings before the Board of Special Inquiry counsel for petitioner stated to this board 'that from an examination of the record it appears that the only positive finding of mental defectiveness appears in the record of the ship's surgeon * * *.' Counsel insisted that petitioner was suffering from no 'mental disturbance whatsoever.' In her behalf he asked for an opportunity to produce further medical testimony. In response to this request the board's chairman asked counsel whether petitioner would be able to bear the expenses of her continued detention should the board grant her request for an opportunity to produce further medical testimony. Counsel replied that he believed she could. The board immediately thereafter closed the hearing, made its findings and ordered her excluded.

The dissenting opinion stated: 'I would reverse the order and direct that the writ be sustained because of inadequacy of the original certificate of the examining surgeons and total failure of the reviewing Board of Medical Officers to comply with the regulations.' 170 F.2d 1009, 1014.

^3  (c) 'Re-examination shall include:

'(1) A medical examination by the board;

'(2) A review of all records submitted;

'(3) Use of any laboratory or diagnostic methods or tests deemed advisable; and

'(4) Consideration of statements regarding the alien's physical or mental condition made by a reputable physician after his examination of the alien.

'(e) An alien being re-examined may introduce as witnesses before the board such physicians or medical experts as the board may in its discretion permit, at his own cost and expense, * * *.' 42 Code Fed.Reg. § 34.13 (Supp. 1947).

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).