UPDATE, June 17, 2021:
The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Mr. Mondelli, represented by the Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic and argued by 2021 Penn State Law alumnae Kira Geary and Anna Notchick.
“This is a significant victory for Mr. Mondelli, and I could not be more proud of the work done by the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic students who researched the unique issues presented by the case, and filed several briefs,” said Michael Foreman, clinical professor of law and director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic. “And special congratulations to Anna Notchick and Kira Geary who presented articulate and compelling oral argument, bringing the case home.”
The underlying issue in the case, Mondelli v. Berkeley Heights Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center, revolved around the question of when federal district courts are required to hold a hearing, or otherwise investigate a litigant’s mental competency, even though the litigant may have legal counsel.
In a precedential opinion, the court adopted all the arguments presented by the Clinic. The opinion held that “[t]he court has a duty to ensure that incompetent persons are properly represented [and] … a court’s obligation under Rule 17 to appoint a guardian for an incompetent person is mandatory.” The opinion also explained that a court’s obligation to examine mental competency is triggered when there is “verifiable evidence of incompetence.” The court held that Mr. Mondelli had presented verifiable evidence in the form of statements from a psychiatrist and other mental health providers.
The court vacated the order dismissing Mr. Mondelli’s complaint and remanded the case to the trial court to examine Mr. Mondelli’ competency as required by Rule 17, and then reevaluate whether dismissal is warranted based upon the Rule 17 evaluation.
Original article, published June 1, 2021:
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Less than two weeks after earning their juris doctor (J.D.) degrees, Penn State Law in University Park alumnae Kira Geary and Anna Notchick presented oral argument on May 26, 2021, in a disability-rights case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
In the case, Mondelli v. Berkeley Heights Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center, Geary and Notchick argued on behalf of the plaintiff, Mr. Mondelli, who suffers from significant mental disabilities and was denied visitation with his ailing mother by a nursing home. The Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, of which Geary and Notchick were members this past year, was appointed by the third-circuit court with full briefing responsibilities to represent the interests of the plaintiff and had previously filed an amicus brief in the case.
“Over the past two semesters, clinic students scrutinized the trial record and wrote the appellate briefs that are the backbone for the oral argument,” said Michael Foreman, clinical professor of law and director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic. “Anna and Kira did a wonderful job of bringing the case home, and I could not be more proud of their work.”
Their argument, which expanded on the amicus brief, addressed a district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and argued that the plaintiff’s case should not have been dismissed without first appointing him a guardian to protect his legal interests. The district court’s decision, Geary and Notchick argued, violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Third Circuit precedent. An audio recording of their argument is available online.
“Having the opportunity to work on current cases and possibly argue them is the exact reason I joined the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic,” Notchick said. “I was honored when chosen to present oral argument in front of the Third Circuit.”
The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic is one of nine legal clinics at Penn State Law. The Clinic provides students with training in appellate advocacy and writing. Students work with clients on an array of noncriminal civil rights cases before state and federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In representing clients, students gain practical experience through research and analysis, drafting and editing briefs, and planning appellate strategies.
Clinic students benefit from the experience of Professor Foreman, who previously served as deputy director of legal programs for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Law in Washington, D.C., where he was responsible for supervising all litigation in employment discrimination, housing, education, voting rights, and environmental justice areas.
“Thanks to my time in the Clinic, I got to do something that most attorneys don't get to do until much later in their careers,” Geary said. “The opportunity to present oral argument at the Third Circuit was an incredible culmination of the work I and the rest of the clinic students put in all year. We would not have been able to argue successfully without the help of Professor Foreman and our fellow clinic students, who not only co-wrote our briefs, but also helped to prepare Anna and I for the argument.”