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Mental Health Matters
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Mental Health Law Section

April 2015, vol. 1, no. 2

Illinois Supreme Court Rules on commitment, medication cases

In re Lance H., 2014 IL 114899, (Petition for Rehearing denied 1/26/15)

During the course of his testimony at a hearing on a Petition for Involuntary Admission, the respondent orally requested voluntary admission to Chester Mental Health Center. The court did not address this request, and at the conclusion of the hearing, ordered respondent’s continuing commitment. The Fifth District Appellate Court held that the circuit court’s failure to address the respondent’s request for voluntary admission violated Section 801 of the Mental Health Code.

In a recent opinion by Chief Justice Garman, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the circuit court did not commit reversible error when it did not address the respondent’s request for voluntary admission and instead issued an order for the respondent’s continuing commitment, thereby reversing the appellate court ¶¶ 1, 41; 405 ILCS 5/3-801 (West 2010). The decision is important for several reasons.

The Mental Health Code, precedent and policy emphasize the importance of voluntary admission to mental health patients. Section 3-801 of the Mental Health Code provides that a patient may request voluntary admission to a mental health facility at any time prior to an adjudication that he is subject to involuntary admission. 405 ILCS 5/3-801 (West 2010), ¶¶ 25, 40. If a patient wants to maintain voluntary status at a mental health facility, he is required to complete a written application for voluntary admission, which is then reviewed by the mental health facility director. If the application is denied and the party is in a state-operated facility, then the respondent can request an administrative review of this decision.

The court noted that the respondent’s power to request voluntary admission does not give the circuit court authority to rule for or against that voluntary admission. The “Mental Health Code does not vest the circuit court with authority to rule for or against voluntary admission to a mental health facility, based on an in-court request for voluntary admission during a hearing for involuntary admission.” 405 ILCS 5/3-801 (West 2010), ¶¶ 25, 40. “Looking to the plain language of section 3-801, only the facility director is tasked with evaluating a request for voluntary admission...” ¶ 29

Although the court retains jurisdiction to hear objections to dismissal of a commitment petition when a respondent signs an application for voluntary admission, “[t]he court has no authority to grant or order voluntary admission.” ¶ 30 “The circuit court in hearing the petition is not reviewing the facility director’s decision. Instead, the court is focusing on the best interest of the respondent and the public.” ¶ 30.

If the patient requests to be voluntary during a hearing, [t]he Mental Health Code similarly does not require the circuit court to sua sponte continue a proceeding for involuntary admission upon such a request.” ¶ 40. However, “a circuit court may, in its discretion, grant a continuance to file an application for voluntary admission, upon a motion by respondent’s counsel.” ¶ 40.

In addition, the Supreme Court held that the Mental Health Code does not vest the circuit court with the authority to rule on a patient’s application to be a voluntary patient. ¶ 40.

Therefore the respondent’s counsel should be the one to move for a continuance, or a recess, in order for the respondent to complete the application for a voluntary admission. Neither the State’s Attorney representing the petitioner, nor the circuit court itself has a duty to suspend the hearing pending the voluntary admission request. When representing a mental health patient in a commitment hearing, it is important to request a continuance if there is a pending application for voluntary admission.

In re James W., 2014 IL 11448, (Petition for Rehearing denied 5/27/14)

James W. was an involuntary patient at Chester Mental Health Center when a subsequent Petition for Involuntary Admission was filed. On the eve of trial, the respondent requested a jury hearing, resulting in a 96-day delay. In an opinion by Justice Karmeier, the Illinois Supreme Court addressed two issues: first, whether an eve of trial jury request is timely; and second, whether the 96-day delay between the patient’s demand for the jury and the jury hearing requires reversal of the commitment order. ¶ 1

The Supreme Court reversed the Fifth District Appellate Court’s opinion which found that the circuit court’s setting the jury trial 96 days after the respondent’s demand violates section 3-800(b) of the Mental Health Code. ¶¶ 1, 49; 405 ILCS 5/3-800(b) (West 2010).

Jury Trial Request-

The Supreme Court addressed the timing of a jury demand prior to an involuntary commitment petition. ¶¶ 28-30. Pursuant to “the Civil Practice Law, a defendant must normally file a jury demand no later than the filing of his answer. 735 ILCS 5/2-1105(a) ¶ 28. However, because the Mental Health Code does not require an answer to petitions, this limitation is not applicable in involuntary admission cases. ¶ 28. Therefore, even though James W.’s request for a jury trial did not come until the day of the hearing, his request was not untimely. ¶¶ 28, 30. The Court reaffirmed that the right to a jury trial should be liberally construed in favor of granting a jury demand in an involuntary admission case, and that the demand is timely and should be allowed where, as was the case here, it was made before either party presents opening arguments or calls any witnesses. ¶ 28.

The Importance of Objecting at the Circuit Court Level

The Supreme Court noted that it is incumbent on attorneys for both the State and the respondent to raise their objections at the circuit court level. ¶¶ 30-31 “Because neither James nor his lawyer ever questioned the scheduling or suggested that the jury trial be set more expeditiously, we cannot agree with the appellate court that James was somehow forced to choose between “foregoing his statutory right to ask for a jury or waiting 97 days for a hearing.”… James was never asked to make any choice. He demanded a jury trial, the circuit court agreed to give him one when a jury would next be available, and he and his attorney assented to the scheduling without complaint. Had James or his attorney balked at an August trial date, the trial court may well have been willing to consider alternatives. Based on the record before us, there is no reason to believe it would have done otherwise. Had the matter been addressed promptly, when the trial court was in a position to do something about it, the ensuing litigation could therefore have been avoided.” ¶ 31, n 4.

Directory Reading of Section 5/3-800(b) Requirements- The Supreme Court then upheld the circuit court order, even though the jury trial occurred later than the 15-day setting deadline, finding that “[t]he proposition that failure to strictly adhere to section 3-800(b)’s 15-day limitation does not, in itself, render the circuit court’s judgment invalid is consistent with this Court’s recent decision in In re M.I., 2013 IL 113776 regarding the difference between statutory commands which are mandatory and those which are directory. As we explained in that case, the law presumes that statutory language issuing a procedural command to a government official is directory rather than mandatory, meaning that the failure to comply with a particular procedural step will not have the effect of invalidating the governmental action to which the procedural requirement relates. That presumption can be overcome under either of two conditions: (1) when there is negative language prohibiting further action in the case of noncompliance or (2) when the right the provision is designed to protect would generally be injured under a directory reading (citations omitted). Neither circumstance, however, is present here.” ¶ 35

Did the Circuit Court’s Actions Create Prejudice?

In reviewing the facts, the Supreme Court did consider the element of prejudice with regards to compliance with section 3-800(b)’s requirements. ¶¶ 38-40. Because of James W.’s extensive and severe history of mental illness and because the record did not indicate that the result would have been different if the trial had been held three months earlier, the Supreme Court did not find any prejudice for the respondent. ¶¶ 39-40. This opens reversal on the issue of prejudice, for those patients without an extensive and severe history of mental illness.

In re Rita P., 2014 IL 115798, Opinion filed 5/22/14

Respondent appealed a Cook County Circuit court order granting a Petition for Involuntary Treatment with psychotropic medication. The First District Appellate Court agreed with respondent that the court’s non-compliance with section 3-816(a) of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-816(a) (West 2010)), which requires “a statement on the record of the court’s finding of fact and conclusions of law”, requires a reversal. ¶¶ 1, 68.

In an opinion written by Justice Theis, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the First District Appellate Court. The ruling focused on two issues: first, whether this appeal satisfies one of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine; and second, whether the Mental Health Code’s provision for a statement on the record of the circuit court’s “finding of fact and conclusions of law” under section 3-816(a) of the Mental Health Code is directory, rather than mandatory. ¶¶ 1, 40. This opinion is noteworthy on the issues of mootness and the directory nature of section 3-816(a).

Mootness

The Court addressed whether this appeal satisfies one of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine. ¶¶ 29-40. Though there is no dispute that this appeal is moot because the original commitment order expired (¶ 29), the Supreme Court did clarify some aspects of mootness in relation to mental health appeals.

The Illinois Supreme Court first addressed the issue of mootness under the collateral consequences exception. In essence, the court rejected the per se application of the collateral consequences exception to all first time mental health orders: “Application of the collateral consequences exception cannot rest upon the lone fact that no prior involuntary admission or treatment order was entered, or upon a vague, unsupported statement that collateral consequences might plague the respondent in the future. ¶ 34. Rather, a reviewing court must consider all the relevant facts and legal issues raised in the appeal before deciding whether the exception applies. Alfred H.H., 233 Ill. 2d at 364. ¶ 34. Collateral consequences therefore must be identified that “could stem solely from the present adjudication.” Prior “appellate court opinions that hold otherwise… are overruled.” ¶ 34.

The Court then determined that it would not consider whether the collateral consequences exception applies to this appeal, because it found that the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine applies to this case. ¶¶ 36-40. For the public interest exception to apply each of the following criteria must be satisfied: “(1) the question presented is of a public nature; (2) an authoritative determination of the question is desirable for the future guidance of public officers; and (3) the question is likely to recur.” ¶ 34. The Court determined this appeal satisfied these criteria, especially noting that this is a case of first impression. ¶¶ 36-40.

In light of this decision, in order to preserve the collateral consequences exception to a potentially moot issue on appeal, the best practice would be for the litigator to introduce as much evidence as possible of the respondent’s criminal and social background. Thus, for example, if the respondent has had no prior criminal history or still has a driver’s license, the collateral consequences of the mental health order is easier proven to the reviewing court.

Mandatory Versus Directory

The Supreme Court held that section 3-816(a), stating that the final orders “shall be in writing and shall be accompanied by a statement on the record of the court’s finding of fact and conclusions of law,” is directory. ¶¶ 42, 52. Noting that:

“The law presumes that statutory language that issues a procedural command to a government official indicates an intent that the statute is directory. This presumption may be overcome, and the provision will be read as mandatory, under either of two conditions: (1) when the statute contains language prohibiting further action, or indicating a specific consequence, in the case of noncompliance, or (2) when the right or rights the statute was designed to protect would generally be injured by a directory reading.”

¶ 44 (citations omitted).

Since section 3-816(b) failed to list any consequence in case of non-compliance the first condition for a mandatory reading is not satisfied. ¶ 45. Likewise, the Court found that the second condition for a mandatory reading is also not satisfied for there is “no reason to conclude that a respondent’s appeal rights or liberty interests will generally be injured through a directory reading of section 3-816(a).” ¶ 68. Specifically the Court rejected the arguments that section 3-816(a) would injure the respondent’s appellate rights, liberty interest or right to notice of the circuit court’s reasoning. ¶ 68.

In light of this decision, the litigator must consider prejudice when arguing about a procedural violation of the Mental Health Code; the best practice would be for the litigator to introduce as much evidence as possible to demonstrate how the procedural error affects the respondent. ■

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Barbara Goeben is a staff attorney with the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, Metro East Regional Office in Alton.