A final court’s not-so-final words
If one were to review two of the most recent and critical Illinois Supreme Court decisions in the mental-health field, In re Rita P.1 and In re James W.,2 it would be easy to conclude such cases have not been fundamentally altered or modified and they are the law of the land for their respective issues. After all, across the spectrum, popular legal research platforms yield little warnings that any meaningful changes have occurred to these opinions (save some minimal distinguishing case law outside the scope of mental-health law). But do these cases still mean what they say? Practitioners must remember to consider other resources and authority outside of applicable case law or risk overlooking critical developments stemming from both decisions.
For instance, In re Rita P. involved 405 ILCS 5/3-816(a) and whether the statute’s language of “shall” regarding final orders and findings of fact and law was mandatory or directory. The Court reminded that, when statutory language issues a procedural command to a government official, it is presumed by law that such language is directory and not mandatory.3 Despite the respondent’s strong contention that a directory reading would significantly impair one’s liberty interests, the Illinois Supreme Court went on to hold that 5/3-816(a) is directory and not mandatory.
Consequently, some may now surmise that, following Rita P., circuit courts are under no obligation or inclination to ensure certain written findings are set forth in conjunction with final orders in mental-health matters. Sure enough, case law would appear to support this conclusion as Rita P. remains ostensibly unaffected and intact. Such analysis is incomplete, though, as it ignores specific post-Rita P. recommendations of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Special Advisory Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning, which resulted in the Court adopting four standardized mental-health orders that directly address the issue of written findings of fact and law. Regarding the adoption of the form orders, Justice Karmeier referenced Rita P., stating “[w]e also asked the Committee to examine a related issue posed by In re Rita P., 2014 IL 115798: compliance with the statutory requirement that all final orders under the Code be in writing and accompanied by a statement on the record of a trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.”4 Additionally, as set forth in the Court’s press release, “[t]he adoption of standardized and uniform orders throughout the entire state will assist judges who routinely hear mental health cases to make clear, concise and complete findings of fact on the record. It also provides guidelines to judges who may lack experience in these types of cases.”5 Thus, by adopting uniform orders, the effect of Rita P. has arguably been somewhat blunted by the very same Court that issued the opinion.
Likewise, consider the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision of In re James W. This case involved whether a respondent was prejudiced by the length of time (96 days), between his jury demand and the date when jury trial eventually took place. The Court answered in the negative, finding that, under the circumstances, such a delay did not prejudice the respondent before the Court.
Practitioners researching jury demands and trial issues in Illinois’ mental-health jurisprudence will certainly come across the James W. decision, but they would be mistaken to end their inquiry on a belief that such delays are now routinely endorsed and acceptable. Tellingly, even a special concurrence in James W. expressed concern about a different set of circumstances where a different respondent could very well be prejudiced by similar delays in their own mental-health proceedings.6 Like with Rita P., echoes of James W. reverberated in the 24-member Special Advisory Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning where a new Supreme Court Rule, Rule 293, was proposed to “clarify the time limitation jury in a mental health involuntary commitment hearing and to make that time requirement mandatory.”7
Rule 293 was adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court on April 3, 2017 and effective immediately. It reads in full:
Rule 293. Jury Trial in Involuntary Admission Proceeding
Upon request by a respondent for a jury trial on whether he/she is subject to involuntary admission on an inpatient or outpatient basis in accordance with 405 ILCS 5/3-802, the court shall schedule said jury trial to commence within 30 days of the request.
Any continuance of the jury trial setting shall not extend beyond 15 days, except to the extent that continuances are requested by the respondent pursuant to 405 ILCS 5/3-800(b).
Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 293.
Notably, the committee comments to Rule 293 resemble the look and feel of ongoing criticisms and concerns of James W. but make no explicit reference to said case: “[t]his rule was adopted to clarify the time limitation that a trial court has in which to convene a jury in a mental health commitment hearing and to make that requirement mandatory. Any mental health petition for involuntary commitment not timely set for hearing is subject to dismissal.”8 The omission of James W. by name and citation from the committee comments is significant as it is a reason that service providers of legal research software may not formally be “flagging” James W. as distinguished or modified in any way – leaving some researchers ignorant about recent Illinois Supreme Court rule changes and how such rules interplay with the respective case law.
Both Rita P. and James W. are reminders to all practitioners not to cease their research and inquiries at only case law – even at the state supreme court level. What do Rita P. and James W. mean today? What are the holdings when compared and contrasted against new uniform orders and rules? When these case names are mentioned in courtrooms across counties, are they uttered for their underlying holdings or instead for their effect on procedure and rules? Perhaps, ideally, it is best to not consider either opinion in isolation, nor to consider Rule 293 and the new uniform orders in a vacuum. Instead, both cases (and their external effects) serve as reminders that a larger dialogue outside of the courthouse is available and sometimes necessary to achieve equity and guidance.