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In re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Daniel G.

Supreme Court of Alaska

February 7, 2014

In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of DANIEL G

Page 263

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Frank A. Pfiffner, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-13-00454 PR.

James B. Gottstein, Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, Inc., Anchorage, for Appellant.

Daniel G. Laura Fox, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee State of Alaska.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, and Bolger, Justices. [Maassen, Justice, not participating.].

OPINION

Page 264

FABE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Daniel G. appeals an ex parte order authorizing a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation issued after his emergency detention.[1] The evaluation personnel determined that Daniel did not meet the statutory criteria for involuntary commitment, and he was released before the expiration of the 72-hour evaluation period. He argues that the evaluation order violated his constitutional right to due process because it was issued on an ex parte basis, without notice and a hearing, while he was safely in protective custody. The superior court denied Daniel's motion to vacate the evaluation order as moot in light of Daniel's release. We conclude that although Daniel's appeal is technically moot, the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine applies, and we reach the merits of his due process claim. We further conclude that the 72-hour evaluation order and the statutory evaluation procedures do not violate due process, and we affirm the evaluation order. But we remand this case to the superior court for correction of the title of the superior court's order authorizing Daniel's hospitalization for evaluation.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

On the morning of February 26, 2013, a police officer took emergency custody of Daniel after Daniel's father reported that Daniel was threatening suicide. At 8:50 a.m. the police officer transported Daniel to the Providence Alaska Medical Center Psychiatric Emergency Room under AS 47.30.705 and gave the Providence staff a " Notice of Emergency Detention and Application for Evaluation." [2]

At approximately 3:10 p.m., Providence staff filed a " Petition for Involuntary Commitment for Evaluation" under AS 47.30.700 and AS 47.30.710, asking the superior court to authorize detention of Daniel at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation.[3] The petition stated that Daniel had a history of mental illness with multiple hospitalizations and diagnoses. It proceeded to detail Daniel's suicide threats

Page 265

as well as his violent threats against his father. The petition concluded that Daniel " refuses mental health intervention, has no insight into his mood problem and requires involuntary hospitalization for his safety."

Magistrate Judge Jonathon H. Lack signed the " Order on Petition for Involuntary Commitment for Evaluation" at 3:45 p.m., which authorized transfer of Daniel to API for an evaluation period not to exceed 72 hours.[4] The order stated that the trial court had considered the sworn allegations in the petition and found that the respondent was likely to cause serious harm to himself because the petition alleged that he was " actively suicidal."

The evaluation order required API to have Daniel evaluated by a mental health professional and a physician within 24 hours of his arrival. Daniel was admitted to API later that day at 7:29 p.m.

The next day, on February 27 at 3:03 p.m., Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner approved and signed the magistrate judge's recommended order. The superior court scheduled a 30-day commitment hearing for February 28 at 1:30 p.m. to be held if a commitment petition was filed during Daniel's detention. The superior court gave Daniel and the Public Defender Agency notice of the scheduled hearing.

On the morning of February 28, Daniel filed a motion to vacate the order. Daniel argued before the superior court that (1) the order violated due process because it was issued ex parte without an emergency justification; (2) the order should not have been implemented before it was signed by the superior court judge; (3) the order was issued without a sufficiently searching inquiry; (4) the findings were insufficient to support the order; (5) the order impermissibly relied on hearsay; and (6) the petition filed by Providence staff was defective.

Later the same morning of February 28, at 11:25 a.m., API evaluation personnel discharged Daniel because they " did not find that [he] met the standards for commitment specified in AS 47.30.700."

A compliance hearing was held that afternoon. The State's representative informed the magistrate judge that Daniel had already been discharged. Daniel reminded the court that he had filed a motion to vacate the order that morning and advised the court that he did not consider the motion to be moot.

On March 6 the superior court denied Daniel's motion to vacate the order, reasoning that the motion was moot in light of Daniel's release. Daniel appeals his due process claim and the denial of his motion to vacate.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We consider whether an order of the superior court is appealable de novo.[5] " Mootness is a matter of judicial policy and its application is a question of law" that we also review de novo.[6] Under de novo review, we apply our " independent judgment to the interpretation of the Alaska Constitution and statutes." [7] When reviewing a question de novo, our duty is to adopt " the rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy." [8]

IV. DISCUSSION

A. The Denial Of Daniel's Motion To Vacate The Evaluation Order Was ...


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