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In re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Mark V.

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 16, 2014

In the Matter of the Necessity for the Hospitalization of MARK V

Page 841

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Randy M. Olsen, Judge. Superior Court No. 4FA-11-00612 PR.

Marjorie K. Allard and Michael Schwaiger, Assistant Public Defenders, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Ruth Botstein, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, and Maassen, Justices, and Eastaugh, Senior Justice.[*] [Carpeneti, Justice, not participating.]. STOWERS, Justice, with whom MAASSEN, Justice, joins, dissenting.


Page 842

EASTAUGH, Senior Justice.


In November 2011 the superior court entered a 30-day involuntary civil commitment order for Mark V. after the court conducted an evidentiary hearing and found that Mark posed a " substantial risk . . . of harming others." [1] Mark argues on appeal that the court clearly erred in so finding. Because his period of commitment under that order has expired and Mark was soon released from custody, his " weight of the evidence" appeal is technically moot. But he argues that the collateral consequences exception to the mootness doctrine nonetheless justifies appellate review of the November 2011 commitment order. The circumstances -- including four civil commitment orders entered against Mark earlier in 2011 and the absence of any indication that the November 2011 commitment will result in any additional adverse collateral consequences -- convince us that the exception is not satisfied. We therefore do not reach the merits of Mark's appeal and dismiss it as moot.


Mark V. had a history of mental illness that led to entry of five earlier involuntary civil commitment orders -- one in 2002 and four in 2011 -- before entry of the November 2011 order that Mark challenges here.[2] The events leading to the disputed commitment began on November 7, 2011, when Mark arrived in Fairbanks after traveling from Anchorage by taxicab at an approximate cost of $900. Soon after arriving, Mark visited a bank, where his reportedly bizarre and loud behavior prompted a bank teller to trigger the alarm. Mark then went to a Fairbanks residence and had a verbal altercation with an occupant. The home was a rental property belonging to Mark's family, but the tenants were not relatives of Mark. Although the details surrounding the altercation are murky, Mark reportedly exhibited threatening behavior toward a tenant, who then called the police. The police took Mark to the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital mental health unit, where he was admitted.

On November 8 two mental health professionals applied for an ex parte order authorizing Mark's hospitalization for an evaluation. Superior Court Judge Michael A. MacDonald granted the application the next day, ordered Mark's prompt evaluation, scheduled a hearing on the anticipated 30-day commitment petition, and appointed the Public Defender Agency to represent him.

Page 843

On November 10 a psychiatrist and a psychologist filed a 30-day civil commitment petition alleging that Mark was mentally ill; they described facts supporting their allegations that he was gravely disabled and that he was likely to cause harm to others. Superior Court Judge Randy M. Olsen conducted the commitment hearing the same day. The court heard testimony from the same psychologist and a different psychiatrist; they both diagnosed Mark as having some form of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and testified that Mark posed a threat of harm to others if released.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the superior court applied the clear and convincing evidence standard and found that Mark was mentally ill and that as a result of his mental illness Mark was likely to cause serious harm to others. The court relied on the evidence of Mark's recent behavior, including evidence that he threatened a physician, punched a staff member, and engaged in conduct that " rais[ed] such a conflict that people call[ed] 911." The court ordered Mark committed to Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for a period not to exceed 30 days.

Mark appeals.


We resolve issues of mootness using our independent judgment because, as a matter of judicial policy, applying the mootness doctrine presents a question of law.[3]


A. The Mootness Doctrine And Its Exceptions

" A claim is moot if it is no longer a present, live controversy, and the party bringing the action would not be entitled to relief, even if it prevails." [4] Commitment-order appeals based on assertions of insufficient evidence are moot if the commitment period has passed, subject to two exceptions: the public interest exception [5] and the collateral consequences exception.[6]

Mark's appeal from the November 2011 order is technically moot because his period of commitment under that order has expired; the parties agree that he was released from custody. But Mark contends that the collateral consequences exception applies to his appeal. He also suggests that AS ...

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