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In Re Estate of Schneider

OCTOBER 30, 1970.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ANTHONY J. KOGUT, Judge, presiding. Reversed.


This appeal is from an order of the Circuit Court directing the Conservator of the Estate of Fred W. Schneider to pay to the Department of Mental Health the sum of $6,807.50 for care and maintenance of the incompetent in the Kankakee State Hospital from November 19, 1963 through April 30, 1968, and $132 per month thereafter.

The facts are not in dispute. Schneider was indicted for the murder of his wife, but was found incompetent to stand trial (after a hearing pursuant to Ill Rev Stats 1963, c 38, § 104-1, et seq.), and was committed to the custody of the Department of Mental Health, which placed him in the Kankakee State Hospital on November 19, 1963. Ruth Taylor was appointed conservator of his estate. On December 28, 1965, Schneider was discharged from the hospital, but was recommitted on February 4, 1966, after again being found incompetent to stand trial.

The Department relies on the part of the Mental Health Code which provides that patients receiving treatment in the Department's mental health program, and the estates of such persons are liable for the payment of charges for the treatment. Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 91 1/2, § 12-12. During the period of Schneider's first commitment, however, the Department's rules for the determination and collection of such charges did not apply to patients committed to its care under the circumstances of the instant case. On January 1, 1966, its rules were amended to extend charges for treatment to those patients also. It is on the basis of this statute and rule that the Department, on June 3, 1966, sent Schneider's conservator a notice that as of February 4, 1966 (the date of his second commitment), it had determined his estate to be liable for payments of $132 per month. Objecting to this determination, the conservator filed a petition for review. The Department held an informal hearing on November 29, 1967, after which it filed a petition in the Circuit Court to enforce payment. This petition sought payment not only for the period of Schneider's second commitment (during which its amended rules were in effect), but also for the period of his prior commitment. The Circuit Court granted the petition in its entirety. The conservator appealed to the Supreme Court which found that it lacked jurisdiction on direct appeal and transferred the case to this court.

The question presented is whether the Department has authority to charge a person or his estate for his hospital care when he has been charged with a felony but is committed to the Department on a finding that he is incompetent to stand trial.

At common law and by statute in Illinois, a prisoner is not liable for his maintenance and medical care. Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 75, § 19, provides:

The warden of the jail shall furnish necessary bedding, clothing, fuel and medical aid for all prisoners under his charge. . . .

In County of La Salle v. Milligan, 143 Ill. 321, 334, 32 N.E. 196, the court held that the sheriff, as warden of the county jail, was required to furnish all necessary medical aid to the prisoners, and that the county was liable for those expenses. This basic rule was reaffirmed in Silver Cross Hospital v. Boyden, 351 Ill. App. 283, 286-88, 114 N.E.2d 898, although the county was held free from liability on the narrow ground that the prisoner's medical treatment had been arranged by him with his personal physician.

The Department takes the position that the general rule of a prisoner's non-liability for his own care and maintenance is not applicable to a person not yet convicted of the felony with which he has been charged. While, of course, there is a difference for some purposes between persons in custody charged with a felony and persons in custody after conviction, this difference is not a distinction which should require two rules of liability for hospital care. In both cases, the person is being held in custody not primarily for his own benefit but for the benefit and protection of the public. It is true that the competency hearing itself, as the Department contends, is conducted in order to protect the accused from being tried while incompetent. People v. Bender, 20 Ill.2d 45, 48, 169 N.E.2d 328. Nevertheless, when, as in this case, the accused is found incompetent to stand trial, and is committed to the Department, that commitment is primarily in the interest of the public welfare. This point was made clear in Kough v. Hoehler, 413 Ill. 409, 109 N.E.2d 177. There, the parties and the court apparently assumed that the estate of an incompetent charged with crime could not be billed for treatment. Parties not charged with crime contended that it was illegal for them to be required to pay when persons charged with crime were not required to do so; that such an arbitrary classification was unconstitutional. The court held this to be a valid distinction, however, and said at pages 416-417:

This argument is based upon the fact that the act excludes from its provisions mentally ill persons who are in custody on a criminal charge. . . . Those who are charged with crime, or who have been convicted of crime, would ordinarily be in the jail or penitentiary, but on account of the fact that there are no facilities there for treating them for their physical and mental ills they are transferred to the hospitals. Moreover, the public is vitally and directly interested in those who are in custody. They are in custody initially for the protection of the public, when convicted or accused of a crime. They do not cease to be of intimate consideration to the public merely because they are, or become, insane, nor do they cease to be in custody for the same reason.

A consideration of the statute which governs the commitment of incompetent accuseds reinforces this conclusion. Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 38, § 104-1, et seq. Section 104-3(a) provides that a person found incompetent shall be committed to the Department "during the continuance of that condition." And section 104-3(b) states that if a person is found competent after his commitment, the suspended criminal proceedings pending against him "shall be resumed." In addition (by section 104-3(c)), the duration of his commitment is credited to him against any sentence he may receive. In this respect, the period during which an accused incompetent is in the custody of the Department is analogous to the confinement in jail of an accused person awaiting trial. Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 38, § 119-3.

The Department contends that it has the authority, under the Mental Health Code, to charge all patients committed to its care, irrespective of the procedural route of such commitment. In support of this position, it relies on Ill Rev Stats 1967, c 91 1/2, § 12-12, which states:

Each patient receiving treatment in a mental health program of the Department, and the estate of such patient, is liable for the payment of sums representing charges for treatment of such patient at a rate to be determined by the Department in accordance with this Section.

Broad as is the language of this section, we think it is not applicable to the facts of this case when consideration is given to the other statutory provisions and decisions above cited, and in the light of what we believe to be the basic jurisdiction clause of the Mental Health Code itself. We refer to section ...

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