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Arthur v. Lutheran General Hospital Inc.

March 19, 1998



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

The Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code sets out a statutory plan for involuntary admission of mentally ill persons. This case raises the question of whether a false imprisonment cause of action exists for a person who is committed in violation of a time limit in the Code. We conclude that it does.


Some time in 1990, Alexander J. Arthur (Arthur), a 52-year-old former construction worker, began to develop breathing trouble, purportedly from years of working with chemicals. He contacted the Social Security Administration to apply for disability benefits, but his effort proved fruitless and frustrating.

On June 12, 1992, Arthur was admitted to Resurrection Medical Center (Resurrection) with recurrent chest pain and shortness of breath. The emergency room staff requested a psychological consultation as part of Arthur's treatment.

Dr. Ann Walczynski (Walczynski) spoke with Arthur. According to her written consultation summary, Arthur displayed anxiety over his health and financial situation. Arthur also voiced aggravation at the Social Security Administration and its handling of his application for disability benefits. As Walczynski noted in her consultation summary:

"*** He has become increasingly extremely angry to the point that he has been thinking about going to Springfield[, Illinois] and throwing one of the [Social Security Administration] officers out of the window and all the papers destroyed . He also has been having thoughts of killing another staff member in that office in Springfield. His behavior has been progressively escalating; and on the day of this examination, he did throw a telephone set against the wall after one of the conversations with officers from Springfield. The patient says that he will not get satisfaction unless he 'hurts' these people.

Walczynski recommended Arthur's transfer to the mental health facility at Lutheran General Hospital (Lutheran General), once his physical condition stabilized. Although Arthur agreed to voluntary admission, Walczynski drafted a physician's certificate for involuntary admission pursuant to the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (the Code). See 405 ILCS 5/1-100 et seq. (West 1993 & Supp. 1997). Walczynski's certificate cited Arthur's potential "to inflict serious physical harm" on Social Security Administration staff members. The certificate, dated June 12, 1992, at 9 p.m., also said:

" has been extremely angry with soc. security offices staff (Chicago Springfield) and has been threatening to harm some staff members - once he leaves the hospital. Homicidal potential."

On June 14, 1992, at 9 p.m., although his physical condition had stabilized sufficiently to allow his transfer to Lutheran General, Arthur chose to remain at Resurrection to complete his physical treatment with his own physician. Walczynski again spoke with Arthur. Although the record does not contain any notes from this meeting, Walczynski read her notes of it during her discovery deposition. Walczynski observed Arthur's "affect is still angry when the issue of Social Security office staff is discussed." Walczynski concluded: "Continue present treatment ***." However, Walczynski did not draft a second physician's certificate to memorialize this meeting.

On June 16, 1992, Arthur was transferred to Lutheran General as Walczynski's patient. When Arthur refused voluntary admission, Martana Ghera, a Lutheran General staff nurse, completed a petition for involuntary admission based on Walczynski's certificate, as well as her personal observations of Arthur's demeanor. The petition, dated June 16, 1992, at 7 p.m., said: "Person identified as Alexander Arthur is intensely angry and making aggressive and threatening statements directed at Social Security staff." Arthur was involuntarily admitted on Ghera's petition and Walczynski's certificate, executed 94 hours earlier.

When Arthur complained about his involuntary admission and refused any treatment, Ghera telephoned Walczynski. Shortly thereafter, Walczynski arrived at Lutheran General and initially observed Arthur remained "potentially homicidal." Later that evening, as Walczynski spoke with Arthur and his daughter, Arthur said his threats against the Social Security Administration were not serious. In an astonishingly quick recovery from his psychosis, Arthur agreed to outpatient treatment to control his rage and was discharged the next day.

On June 15, 1994, Arthur filed a one count complaint against Walczynski and Lutheran General. According to his complaint:

"*** mmediately thereafter entering said hospital, the plaintiff, ALEXANDER J. ARTHUR, demanded of the said LUTHERAN GENERAL HOSPITAL, operating by and through their duly authorized agents, servants and employees, and the said DR. ANN WALCZYNSKI, and each of them, that he be released from the said hospital; that notwithstanding said demand, the said defendants, kept the plaintiff in a confined area and refused to release him from that confined area; further, that the defendant, operating as afore said, did then and there refuse plaintiff's ...

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