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Sassali v. Defauw

June 16, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County.

No. 96--L--17

Honorable Gerald F. Grubb, Judge, Presiding.

Defendant Thomas DeFauw, CEO and facility director of Rockford Memorial Hospital, appeals the denial of his motion to dismiss count XV of plaintiff's, Wendy Sassali's, first amended complaint. DeFauw argues that the trial court erred in concluding that an initially authorized detention pursuant to the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/1--100 et seq. (West 1994)) can be converted into a false imprisonment when the detaining facility fails to comply with the filing requirements of the Mental Health Code.

Count XV alleges that at approximately 4 p.m. on January 23, 1994, defendants Michael Sassali and Harry Darland forcibly transported plaintiff to Rockford Memorial Hospital and initiated emergency involuntary commitment proceedings. The Mental Health Code required DeFauw to file a petition for involuntary admission on Monday, January 24. DeFauw did not file this petition within the allotted time and his failure to do so resulted in plaintiff being falsely imprisoned.

Pursuant to section 2--619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--619(a)(9) (West 1996)) DeFauw moved to dismiss this count, arguing that plaintiff's detention was proper because it was part of the legal process under article VI of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3--600 et seq. (West 1994)). The trial court denied DeFauw's motion but, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308), certified the following question: "whether an initially authorized detention under the Mental Health Code can become a false imprisonment when there is a failure to comply with the filing requirement for the commitment procedure." DeFauw timely filed an application for leave to appeal and we granted the application.

Before addressing the merits, we first note that defendant Rockford Memorial Hospital (Rockford) also attempted to appeal. The same counsel represents Rockford and DeFauw. In the trial court, Rockford and DeFauw moved to dismiss, among other counts, counts X, XII and XV. Count X accuses DeFauw of negligent infliction of emotional distress and count XII raises similar allegations against Rockford. On appeal, Rockford and DeFauw treat these two counts as if they are the same as count XV. The certified question, however, addresses only the count alleging false imprisonment and not the two counts alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress. Our jurisdiction under Rule 308 is limited to considering the certified question and we cannot address issues outside that area. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. v. International Insurance Co., 288 Ill. App. 3d 69, 84 (1997). Here, the certified question is limited to the allegations concerning false imprisonment and, therefore, we are limited to considering only count XV. Since count XV is directed only against DeFauw and not Rockford, Rockford is not a proper party to this appeal.

We turn now to the certified question. DeFauw contends that he cannot be held liable for false imprisonment because plaintiff's detention was pursuant to legal process, authorized by the Mental Health Code, and authorized by court order. Plaintiff concedes that the Mental Health Code authorized her initial detention. Plaintiff asserts, however, that this authorization ended when DeFauw failed to file the petition and required documents within the 24-hour period.

We first address DeFauw's contention that he cannot be held liable for false imprisonment because plaintiff's detention was pursuant to "legal process." In support of this argument, DeFauw relies upon Olsen v. Karwoski, 68 Ill. App. 3d 1031 (1979). In Olsen the court held that the plaintiff could not sustain a claim of false imprisonment because his emergency involuntary admissions to mental hospitals were the result of lawful arrests. Olsen, 68 Ill. App. 3d at 1038. DeFauw apparently concludes that this provides blanket immunity for plaintiff's detention if the detention is part of the "legal process." Such a Conclusion is incorrect.

We agree with DeFauw that, under Olsen, a lawful detention pursuant to the provisions of the Mental Health Code cannot be the basis of a false imprisonment claim. Our analysis, however, does not end here. The fact that the original detention may be lawful does not mean that the subsequent detention is. See Fulford v. O'Connor, 3 Ill. 2d 490, 500-01 (1954); Weimann v. County of Kane, 150 Ill. App. 3d 962, 968 (1986); see also Hyatt v. United States, 968 F. Supp. 96, 110 (E.D.N.Y 1997) (applying Illinois law to a false imprisonment claim).

Although neither party has cited Fulford, we believe that it provides clear instruction for the Disposition of this appeal. In Fulford, two police officers arrested the plaintiff on April 6 as a burglary suspect. On April 8, the arresting officers charged the plaintiff with disorderly conduct. After the plaintiff was found not guilty of disorderly conduct, he sued the arresting officers alleging false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The jury found for the plaintiff, but the trial court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the officers.

On appeal, the supreme court noted that a statute required the officers to take the plaintiff, without unnecessary delay, before the nearest magistrate. Fulford, 3 Ill. 2d at 498, citing Ill. Rev. Stat. 1953, ch. 38, par. 660. The court explained that, instead of complying with this requirement, the officers detained the plaintiff from the evening of April 6 until the morning of April 8 while they attempted to discover sufficient evidence to charge the plaintiff with burglary. Fulford, 3 Ill. 2d at 497, 500. The court reasoned that this detention by the officers "show[ed] a flat disregard of the duty which the law imposes upon police officers." Fulford, 3 Ill. 2d at 500. The court concluded that the officers, therefore, could be held liable for false imprisonment. Fulford, 3 Ill. 2d at 501.

Section 3--611 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3--611 (West 1994)) provides: "Within 24 hours, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, after the respondent's admission under this Article, the facility director of the facility shall file 2 copies of the petition *** with the court in the county in which the facility is located." 405 ILCS 5/3--611 (West 1994). If a person is admitted on a Sunday, and the following Monday is not a holiday, the 24-hour period during which the petition must be filed begins at 12:01 a.m. Monday and expires at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. See In re Stone, 249 Ill. App. 3d 861, 865 (1993). The failure to timely file the petition is an error that cannot be waived (In re La Touche, 247 Ill. App. 3d 615, 618 (1993); Stone, 249 Ill. App. 3d at 866) or considered harmless (La Touche, 247 Ill. App. 3d at 620; Stone, 249 Ill. App. 3d at 866). Section 3--611 creates a bright line test with which the facility director must strictly comply. La Touche, 247 Ill. App. 3d at 620. If the director does not comply with this section, the director must either release the recipient or initiate new involuntary commitment proceedings.

In Fulford, a statute required the arresting officers to take the plaintiff before a magistrate. A jury found that their failure to do so rendered them liable for false imprisonment. Here, a statute required DeFauw to file the petition by 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Since DeFauw, like the officers in Fulford, disregarded his statutory duty and ...

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