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Doe v. Channon

November 22, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Cheryl Starks, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice O'brien


Plaintiff, John Doe, appeals the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Dr. Robert Channon on plaintiff's claim of false imprisonment based on plaintiff's involuntary admission to the psychiatric unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital from March 7 to March 9, 1997. On appeal, plaintiff contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Dr. Channon unlawfully restrained (i.e., falsely imprisoned) plaintiff in violation of section 3-610 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Code) (405 ILCS 5/3-610 (West 1996)) by failing to release plaintiff from the psychiatric unit "forthwith" after determining that plaintiff was not subject to involuntary admission. We affirm.

On Friday, March 7, 1997, plaintiff appeared in court for a hearing on a divorce and child custody matter. During the hearing, plaintiff became so disruptive that the trial court entered an order that plaintiff "be transported to Northwestern Hospital by the Cook County Sheriff for a psychiatric evaluation as to his mental status."

At the hospital, a mental health worker prepared a petition for plaintiff's involuntary admission under section 1-119 of the Code. Section 1-119 defines a person "subject to involuntary admission" as a person with mental illness who because of his illness is reasonably expected to inflict serious physical harm upon himself or another in the near future. 405 ILCS 5/1-119 (West 1996).

Dr. Tom Nutter, a resident in psychiatry, prepared a certificate in support pursuant to section 3-602 of the Code. Section 3-602 requires that the petition be accompanied by a certificate executed by a physician, qualified examiner, or clinical psychologist which states that the respondent is subject to involuntary admission and requires immediate hospitalization. 405 ILCS 5/3-602 (West 1996).

Dr. Channon, a psychiatrist on staff at Northwestern, examined plaintiff on Saturday, March 8, 1997, pursuant to section 3-610 of the Code. Section 3-610 states that a psychiatrist must examine the respondent no later than 24 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) after he is admitted. 405 ILCS 5/3-610 (West 1996). The psychiatrist who conducts this examination must execute a second certificate and may not be the same individual who executed the first certificate. 405 ILCS 5/3-610 (West 1996). Section 3-610 further states that, if no examination occurs within 24 hours of admission or if the examining psychiatrist does not execute a certificate, "the respondent shall be released forthwith." 405 ILCS 5/3-610 (West 1996).

Dr. Channon testified in an affidavit that after examining plaintiff, he made the determination that "further observation and inpatient treatment of [plaintiff] was warranted to ensure that the aggressive and threatening behavior he had exhibited the previous day was under sufficient control that he would be able to maintain his composure upon release. It was my opinion at the time of this examination that [plaintiff] was a potential danger to others and that his immediate discharge was not appropriate."

Dr. Channon's notes for March 8, 1997, further detailed his findings:

"Yesterday on the unit and today [plaintiff] has been making many phone calls to [his brother], parents, [outpatient] psychiatrist and therapist and me. He has been very anxious to leave the hospital. He has not threatened me but he has been almost frantic in trying to contact [hospital] administrators, etc. and [outpatient psychiatric] professionals. He believes he was managing fine until court order re custody yesterday. His family reports, however, he has been feeling like everyone is against him. He denies suicidal or homicidal ideation. He claims he is motivated to take meds and recognizes need to have an [attorney] for divorce and custody. He is not overtly psychotic; he does display narcissistic personality traits but has not been aggressive or threatening. Mild to moderately restless; periodically on verge of tears."

Dr. Channon further wrote that he anticipated plaintiff's discharge the next morning "if he maintains composure." After examining plaintiff again on March 9, 1997, Dr. Channon approved plaintiff's discharge.

Approximately one year later, plaintiff filed a false imprisonment suit against Dr. Channon. Plaintiff alleged that after examining plaintiff on March 8, Dr. Channon was required under section 3-610 to either execute a second certificate or release plaintiff "forthwith." Dr. Channon failed to execute the second certificate, yet he held defendant in the psychiatric unit until the following morning (March 9) before releasing him. Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Channon unlawfully restrained plaintiff by failing to release him "forthwith" on March 8.

Plaintiff's false imprisonment claim against Dr. Channon was assigned for trial. Dr. Channon filed a motion in limine asking the court to interpret section 3-610 as allowing Dr. Channon one business day after plaintiff's involuntary admission (i.e., until Monday, March 10, 1997) to issue the second certificate or release plaintiff. The trial court agreed with Dr. Channon's interpretation of section 3-610 and suggested that Dr. Channon seek summary judgment based on its ruling. Dr. Channon so moved, contending plaintiff could not establish that his hospitalization was unlawful under the trial court's interpretation of section 3-610. The trial court granted Dr. Channon's summary judgment motion and plaintiff filed this timely appeal.

Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file reveal that no genuine issues of material fact exist and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ragan v. Columbia Mutual Insurance Co., 183 Ill. 2d 342, 349 (1998). The ...

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