Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 01MR57 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton
On or about June 17, 2001, defendant, Eldon Millard, an inmate at Pontiac Correctional Center (Pontiac), declared a hunger strike to protest his transfer from East Moline Correctional Center (East Moline). The Illinois Department of Corrections (Department) filed a complaint for injunctive relief seeking authority to use reasonable and necessary force to administer medical treatment and nutrition to defendant.
On September 10, 2001, after hearing evidence and argument of counsel, the trial court entered an order authorizing the Department to force-feed defendant through the use of intravenous injections, a nasogastric tube, or a jejunostomy tube. On September 27, 2001, the trial court entered an amended order also authorizing the Department to force-feed defendant through the surgical implantation of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube. Defendant appeals, arguing his right to refuse nourishment outweighs the Department's interests in preserving life, preventing suicide, and maintaining the orderly prison administration. We affirm.
We review the testimony only to the extent necessary to put defendant's argument in context. According to the testimony, defendant began serving a three-year sentence for stalking on March 17, 1999. In October 2000, defendant was given one year's mandatory supervised release. In December 2000, he violated the terms of his release and was returned to prison to serve the remainder of his original sentence. Upon his return, defendant was placed in East Moline, a minimum-security facility. There, he was housed in the health-care unit due to his numerous health problems, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, asthma, degenerative arthritis, and obstructive sleep apnea.
In January 2001, defendant was transferred to Pontiac for medical reasons. Defendant had a tracheostomy tube, which, according to the manufacturer's recommendation, was scheduled to be replaced. A surgeon in Joliet, Illinois, was trained to perform such replacements, and Pontiac was closer to the scheduled surgery site than East Moline. At Pontiac, defendant was also housed in the health-care unit; however, Pontiac is a maximum-security facility where inmates have considerably fewer privileges. Within a few weeks of his transfer to Pontiac, defendant became obstinate, insulting, and threatening. He refused all medical care. He was evaluated twice by a psychiatrist, who determined that defendant was competent to refuse medical treatment.
In February and March 2001, defendant was disciplined for refusing orders and for engaging in threatening and intimidating behavior. Defendant was placed in segregation within the health-care unit and lost his good-time credit, giving him a new discharge date of February 16, 2002.
Beginning approximately June 17, 2001, defendant began a hunger strike (1) protesting his transfer to Pontiac, (2) objecting to having his tracheostomy tube replaced while in the Department's custody, and (3) claiming he was being wrongfully detained beyond his discharge date. He vowed to continue his hunger strike until he (1) was sent back to East Moline, (2) was released from prison, or (3) died.
On July 13, 2001, the Department filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction requesting authority to use reasonable and necessary force to monitor defendant's health and, if necessary, to administer life-essential nutrition. The trial court entered a temporary order requiring defendant submit to one blood draw, one electrocardiogram, and a check of his vital signs. The Department was not granted any further authorization.
On July 17, 2001, the trial court heard testimony and argument on the Department's motion for preliminary injunction and subsequently entered an order authorizing the Department to monitor defendant's health condition and, if necessary, to administer nutrition through intravenous and nasogastric tubes. On September 6, 2001, the Department filed a complaint for permanent injunctive relief and the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing. After two days of testimony, the trial court entered an order finding the Department's interests in preserving life, preventing suicide, and maintaining the orderly administration of its correctional institutions outweighed defendant's right to privacy. The trial court authorized the Department to monitor defendant's health and to administer nutrition intravenously or through the use of nasogastric or jejunostomy tubes. Defendant appealed, docket No. 4-01-0857.
On September 21, 2001, the Department requested the trial court amend its order to include the use of a PEG tube, a less-invasive approach, to administer nutrition to defendant. The trial court heard testimony from the Department's physician, who explained the procedure and benefits of the PEG tube. On September 27, 2001, the trial court amended its order to include the use of a PEG tube. Defendant appealed, docket No. 4-01-0953. We consolidated the appeals.
During the pendency of this appeal, defendant was released from prison. As of his release, it was no longer the Department's responsibility to provide medical care or nutrition to defendant, thereby rendering his claim moot. When events have occurred that make it impossible for the reviewing court to render effectual relief, a case is rendered moot. Marion Hospital Corp. v. Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, 201 Ill. 2d 465, 471, 777 N.E.2d 924, 927 (2002).
Despite the mootness of defendant's appeal, both parties ask that we retain jurisdiction and decide the legal issues presented pursuant to the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine. The criteria to invoke the public interest exception are (1) the public nature of the question, (2) the desirability of an authoritative determination for the purpose of guiding public officers, and (3) the likelihood that the question will generally recur. Johnson v. Edgar, 176 Ill. 2d 499, 513, 680 N.E.2d 1372, 1378 (1997).
We agree with the parties that the issue in this case falls within the public interest exception. The issue of whether the Department must force-feed a starving inmate against his will or allow the inmate to starve to death while committed to the Department is a matter of public importance. Further, this is a case of first impression in Illinois and the Department is in need of guidance. Finally, the issue of the Department's role during an inmate's hunger strike is likely to recur. Thus, we will decide the case on the merits and remove the uncertainty of the Department's role in similar situations.
This is a matter of weighing the Department's interest against defendant's or other inmates' constitutional rights. Constitutional questions, like other questions of law, are reviewed de novo. Quantum Pipeline Co. v. Illinois Commerce ...