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In re Michelle J.

April 01, 2004

IN RE MICHELLE J. ET AL.
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,APPELLEE,
v.
MICHELLE J. ET AL., APPELLANTS).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

PUBLISHED

Docket No. 95927-Agenda 5-January 2004.

Before us are two unrelated cases involving respondents admitted involuntarily to state-operated mental health facilities pursuant to the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (the Code) (405 ILCS 5/1-100 et seq. (West 2000). The cases were heard on the same day by the same trial judge. In each instance, the court rejected challenges by the respondents' counsel that the State had failed to comply with section 3-807 of the Code (405 ILCS 5/3-807 (West 2000)), which requires that certain testimony be presented before a person may be found subject to involuntary admission. The appellate court consolidated the cases and affirmed. 336 Ill. App. 3d 1026. We granted the respondents' petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315. For the reasons that follow, we now affirm in part and reverse in part.

The pertinent facts are straightforward. The two respondents before us are known as Sam S. and Michelle J. At the time of the events giving rise to this appeal, Sam S. had already been determined to be a person subject to involuntary admission under the Code and had been admitted, involuntarily, to a state-operated mental health facility by order of the circuit court. In July of 2001, the State filed a petition pursuant to section 3-813 of the Code (405 ILCS 5/3-813 (West 2000)) to extend Sam's involuntary admission for an additional period.

Proceedings to extend involuntary admissions are subject to the same provisions of the Code as those governing initial involuntary admissions. 405 ILCS 5/3-813(b) (West 2000). A hearing is to be conducted. See 405 ILCS 5/3-702, 3-813 (West 2000). Pursuant to section 3-807 of the Code,

"[n]o respondent may be found subject to involuntary admission unless at least one psychiatrist, clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist who has examined him testifies in person at the hearing. The respondent may waive the requirement of the testimony subject to the approval of the court." 405 ILCS 5/3-807 (West 2000).

The hearing on the State's petition was conducted August 23, 2001, in Madison County. Sam was not present. The preceding month he had been transferred to a different state-operated mental health facility in another county. Although he could have requested a change of venue based on the transfer (405 ILCS 5/3-800(a) (West 2000)), he did not. He likewise declined to travel back to Madison County to appear. A written waiver of Sam's right to be present at the hearing was filed by his attorney (405 ILCS 5/3-806 (West 2000)). The validity of that waiver was not challenged, and the matter went forward in Sam's absence.

During the course of the hearing, the State called only one witness to testify in person. She was Debra Ferguson, chief psychologist at the Alton Mental Health Center, where Sam had been hospitalized prior to his recent transfer. Ferguson testified that she was "not directly involved in his treatment" and has "never been directly involved in his treatment." Ferguson did not meet with Sam personally for the purposes of the hearing. She told the court that she had the opportunity to interview him two weeks earlier, but that because "he was in a compromised condition and was actually in restraints" at that time, she was unable to go forward. Her recollection was that the last time she had met with Sam personally was six months earlier.

Although Ferguson was unable to examine Sam herself, Sam's condition subsequently improved. According to Ferguson, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a clinical social worker were all able to examine him prior to the hearing. None of those health-care professionals, however, were called by the State to substantiate its case. Instead, the State argued for continued involuntary commitment based solely on the strength of what Ferguson had discerned from her review of Sam's records and conversations with staff at the facility where he was hospitalized.

In opposing the State's case, Sam's attorney argued that because Ferguson had not examined Sam herself, her testimony was not sufficient to meet the State's burden under section 3-807 of the Code (405 ILCS 5/3-807 (West 2000)). The circuit court rejected that argument. Based on Ferguson's conclusions, the court granted the State's petition, found that Sam was a person subject to involuntary admission, and ordered that he continue to be held in a state-operated mental health facility.

Michelle J.'s case involved different circumstances from Sam's. Michelle was initially admitted to the Alton Mental Health Center on an emergency basis pursuant to section 3-600 of the Code (405 ILCS 5/3-600 (West 2000)) based on a certification indicating that she was mentally ill and required immediate hospitalization to protect herself and others from serious harm. The hearing to determine whether Michelle was a person subject to involuntary admission was conducted shortly thereafter, on the same day and before the same judge as in Sam's case.

As in Sam's case, the proceedings against Michelle were subject to section 3-807 of the Code, which precludes involuntary admission "unless at least one psychiatrist, clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist who has examined [the respondent] testifies in person at the hearing." 405 ILCS 5/3-807 (West 2000). To comply with section 3-807, the State called Lenora Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist employed at the Alton Mental Health Center. Brown testified that she attempted to interview Michelle the day before the hearing, but discontinued the interview on the grounds that Michelle did not appear capable of making "an informed decision on whether or not to waive her rights." In contrast to State's witness in Sam's case, however, Brown did have personal knowledge of Michelle's condition. Brown knew Michelle, interacted with her during a group session conducted three days earlier, and served as a consultant to her treatment team. Brown's assessment of Michelle was therefore not limited to information she acquired secondhand through Michelle's medical records and conversations with other staff.

Michelle was represented by the same attorney who represented Sam, and he raised the same challenge to the sufficiency of the State's case. He argued that Brown could not be considered to have examined Michelle and that her testimony was therefore not sufficient to meet the State's burden under section 3-807 of the Code (405 ILCS 5/3-807 (West 2000)). As it did in Sam's case, the circuit court rejected that argument. Based on Brown's testimony, the court granted the State's petition, found that Michelle was a person subject to involuntary admission, and ordered that she be held in a state-operated mental health facility.

Sam and Michelle each appealed. Their appeals presented a single question: Did the State adequately comply with section 3-807 of the Code? The appellate court answered this question in the affirmative and upheld the circuit court's judgments. In so doing, it concluded that the statute's requirement of testimony from a "psychiatrist, clinical social worker or clinical psychologist who has examined [the respondent]" does not mean that the expert must have examined the respondent personally. The appellate court recognized that a personal interview with the respondent prior to a hearing for involuntary commitment is "highly desirous," but found that such an interview is not absolutely required by the Code where, among other things, ...


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