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In re James W.

Supreme Court of Illinois

February 21, 2014

In re JAMES W. The People of the State of Illinois, Appellant,
James W., Appellee.

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Appellate court judgment reversed. Circuit court judgment affirmed.


In a case in which a respondent on a petition to continue his involuntary admission to a mental health facility made an eve-of-trial jury request which was not untimely but which resulted in a 96-day delay, this was not fatal to the ultimate granting of the petition, despite a statutory 15-day limit on continuances, where the statute was directory rather than mandatory and no prejudice was shown.

For People, Appellant: Ms. Sharon Dawn Shanahan, Staff Attorney, State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor, Mt. Vernon, IL; Hon. Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Division, Mr. Richard Scott Huszagh, Assistant Attorney General, Mr. Carl J. Elitz, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Appeals Division, Chicago, IL; State's Attorney Randolph County, Randolph County Courthouse, Chester, IL.

For James W., Appellee: Ms. Barbara Ann L. Goeben, Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, Alton, IL; Ms. Veronique Baker, Director, Chicago, IL.

Amicus Curiae for Mental Health America of Illinois, Mental Health Project of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal, Mr. Mark J. Heyrman, Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Thomas and Kilbride concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Theis specially concurred, with opinion. Justice Burke concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion, joined by Chief Justice Garman and Justice Freeman.


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[¶1] The issue in this case is whether a judgment continuing a patient's involuntary admission to a mental health facility pursuant to chapter 3, article VIII, of the

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Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (the Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/3-800 et seq . (West 2010)) is fatally infirm because of the length of time--96 days--between the patient's demand for a jury trial and the date when the jury trial took place. The appellate court held that under the particular circumstances present here, the delay in conducting the hearing was significant enough to be prejudicial to the patient and that the circuit court of Randolph County's judgment must be reversed. 2012 IL App (5th) 100422, 969 N.E.2d 944, 360 Ill.Dec. 899. We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2013). We also allowed Mental Health of America and the Mental Health Project of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law to file a friend of the court brief. Ill. S.Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sept. 10, 2010). For the reasons that follow, we now reverse.


[¶3] James W. is a 60-year old male with a lengthy criminal record and a history of psychiatric hospitalizations. At the time of the events giving rise to this litigation, James W. was being held involuntarily at the Chester Mental Health Center, a facility operated by this State's Department of Human Services " for the care, custody, and treatment of persons with mental illness or habilitation of persons with developmental disabilities." 20 ILCS 1705/14 (West 2010). James had resided at Chester since December 12, 2003, pursuant to a succession of involuntary commitment orders entered under the Mental Health Code after he had reached the mandatory parole date on criminal sentences he was serving at the Dixon Correctional Center.

[¶4] In April 2010, as James W.'s most recent involuntary commitment order was about to expire, David Dunker, director of the Chester facility, filed a petition in circuit court pursuant to section 3-813 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-813 (West 2010)) alleging that James W. continued to be subject to involuntary admission on an inpatient basis.[1] As required by section 3-813, the petition was supported by certificates from two mental health professionals, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, stating that in their opinions, James W. was " [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 ***; is unable to provide for his basic physical needs so as to guard himself from serious harm, without the assistance of family or outside help; [and is] in need of immediate hospitalization for the prevention of such harm." The certificates also detailed James W.'s prior history, including his numerous arrests and convictions, his ongoing psychosis and chronic assaultive behavior, his diagnosis as a schizophrenic and chronic paranoid, his treatment with various anti-psychotic drugs, and his " systematized delusions," including delusions that he suffered from a sexually transmitted disease and that his food was being poisoned. Also supporting the petition was the statutorily-required current treatment plan, which included an evaluation of James W.'s progress and the extent to which he is benefitting from treatment. See 405 ILCS 5/3-813(a) (West 2010).

[¶5] The petition to continue James W.'s involuntary admission was filed on April 29, 2010. That same day, the circuit court entered an order setting the matter for a

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hearing on May 5, 2010, and appointing counsel to represent James. James's attorney appeared before the court on the fifth and requested that the court order an independent evaluation of his client as authorized by section 3-804 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-804 (West 2010)). At the conclusion of that hearing, the court granted counsel's request, appointed Dr. N. Vallabhaneni to conduct the examination, ordered Vallabhaneni to submit a written report to counsel and the court, and set the matter for another hearing on May 19, 2010.

[¶6] Dr. Vallabhaneni met with James W. in person at the Chester facility on May 18, 2010. Based on his examination of James and his review of James's medical records, Dr. Vallabhaneni opined that James suffered from serious mental illness, specifically " Schizophrenia, Paranoid" and " Personality Disorder with many Anti-Social and Paranoid Features." Dr. Vallabhaneni was of the view that because of James's mental illness, James " is reasonably expected to engage in dangerous conduct, which may include threatening behavior or conduct that places him in reasonable expectation of harm. He is also a person with mental illness who because of the nature of his illness is unable to understand his need for treatment and if not treated is reasonably expected to suffer or continue to suffer mental deterioration or emotional deterioration or both to the point that the person is reasonably expected to engage in dangerous conduct."

[¶7] Finally, Dr. Vallabhaneni concluded that because of James's " chronic psychiatric condition and lack of response to the treatment, and his own belief of not having any mental illness, he has a tendency to refuse psychiatric treatment, including medication. He is currently stationed at Chester Mental Health Center as an inpatient. This writer recommends that [he] be committed as an involuntary patient for further treatment without which he is likely to decompensate or deteriorate to inflict harm upon himself or others."

[¶8] As scheduled, the matter was called for a hearing on May 19, 2010. Dr. Vallabhaneni was present and prepared to testify. Before any evidence was presented, however, James W.'s attorney advised the court that his client had elected to exercise his right to have a jury decide whether he should continue to be subject to involuntary admission on an inpatient basis. See 405 ILCS 5/3-802 (West 2010).

[¶9] The court questioned James W. to confirm that he did, in fact, wish to have a jury trial. When James W. answered in the affirmative, the court advised him that " we don't have any other juries *** for mental health until August" and asked him if he understood that. James W. responded, " Yeah, I'll wait." The court then advised him that it would set the matter for a jury trial in August, but cautioned that doing so would mean that he would have to remain at the Chester facility until then. James W. responded that he understood, adding, " I ain't going nowhere noway."

[¶10] There being no objection, the matter was duly set for a jury trial on August 23, 2010. During that trial only two witnesses testified, Dr. Vallabhaneni and James W. himself. Dr. Vallabhaneni's testimony was consistent with the contents of the written report he had prepared following his evaluation of James W. the previous May, and there was no suggestion during direct or cross-examination that James W.'s mental status had changed in any way during the interim.

[¶11] James W., for his part, expressed surprise that he had a court date that day, and stated that he was not feeling any better than when he first became a resident of the Chester facility in 2003. He testified that he believed he could provide

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for himself if released, that he had family and friends who could help him, that he would continue to take his medicine, that he was not hearing voices or hallucinating, and that he did not believe he would be a danger to himself or others. On cross-examination, James admitted that he had not been out on his own since 2002 and then only for four months before he " messed up." He denied having told his doctor that he wanted to be released " because God wants his king," and he recounted details of various incidents of violence in which he had been involved, claiming that in each instance he was the victim rather than the aggressor.

[¶12] Following the presentation of the evidence and closing argument, the matter was submitted to the jury. The jury subsequently returned with a unanimous verdict that James was a person subject to involuntary admission under the applicable law. The court entered judgment on the verdict, and ordered James W. to " be hospitalized in the Department of Human Services, which is the least restrictive environment currently appropriate and available." The court's written order was filed August 23, 2010, and, by its terms, was to remain in effect for 180 days.

[¶13] James W. indicated his desire to appeal, and the circuit court appointed an attorney from the Guardianship and Mental Health Advocacy Commission to represent him. In the appellate court, James W. argued that the time between when he asked for a jury trial (May 19, 2010) and when the jury trial was ultimately held (August 23, 2010), a period of 96 days, was longer than the Mental Health Code permits and that the judgment entered on the jury's verdict must therefore be reversed.[2] James W. further argued that reversal was also required because the State's petition to continue James's involuntary admission did not list his friends or family members.

[¶14] While the case was pending on appeal, the August 23, 2010 involuntary admission order entered by the circuit court expired and could no longer serve as the basis for hospitalizing James. This rendered the case moot. In re Alfred H.H., 233 Ill.2d 345, 351, 910 N.E.2d 74, 331 Ill.Dec. 1 (2009). Although there is no per se exception to the mootness doctrine that applies universally to mental health cases ( id. at 355), the parties argued and the appellate court agreed that the case fell within the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine because the issue it presented regarding the timeliness of the jury trial is a matter of public concern, an authoritative determination is needed to guide public officials and the courts, and the question is likely to recur. 2012 IL App (5th) 100422, ¶ 8.

[¶15] The appellate court then turned to the merits of the case, concluding that it could only affirm the circuit court's judgment if it found that the delay in conducting the jury trial was not prejudicial to James. Id. ¶ 20. In undertaking that assessment, the court acknowledged that some delay was necessitated by the fact that James did not make his jury demand until just before the evidentiary hearing on the petition was about to begin. It opined, however, that the delay was so far beyond the regular hearing times contemplated by

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the Mental Health Code that the prejudice to James was " self-evident." Id. ¶ 28. The court further noted that there was nothing in the record to indicate that a delay of this length was necessary to accommodate James's jury demand. In the court's view, things took as long as they did simply because no attempt had been made to " comply with the statutory provisions." Id. The court also rejected the State's argument that James should be precluded from complaining of the delay because he agreed to it. In the appellate court's view, the choice presented to James--proceed to trial immediately or wait three months to have the case heard by a jury--is one which James should not have been required to make. Id. ¶ 29.

[¶16] Based on the foregoing analysis, the appellate court concluded that the circuit court's August 23, 2010 order involuntarily admitting James must be reversed. In light of that decision, the appellate court determined that there was no need for it to resolve the additional issue raised by James regarding whether the State's petition was fatally ...

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