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In re Lance H.

Supreme Court of Illinois

October 17, 2014

In re LANCE H. (The People of the State of Illinois, Appellant,
Lance H., Appellee)

Page 512

Circuit court judgment affirmed.


Where a respondent who was a resident at a mental health facility testified, at a hearing on a petition to continue his involuntary admission, that he wanted to be admitted voluntarily, but where no oral or written motion therefor was made by his attorney, the circuit court did not err in failing to consider or rule on this request and was not required to sua sponte grant a continuance for the making of such a motion, although it did have discretion to grant such a continuance if moved for by counsel.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Springfield, and Randall Rodewald, State's Attorney, of Chester (Michael A. Scodro and Carolyn E. Shapiro, Solicitors General, and Richard S. Huszagh, Assistant Attorney General, all of Chicago, and Patrick Delfino, Stephen E. Norris and Sharon Shanahan, all of the Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, of Mt. Vernon, of counsel), for the People.

Barbara A. Goeben and Veronique Baker, of the Legal Advocacy Service of the Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, of Alton, for appellee.

CHIEF JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Burke dissented, with opinion.



Page 513

[¶1] The circuit court of Randolph County committed respondent, Lance H., to the Chester Mental Health Center for 180 days on May 4, 2011. Respondent appealed his involuntary admission, arguing the trial court violated the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/1-100 (West 2010)) by disregarding his oral request, in testimony, to be voluntarily admitted. The appellate court issued a ruling on August 8, 2012, more than nine months after respondent's term of commitment ended. 2012 IL App. (5th) 110244, 973 N.E.2d 538, 362 Ill.Dec. 438. The appellate court first considered whether respondent's case might fall under an exception to the mootness doctrine and found the public interest exception applied. Id. ¶ 19. The appellate court reversed, holding that section 3-801 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-801 (West 2010)) required the trial court to " consider and rule" on respondent's request. 2012 IL App. (5th) 110244, ¶ 26. We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal (Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2013)) and now reverse the appellate court and affirm the circuit court.


[¶3] Respondent is a 53-year-old man who has spent much of his adult life incarcerated or institutionalized. Since being paroled from the Department of Corrections in 1997, respondent had been admitted to mental health facilities fifteen times before the involuntary admission at issue in this case. In 2008, upon the conclusion

Page 514

of a sentence at Menard Correctional Center for parole violations, he was involuntarily admitted to Chester Mental Health Center (CMHC).

[¶4] On April 28, 2011, David Dunker[1] filed a petition alleging that respondent was a person subject to involuntary admission because (1) due to his mental illness, he was reasonably expected, unless treated on inpatient basis, to engage in conduct subjecting himself or another person to physical harm or a reasonable expectation of physical harm; and (2) due to his mental illness, he was unable to provide for his basic physical needs so as to guard himself from serious harm without the assistance of family or others, unless treated on an inpatient basis. The petition included a certificate by a CMHC staff psychiatrist setting forth these two bases for involuntary admission and opining that respondent was in need of immediate hospitalization to prevent those harms. The petition also had respondent's 30-day treatment plan attached. The certificate and treatment plan stated a variety of threats, violent acts, incidents of resisting treatment, and inappropriate behaviors by respondent, some of which were later described in testimony at the commitment hearing.

[¶5] The State called only one witness at the commitment hearing. Travis Nottmeier testified that he was a social worker at CMHC, that he had interviewed respondent and those treating him, and that he had reviewed respondent's clinical file. Nottmeier testified that respondent has " an Axis I diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, paraphilia NOS, history of noncompliance with the medications, and an Axis II diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder." Nottmeier testified that respondent displayed " delusional thought content which is grandiose, paranoid, and persecutory in nature," that he had periodic inappropriate sexual conduct, that he engaged in acts of verbal and physical aggression, and that he had " noncompliance with medication which displays poor insight into his mental illness." Nottmeier testified that respondent was presently taking his medication, but on a " crush and observe order" due to prior refusals. Nottmeier testified as to three incidents within the prior two months in which respondent had to be placed in physical holds or seclusion due to aggressive behavior, including two incidents of hitting fellow patients. Overall, Nottmeier testified to five instances of threatening or aggressive behavior from respondent. Nottmeier opined that respondent would not take his medication outside the structured setting of a CMHC, that respondent could not take care of his own basic physical needs, and that outside the structure of CMHC, respondent's condition would deteriorate to the point he would be a threat to harm himself or others. Nottmeier further opined that respondent meets the criteria for involuntary commitment.

[¶6] On cross-examination, Nottmeier testified that respondent had been placed on " red level" the day before the petition for involuntary admission was filed, for an incident in which he engaged in threatening behavior. Nottmeier said respondent does engage in his therapy sessions, but said respondent also became hostile and verbally aggressive with his therapist. Nottmeier also said respondent participates in off-unit activities when allowed, though occasionally with inappropriate behavior, and that respondent has " limited contact with some of his family members." Nottmeier testified he was unaware of any effort by respondent to seek voluntary admission to CMHC. Asked if there was any reason

Page 515

why respondent " could not elect to become a voluntary patient," Nottmeier replied, " None that I'm aware of."

[¶7] Respondent testified on his own behalf. He testified that the experience of his mother's death had given him insights that would deter him from committing any further acts of violence, and said he would take his medication because he now understood the necessity. Respondent believed that, if released, he would be able to provide for his own physical needs, that he would live with his brother or sister, and that family and friends could assist in his care. Respondent testified that he had spoken to his attorney the morning of the hearing about his desire to become a voluntary patient. Respondent also testified that he had told his assigned social worker that he wanted to become a voluntary patient, but the social worker had brushed off his wishes for two years. Respondent's counsel then asked him, " And pursuant to our conversation this morning, you are requesting to become a voluntary patient; is that correct?" Respondent answered, " Yes, sir." Respondent's counsel did not move for a continuance or make any other motion relating to respondent's desire to become a voluntary patient.

[¶8] The State did not cross-examine respondent, nor did the respondent call any other witnesses. The circuit court found respondent subject to involuntary admission without further addressing respondent's statement that he was requesting to become a voluntary patient. The court made findings as to respondent's mental illness and found he was " reasonably expected to engage in dangerous conduct that may include threatening behavior, conduct that may cause other persons to be in expectation of being harmed, unable to provide for basic physical needs," and " unable to understand his need for treatment." Checking boxes on a preprinted order, the court found respondent was a person with mental illness who, " because of his illness is reasonably expected to engage in dangerous conduct which may include threatening behavior or conduct placing that person or another individual in reasonable expectation of being harmed," who " because of his illness 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 who " because of the nature of his illness, is unable to understand his need for treatment and who, 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." The court found hospitalization under the Department of Human Services to be the least restrictive environment appropriate and available.

[¶9] The appellate court reviewed the case under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine and reversed. The appellate court held that the circuit court failed to comply with the requirements of section 3-801 of the Mental Health Code, which permits the respondent to make a request for voluntary admission at any time prior to an adjudication that he is subject to involuntary admission. The appellate court noted that the circuit court took no action on respondent's statement in testimony that he requested voluntary admission. Looking to the language of the statute, it reasoned that " [i]mplicit in the language of the statute is that the trial court will actually consider and rule on the request, which did not occur in this case." 2012 IL App. (5th) 110244, ¶ 26. The appellate court pointed to an absence of a recommendation from the facility director and an absence of evidence that voluntary treatment would be inadequate. Id. ¶ ¶ 25, 30. It also rejected

Page 516

any distinction in legal effect between an oral request and a written application. Id. ¶ 29.


[¶11] Before this court, respondent does not challenge the adequacy of the evidence that he was subject to involuntary admission. The sole question presented in this case is whether the Mental Health Code requires the circuit court to act on an oral request for voluntary admission to a mental health facility during a proceeding for involuntary admission to the facility. This is a question of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. In re Commitment of Fields, 2014 IL 115542, ¶ 32, 381 Ill.Dec. 423, 10 N.E.3d 832. The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to determine the intent of the legislature, and the most reliable means of doing so is to apply the plain language of the statute. Id. Where the language is plain and unambiguous, we apply the statute without resort to further aids of statutory construction. Id.

[¶12] As a threshold inquiry, however, we must consider our own jurisdiction over this case. The existence of an actual controversy is essential to appellate jurisdiction, and courts of review generally do not decide moot questions. In re James W., 2014 IL 114483, ¶ 18, 381 Ill.Dec. 621, 10 N.E.3d 1224. Where intervening events have made it impossible for the reviewing court to grant effective relief to the complaining party, the issues involved in the trial court no longer exist, and the case is moot. Id. ¶ 19. On May 4, 2011, the circuit court committed respondent to 180 days in Chester Mental Health Center. It has been nearly three years since his term of involuntary admission ended. The court's order can no longer serve as the basis for adverse action against the respondent, and this case is moot. See In re Alfred H.H., 233 Ill.2d 345, 351, 910 N.E.2d 74, 331 Ill.Dec. 1 (2009).

[¶13] A court of review may, however, review a case under an exception to the mootness doctrine. " [T]here is no per se exception to mootness that universally applies to mental health cases." In re Alfred H.H., 233 Ill.2d 345, 355, 910 N.E.2d 74, 331 Ill.Dec. 1 (2009). The appellate court considered this case under the public interest exception (2012 IL App. (5th) 110244, ¶ 19), and the parties do not further argue the issue here. The public interest exception applies when (1) the question presented is of a public nature, (2) there is a need for an authoritative determination for the future guidance of public officers, and (3) there is a likelihood of future recurrence of the question. In re Alfred H.H., 233 Ill.2d 345, 355, 910 N.E.2d 74, 331 Ill.Dec. 1 (2009). The public interest exception is " 'narrowly construed and requires a clear showing of each criterion.'" Id. at 355-56 (quoting In re Marriage of Peters-Farrell, 216 Ill.2d 287, 292, 835 N.E.2d 797, 296 Ill.Dec. 444 (2005)).

[¶14] This case presents a question of a public nature. " [T]he procedures which must be followed and the proofs that must be made before a court may authorize involuntary treatment to recipients of mental health services are matters of a public nature and of substantial public concern." In re Mary Ann P., 202 Ill.2d 393, 402, 781 N.E.2d 237, 269 Ill.Dec. 440 (2002). This case concerns the procedure for how a circuit court must respond to a respondent's request for voluntary admission after commencement of a hearing on involuntary admission. The appellate ...

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