34 P.3d 593 (N.M. 2001), 26,419, New Mexico Dept. of Health v. Compton

Docket Nº:26,419.
Citation:34 P.3d 593, 131 N.M. 204, 2001 -NMSC- 32
Opinion Judge:[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Serna, Chief Justice.
Party Name:NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, Petitioner-Respondent, v. Fred COMPTON, Respondent-Petitioner.
Attorney:[6] Protection and Advocacy System, Inc., Michael C. Parks, V. Colleen Miller, Sandra L. Gomez, Albuquerque, Nm, for Petitioner. New Mexico Department of Health, Beth W. Schaefer, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, Nm, for Respondent.
Judge Panel:GENE E. FRANCHINI, Justice (dissenting). PAMELA B. MINZNER, Justice (dissenting). MINZNER, Justice (dissenting).
Case Date:October 16, 2001
Court:Supreme Court of New Mexico

Page 593

34 P.3d 593 (N.M. 2001)

131 N.M. 204, 2001 -NMSC- 32



Fred COMPTON, Respondent-Petitioner.

No. 26,419.

Supreme Court of New Mexico

October 16, 2001.

Page 594

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 595

[131 N.M. 206] Protection and Advocacy System, Inc., Michael C. Parks,V. Colleen Miller, Sandra L. Gomez, Albuquerque, NM, for Petitioner.

Page 596

[131 N.M. 207] New Mexico Department of Health, Beth W. Schaefer, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Respondent.


SERNA, Chief Justice.

{1} Respondent-Petitioner Fred Compton seeks review of an opinion of the Court of Appeals, arguing that the New Mexico Department of Health (the Department) failed to provide him with a civil commitment hearing within the time limits mandated by NMSA 1978, § 43-1-11(A) (1989) and NMSA 1978, § 43-1-15(B) (1993, prior to 1999 amendment). Compton requests that this Court hold that the statutory time periods should be strictly construed and enforced and that the petitions against him should have been dismissed. We affirm.

I. Facts and Background

{2} Compton was involuntarily admitted to Las Vegas Medical Center (LVMC) on February 18, 1999, for an emergency mental health evaluation. Police initially encountered Compton as a result of threats he made to family members. The admitting psychiatrist at LVMC noted Compton's long history of mental illness, indicated that Compton suffered from a mental disorder as defined in NMSA 1978, § 43-1-3(O) (1993), and assigned a diagnosis of schizophrenia, paranoid type. On February 22, the Department filed two petitions in district court, one for a thirty-day commitment for mental health evaluation and treatment pursuant to Section 43-1-11(A), and another for appointment of a treatment guardian pursuant to Section 43-1-15(B). Following a determination of indigency, the district court, on February 23, appointed counsel to represent Compton in responding to the Department's two petitions.

{3} A hearing was scheduled for February 25. On that date, the district court postponed the hearing for one week due to illness of the assigned judge. The court held a hearing on March 4, fourteen calendar days after Compton's admission to LVMC and eight court days after the filing of the treatment guardian petition. During the hearing, Compton's attorney objected, for the first time, to the failure to hold the hearing within the statutorily mandated time and moved to dismiss both petitions. Compton argued that Section 43-1-11(A) and Section 43-1-15(B) mandated that the hearing be held on February 25.

{4} The district court rejected Compton's argument and found by clear and convincing evidence that Compton presented a likelihood of serious harm to himself or to others as a result of a mental disorder. The court entered orders committing Compton to LVMC for evaluation and treatment not to exceed thirty days and appointing a treatment guardian for him. Compton was discharged on March 25, 1999, less than thirty days after the initially scheduled hearing.

{5} Compton appealed to the Court of Appeals on the sole ground that the postponement of the February 25 hearing violated his statutory rights and required dismissal of the petitions. Compton did not appeal the district court's determination that he presented a likelihood of serious harm to himself or to others as a result of a mental disorder. The Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the district court's orders. N.M. Dep't of Health v. Compton, 2000 -NMCA- 078, 129 N.M. 474, 10 P.3d 153. The Court determined that the statutory time limits asserted by Compton were mandatory, but not jurisdictional, and that Compton suffered no prejudice from the seven-day postponement. Id. ¶ ¶ 19-20. This Court then granted Compton's petition for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals.

II. Discussion

A. Due Process

{6} Compton does not directly assert a violation of his constitutional right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, he repeatedly refers to the " 'massive curtailment of liberty' " implicated by involuntary civil commitment, relying on the United States Supreme Court's opinions in Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 491, 100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552 (1980) and Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 99 S.Ct. 1804, 60 L.Ed.2d323 (1979),

Page 597

[131 N.M. 208] and argues that the hearing rights at issue in this case have "constitutional underpinnings." Additionally, we note that the special concurrence in the Court of Appeals suggested that "liberty interests are implicated" by this case and expressed concern over the lack of protection "for these violated liberty interests." Compton, 2000 -NMCA- 078, ¶ 23, 129 N.M. 474, 10 P.3d 153 (Armijo, J., specially concurring). As a result, we believe it is necessary to address as a threshold matter the constitutional implications of the procedures used in this case in order to place the statutory time limitations in Section 43-1-11(A) and Section 43-1-15(B) in their proper context.

{7} The United States Supreme Court "repeatedly has recognized that civil commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection." Addington, 441 U.S. at 425, 99 S.Ct. 1804. This Court has also recognized that confinement "impinges [on] the right to liberty." State v. Rotherham, 122 N.M. 246, 255, 923 P.2d 1131, 1140 (1996). However, "[t]he state has a legitimate interest under its parens patriae powers in providing care to its citizens who are unable because of emotional disorders to care for themselves; the state also has authority under its police power to protect the community from the dangerous tendencies of some who are mentally ill." Addington, 441 U.S. at 426, 99 S.Ct. 1804; accord Rotherham, 122 N.M. at 255, 923 P.2d at 1140 (stating that "as long as [individuals] remain dangerous, the State has an interest in committing them to protect [them] and the public"). "In a civil commitment state power is not exercised in a punitive sense." Addington, 441 U.S. at 428, 99 S.Ct. 1804. Thus, in order to weigh Compton's liberty interest against the Department's parens patriae and police powers, while being "mindful that the function of legal process is to minimize the risk of erroneous decisions," Addington, 441 U.S. at 425, 99 S.Ct. 1804, we apply the balancing test established by the Supreme Court in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976), in order to assess the amount of process required by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Rotherham, 122 N.M. at 262, 923 P.2d at 1147 (applying Mathews to the question of whether criminal commitment requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt). Under Mathews, we rely on the following factors:

First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous depravation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.

Mathews, 424 U.S. at 335, 96 S.Ct. 893.

{8} In New Mexico, involuntary civil commitment is governed by the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code, NMSA 1978, §§ 43-1-1 to -25 (1977, as amended through 1998, prior to 1999 amendments). There are three stages of involuntary civil commitment contemplated by the Code, each with different procedural requirements. As a preliminary measure, the Legislature has created a method for involuntary commitment for emergency mental health evaluation and care. NMSA 1978, § 43-1-10 (1989). Under this provision, a peace officer may transport an individual to an evaluation facility if one of four factors are met: (1) the person is subject to lawful arrest; (2) there are reasonable grounds to believe the person has just attempted suicide; (3) there are reasonable grounds to believe the person presents a likelihood of serious harm to himself or herself or to others as a result of a mental disorder; or (4) a licensed physician or psychologist certifies that the person presents a likelihood of serious harm to himself or herself or to others as a result of a mental disorder. Section 43-1-10(A). A court order is not required to transport the person to an evaluation and treatment facility. Section 43-1-10(B). Upon arriving at the facility, the admitting physician or psychologist must conduct an evaluation to determine "whether reasonable grounds exist to detain the proposed client for evaluation and treatment," the outcome of which will be determinative of whether the person is detained for emergency evaluation and treatment. Section 43-1-

Page 598

[131 N.M. 209] 10(E) . If the individual is detained, he or she

shall be informed orally and in writing by the evaluation facility of the purpose and possible consequences of the proceedings, the allegations in the petition, [the] right to a hearing within seven days, [the] right to counsel and [the] right to communicate with an attorney and an independent mental health professional of [the person's] own choosing, and shall have the right to receive necessary and appropriate treatment.

Section 43-1-10(F).

{9} The next stage of commitment contemplated by the Code is a thirty-day period of evaluation and treatment. Section 43-1-11. The Legislature has established a number of procedural protections to accompany this level of commitment. Unlike an emergency transport and detention, a thirty-day commitment must be authorized by a court order and only after a hearing at which "the client shall be represented by counsel and shall have the right to present evidence on [the client's] behalf, including testimony by an independent mental health...

To continue reading