In re Civil Commitment of I.M., 012021 NJSUP, A-0292-19T2

Docket Nº:A-0292-19T2, A-0317-19T2
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM
Party Name:IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF I.M. IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF A.F.
Attorney:Shannon M. Dolan, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellants I.M. and A.F. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Shannon M. Dolan, on the briefs). Suzette Price, Assistant County Counsel, argued the cause for respondent Mercer County (Paul R. Adezio, Mercer County ...
Judge Panel:Before Judges Messano and Smith.
Case Date:January 20, 2021
Court:Superior Court of New Jersey

IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF I.M.

IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF A.F.

Nos. A-0292-19T2, A-0317-19T2

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

January 20, 2021

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 19, 2020

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket Nos. MECC-736-19 and MECC-803-19.

Shannon M. Dolan, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellants I.M. and A.F. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Shannon M. Dolan, on the briefs).

Suzette Price, Assistant County Counsel, argued the cause for respondent Mercer County (Paul R. Adezio, Mercer County Counsel, of counsel; Suzette Price, on the brief).

Before Judges Messano and Smith.

PER CURIAM

In these consolidated appeals, appellants I.M. and A.F. contend they were entitled to be discharged from Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (TPH) within forty-eight hours of their commitment review hearings pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.15(b) and Rule 4:74-7(h). Instead, in both instances, appellants argue the judge erroneously continued their commitment as a Conditional Extension Pending Placement (CEPP). See R. 4:74-7(h)(2).

Dr. Biju Basil, the State's medical expert at I.M.'s hearing, diagnosed I.M. with schizophrenia. Dr. George Dubois, the State's medical expert at A.F.'s hearing, diagnosed A.F. with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and substance abuse disorder. During the respective commitment review hearings, the State's medical expert testified that appellants no longer were a danger to themselves, others, or property, and each had arranged housing upon discharge.

Despite this, both doctors testified that they needed to ensure treatment services were in place before discharge. Dr. Basil wanted to make sure "the treatment plans [we]re really put in place . . . [so I.M.] is able to stay safe, [and] take her medications regularly[.]" Dr. Dubois testified that A.F. "did extremely well in complying with her medication" but there were "a few things to put in place."

Appellants sought to be discharged. The judge ordered appellants detained under CEPP with a review hearing scheduled two weeks later. See R. 4:74-7(h)(2). TPH has since discharged appellants - I.M. fourteen days after her commitment review hearing (the date on which her subsequent review hearing had been scheduled), and A.F. six days after her commitment review hearing.

I.

Civil commitment implicates one's constitutional right to liberty. See In re N.N., 146 N.J. 112, 127 (1996) ("There is no doubt that the constitutional liberty interests that are implicated in the context of civil commitment proceedings are sensitive and substantial." (Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979))). Nevertheless, "[o]ur scope of review of civil commitment judgments is exceedingly narrow." In re W.X.C., 407 N.J.Super. 619, 630 (App. Div. 2009) (citing In re J.M.B., 395 N.J.Super. 69, 89 (App. Div. 2007); In re V.A., 357 N.J.Super. 55, 63 (App. Div. 2003)). "While this court gives deference to civil commitment decisions and reverses only when there is clear error or mistake, a reviewing court must consider the adequacy of the evidence." In re M.M., 384 N.J.Super. 313, 334 (App. Div. 2006) (citing In re D.C., 146 N.J. 31, 58-59 (1996)).

Although appellants' liberty rights were affected adversely by their continued commitment, these appeals are moot. "[A]n issue is 'moot' when the decision sought in a matter, when rendered, can have no practical effect on the existing controversy[.]" In re J.S., 444 N.J.Super. 303, 313 (App. Div. 2016) (citing Greenfield v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J.Super. 254, 257-58 (App. Div. 2006)). Since appellants have been discharged, there is no existing controversy. Because appellants are not financially liable for their hospitalization, there is also no adequate remedy this court can grant them. See In re T.J., 401 N.J.Super. 111, 118 (App. Div. 2008) ("[W]hen the patient remains liable for his or her hospital bill . . . a finding in the patient's favor will entitle the patient to a credit for any period of illegal commitment." (quoting In re B.L., 346 N.J.Super. 285, 292 (App. Div. 2002))). Nonetheless, we are compelled to address the continued abuse of CEPP as a means to delay discharge when discharge is appropriate.

II.

A court can enter an order of involuntary commitment if the State proves by clear and convincing evidence that "mental illness causes the patient to be dangerous to self or dangerous to others or property[.]" R. 4:74-7(f)(1)(2); see also N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.2(m). One is "[d]angerous to self" when: by reason of mental illness the person has threatened or attempted suicide or serious bodily harm, or has behaved in such a manner as to indicate that the person is unable to satisfy his need for nourishment, essential medical care or shelter, so that it is probable that...

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