Lux v. Mental Health Bd. of Polk County

Decision Date17 January 1979
Docket NumberNo. 41744,41744
Citation274 N.W.2d 141,202 Neb. 106
PartiesIn re Interest of Lawrence G. Lux, Alleged to be a mentally ill dangerous person. Lawrence G. LUX, Appellant, v. The MENTAL HEALTH BOARD OF POLK COUNTY, Nebraska et al., Appellees.
CourtNebraska Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. The Legislature may not prescribe a de novo standard of review for judicial review of an exercise of legislative authority as this would violate the constitutional requirement of separation of powers.

2. It is the nature of the function, and not merely its statutory origin, which determines whether a governmental function is legislative or judicial.

3. The determination of whether a function is legislative or judicial must necessarily be made on a case-by-case basis as it is not possible to define precisely the line between the functions.

4. Commitment proceedings are judicial in nature, and District Courts must review the decisions of mental health boards de novo on the records.

5. Where a correct judgment or order has been made, the mere fact that it contains erroneous declarations of law does not require reversal.

6. The requirements of section 83-1009, R.R.S.1943, which defines a mentally ill dangerous person, are met when medical diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia and an unprovoked assault and threatening behavior are shown by clear and convincing proof.

7. The opinion of a general practitioner of medicine as to mental condition is admissible in commitment proceedings, § 83-1010, R.R.S.1943, provided a proper foundation is laid.

8. Section 83-1009(1), R.R.S.1943, although it refers to "recent violent acts," does not require evidence of more than one violent act or threat. § 49-802, R.R.S.1943.

Alan G. Gless of Mills & Mills, Osceola, for appellant.

Philip H. Nyberg and Ronald E. Colling, Osceola, for appellees.

Heard before SPENCER, C. J., Pro Tem., BOSLAUGH, McCOWN, CLINTON, BRODKEY and WHITE, JJ., and KUNS, Retired District Judge.

PER CURIAM.

This is an appeal under the provisions of section 83-1043, R.R.S.1943, from an order of the District Court for Polk County, affirming the county mental health board's order finding that the appellant, Lawrence G. Lux, was a mentally ill dangerous person as defined by section 83-1009, R.R.S.1943, and committing him to the Lincoln Regional Center for treatment under the provisions of sections 83-1037 and 83-1041, R.R.S.1943.

Upon appeal to this court the following errors are assigned: (1) The District Court erred in not reviewing the findings of the mental health board de novo as provided by section 83-1043, R.R.S.1943. (2) The board erred in admitting and the District Court erred in considering the opinion of a certain physician that Lux was a mentally ill dangerous person. (3) The evidence is insufficient to support a finding that Lux was a dangerous person because the record contains evidence of only one assault upon a person.

Section 83-1043, R.R.S.1943, provides for appeals of final orders of the mental health board and states: "Such appeals shall be de novo on the record." The District Court, in its order of affirmance, recited that the function of the mental health board "is a legislative one delegated to it," and consequently the court's review was limited to determining whether the order was supported by substantial evidence, whether the board acted within the scope of its authority, and whether its action was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. The District Court apparently assumed that, because the function of the board is prescribed and regulated by statute, the board was exercising a legislative function, and that the appropriate standard of review was therefore the limited one enunciated in recent cases such as Haller v. State ex rel. State Real Estate Commission, 198 Neb. 437, 253 N.W.2d 280, Herink v. State ex rel. State Real Estate Commission, 198 Neb. 241, 252 N.W.2d 172, American Assn. of University Professors v. Board of Regents, 198 Neb. 243, 253 N.W.2d 1, and Scott v. State ex rel. Board of Nursing, 196 Neb. 681, 244 N.W.2d 683.

Those cases do hold that if a court is reviewing an exercise of authority which is in its nature legislative, then the Legislature may not prescribe a de novo standard of review, because that would constitute a violation of the constitutional requirement of separation of powers. Art. II, § 1, Nebraska Constitution; Keller v. Potomac Elec. Co., 261 U.S. 428, 43 S.Ct. 445, 67 L.Ed. 731. However, the District Court erred in assuming that merely because the board's function is prescribed by statute the board was therefore exercising a legislative function. None of the above-cited cases so held. It is the nature of the function, not merely its statutory origin, which determines whether a governmental function is legislative or judicial. For example, the Legislature has the authority under the Nebraska Constitution to create certain courts. Art. V, § 1, Nebraska Constitution. It would not follow from that, however, that a new court created by statute is exercising legislative authority.

We have not heretofore attempted to define precisely the line between the judicial function and power and the legislative one. Probably we cannot do so. See Prendergast v. Nelson, 199 Neb. 97, 256 N.W.2d 657 (concurring opinion of Clinton, J.). We must necessarily proceed upon a case-by-case basis. Utility ratemaking, for example, is a legislative function and subject only to limited judicial review. Keller v. Potomac Elec. Co., supra. The licensing and regulation of the professions dealing with health is a legislative function, and there is a similar limitation upon judicial review. Scott v. State ex rel. Board of Nursing, supra. The initial determination of terms and conditions of employment is also a legislative function, Orleans Education Assn. v. School Dist. of Orleans, 193 Neb. 675, 229 N.W.2d 172, as is the regulation and licensing of businesses. Haller v. State ex rel. State Real Estate Commission, supra; Herink v. State ex rel. State Real Estate Commission, supra. See, also, 16 C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 107, p. 493. On the other hand, the determination of whether a party's statutory rights have been violated is clearly a judicial function and a legislative mandate requiring de novo review is proper. Snygg v. City of Scottsbluff Police Dept., 201 Neb. 16, 266 N.W.2d 76.

One method of determining whether a function is legislative or judicial is to examine its origins. Lunacy proceedings, as they were formerly called, had their English origin in the executive power of the crown as parens patriae. The determination of lunacy was made by a commission which was under the supervision of the chancery courts. Hamilton v. Traber, 78 Md. 26, 27 A. 229; Bliss v. Bliss, 133 Md. 61, 104 A. 467. A similar pattern has apparently been followed in the United States, although the manner of proceedings in such matters is subject to regulation by statute. See, generally, 44 C.J.S. Insane Persons §§ 14 et seq., p. 68. In accord with that historical practice, the members of the mental health boards in Nebraska are appointed by the presiding District Judge. § 83-1018, R.R.S.1943. Appointment of similar boards under prior statutes was also entrusted to the District Judge.

Furthermore, Nebraska courts have long been permitted to make independent determinations of mental incompetency for the purposes of protecting the person and the property of the incompetent. Hall v. Hall, 122 Neb. 228, 239 N.W. 825; 44 C.J.S. Insane Persons § 8, p. 54. Commitment proceedings are clearly judicial, and a court must therefore review the determination of a mental health board de novo on the record as the statute requires. Thus, the District Court erred in not following the statutory requirement to look at the evidence de novo.

However, we have concluded the court's error does not require reversal. We have carefully examined the evidence, and, whatever standard of review might be applied, the court could not reasonably have found other than as it did. A mistake by the court as to the extent of its authority is not reversible error if the court nonetheless reached the right result. Where a correct judgment or order has been made, the mere fact that it contains erroneous declarations of law does not require reversal. State v. Alexander, 78 Wyo. 324, 324 P.2d 831. This principle is analogous to our frequently stated rule that no judgment will be reversed merely because the court has given a wrong reason for it. Schmitt v. City of Omaha, 191 Neb. 608, 217 N.W.2d 86.

The hearing before the mental health board commenced on February 16, 1977, and after considerable evidence had been produced by the State, the hearing was, at Lux' insistence, continued to February 23, 1977, at which time it was concluded. Lux was represented throughout the proceedings by counsel, although at his own insistence he was permitted to examine witnesses and in the course thereof to make rather extended unsworn statements.

Section 83-1009, R.R.S.1943, defines a mentally ill dangerous person as "any mentally ill person who presents: (1) A substantial risk of serious harm to another person or persons within the near future, as manifested by evidence of recent violent acts or threats of violence or by placing others in reasonable fear of such harm." The board found Lux to be a mentally ill person who was dangerous in that he had committed an unprovoked assault upon his father. The board also determined that neither voluntary hospitalization nor other treatment alternatives less restrictive of the subject's liberty were available to prevent further harm, and committed Lux to the Lincoln Regional Center at Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 4, 1977.

Two psychiatrists, who had at various times examined Lux, testified concerning his mental condition, as did one general...

To continue reading

Request your trial
10 cases
  • In re Nebraska Community Corrections
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • 31 Agosto 2007
    ... ... , protocols and curriculum for training judges, probation officers, county attorneys, and defense counsel ... COMPOSITION OF SENTENCING GUIDELINES ... 22. State v. Stratton, 220 Neb. 854, 374 N.W.2d 31 (1985); Lux v. Mental Health Board of Polk County, 202 Neb. 106, 274 N.W.2d 141 (1979) ... 23 ... ...
  • State v. Stratton
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • 20 Septiembre 1985
    ... ...         As acknowledged in Lux v. Mental Health Board of Polk County, 202 Neb. 106, 274 N.W.2d 141 (1979), the line ... ...
  • Interest of John T., In re
    • United States
    • Nebraska Court of Appeals
    • 3 Octubre 1995
    ...lower court, the fact that it contained erroneous declarations of law did not require reversal, citing Lux v. Mental Health Board of Polk County, 202 Neb. 106, 274 N.W.2d 141 (1979). §  43-285(2) that the DSS plan to [4 Neb.App. 83] "tr......
  • Slack Nursing Home, Inc. v. Department of Social Services of State of Neb.
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • 3 Marzo 1995
    ... ... ) appeals a finding and order of the district court for Lancaster County, dated June 22, 1993. Slack Nursing Home, Inc., appealed to the district ... the Kansas City Region, adjusted for inflation by the Department of Health and Human Services, are used in determining reasonable salaries for ...         In Lux v. Mental Health Board of Polk County, 202 Neb. 106, 274 N.W.2d 141 (1979), we ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT