No. 2020-0454

Supreme Court At-a-Glance Contributor Laura D. Devine, Civil Litigation Attorney, Boyle Shaughnessy Law, Manchester, NH

May 11, 2021

Affirmed.

 

  • When does the three-day period for providing a probable cause hearing begin to run when a person is involuntarily admitted for mental health because she poses a serious likelihood of danger to herself or others as governed under RSA 135-C:31

 

This appeal followed a (second) petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was granted by the superior court. The petitioner was involuntarily admitted to an emergency room under RSA 135-C:31. The petitioner was brought to the emergency room at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and was immediately evaluated by a psychiatrist who was trained to certify involuntary admissions. The psychiatrist conducted a physical and mental evaluation and certified the petitioner’s involuntary emergency admission, stating that she posed a serious likelihood of danger to self or others under the statute. The certificate did not identify the “receiving facility” that could best provide the plaintiff with the requisite degree of security and treatment as set forth by the statute.

NHH, the respondent, is a “receiving facility” under the statute. The Court noted that under the plain language of the applicable statute, when a patient’s admission is certified, she must be immediately delivered to a receiving facility. However, at the time the petitioner’s involuntary admission at DHMC was certified, there were no available beds at any qualifying receiving facility. Therefore, the petitioner remained at the DHMC emergency room.

Over one week later, the petitioner filed her first writ of habeas corpus, seeking release from DHMC. In her petition, she stated that she was being kept in a windowless room in the emergency department against her will and she had been provided neither an involuntary admission hearing before an independent fact finder or any opportunity to challenge whether there existed probable cause for her admission.

Over one week after she filed the petition, she was delivered to the NHH receiving facility. Within three days of her arrival at the NHH, she was given a probable cause hearing, seventeen business days after her involuntary admission to the emergency room at DHMC. At the probable cause hearing, the petitioner moved to dismiss and she argued that her involuntary admission was unlawful because she was held for eighteen business days at the DHMC and therefore, was denied her statutorily mandated three-day hearing and had been denied release within ten days of her initial confinement. The circuit court denied this motion and found probable cause for the involuntary admission.

The next day, the petitioner filed a second writ of habeas corpus, seeking relief from NHH. She argued that the continued confinement was unlawful for five reasons, including: that she (1) had been held indefinitely at DHMC; (2) was denied prompt and adequate notice; (3) was denied a three-day hearing; (4) was denied review of the grounds of confinement by an independent fact finder; and (5) was denied the prospect of release within ten days of her initial confinement. The defendant NHH moved to dismiss and argued that the three days does not begin to run until a person is delivered to a designated receiving facility. The superior court agreed with the petitioner and held that because the petitioner did not receive a probable cause hearing until seventeen business days after the involuntary admission certificate had been completed, her continued confinement was unlawful. The superior court concluded that the three days begins to run once the involuntary admission certificate is complete.

On appeal, the Court agreed with the superior court. The Court observed that the doctrine of constitutional avoidance informs the construct of the applicable statute. In conclusion the Court ruled that the three-day period for providing a probable cause hearing begins to run when the involuntary admission certificate is complete when a person is involuntarily admitted for mental health because she poses a serious likelihood of danger to herself or others as governed under RSA 135-C:31.

 

Gordon MacDonald, Attorney General, (Anthony Galdieri, Daniel Will, and Samuel Garland ) for the petitioner. Gary Apfel, Lebanon, Simpson and Mulligan, for the plaintiff. Gilles Bissonnette and Henry Klementowicz, American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, Concord and Theodore Tsekerides, Aaron Curtis, and Colin McGrath, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, New York, for the class plaintiffs in John Doe v. Commissioner, in their individual capacities and as amici curiae. Joshua Gordon, Law Office of Joshua Gordon, Concord, for National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire, amicus curiae. Michael Ramsdell and James Harris, Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, Manchester, for New Hampshire Hospital Association & a as amici curiae.