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Walden Behavioral Care v. K.I.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

April 9, 2015

Walden Behavioral Care
v.
K.I

Argued December 2, 2014.

Petition for civil commitment filed in the Waltham Division of the District Court Department on August 13, 2012.

The case was heard by Gregory C. Flynn, J.

The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

Stan Goldman for the respondent.

Diane M. Geraghty Hall for the petitioner.

Jennifer Honig, Phillip Kassel, Robert Fleischner, & Stan Eichner, for Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.

OPINION

Page 151

[27 N.E.3d 1246] Duffly, J.

Walden Behavioral Care, a facility for the treatment of mentally ill patients, brought a petition in the District Court pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § § 7, 8, seeking to commit K.I. involuntarily and retain him in its facility. K.I. filed a motion in limine to exclude from the commitment hearing testimony concerning statements he had made to his treating psychiatrist at Walden Behavioral Care. K.I. claimed that his statements were protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege as defined in G. L. c. 233, § 20B, and that the psychiatrist was precluded from testifying to those statements or to his opinion of K.I.'s mental or emotional condition based on those statements.

A District Court judge denied K.I.'s motion, concluding that the psychotherapist-patient privilege was overcome by an exception to the privilege set forth in G. L. c. 233, § 20B ( a ). At the commitment hearing, the psychiatrist was permitted to testify to statements made to him by K.I., and to his opinion that K.I. was suicidal. Based on this testimony, K.I. was committed to Walden Behavioral Care for six months. K.I. appealed the commitment order to the Appellate Division of the District Court; in a divided opinion, the court affirmed the commitment. K.I. appealed, and we transferred the case from the Appeals Court on our own motion.

We conclude that the exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege established in G. L. c. 233, § 20B ( a ), applies in the circumstances presented. Notwithstanding the absence of a knowing and intelligent waiver of the privilege, there was no error in permitting the psychiatrist to testify at the involuntary commitment hearing concerning K.I.'s statements.[1]

[27 N.E.3d 1247] Background.

In August, 2012, a physician petitioned for K.I.'s emergency admission to Walden Behavioral Care pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 12 ( a ).[2] In a petition pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 12 ( a ), a physician wrote that K.I. was experiencing auditory hallucinations and attempting to kill himself by running into traffic.

Page 152

Within two hours of his arrival, K.I. was examined by a physician who authorized K.I.'s commitment to the facility for three days " for care and treatment" pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 12 ( b ). See Reida v. Cape Cod Hosp., 36 Mass.App.Ct. 553, 555-556, 634 N.E.2d 122 (1994). During this three-day period, Dr. David Brendel, a psychiatrist, provided diagnosis of and treatment to K.I. In his capacity as superintendent of Walden Behavioral Care, Brendel thereafter filed a petition for K.I.'s continuing commitment under G. L. c. 123, § § 7, 8.[3] At no time was K.I. warned that, in certain circumstances, his statements to his treating psychiatrist might be admissible in future legal proceedings.

K.I. filed a motion in limine to exclude Brendel's testimony regarding K.I.'s statements. K.I. maintained that his statements were protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege, and that the sole potentially applicable exception to the privilege was set forth in G. L. c. 233, § 20B ( b ), concerning statements made to a psychiatrist in the course of court-ordered examinations. K.I. argued that the statements therefore were tantamount to statements made in the course of a court-ordered examination, and, because he had not been informed that his communications to Brendel would not be privileged, as required by G. L. c. 233, § 20B ( b ), this exception was unavailable and his privileged statements should not have been admitted. A District Court judge denied K.I.'s motion, concluding that the psychotherapist-patient ...


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