Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex
Heard: December 5, 2016.
for civil commitment and to authorize medical treatment filed
in the Cambridge Division of the District Court Department on
November 3, 2014. A motion for a continuance was heard by
Roanne Sragow, J., and the petitions were also heard
by her. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative
transferred the case from the Appeals Court.
Owen Talley for the respondent.
M. Geraghty Hall for the petitioner.
Krieger, Robert D. Fleischner, Jennifer Honig, & Phillip
Kassel, for Center for Public Representation & another,
amici curiae, submitted a brief.
Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy,
& Budd, JJ.
appeals from the order for his civil commitment to a mental
health facility (hospital), pursuant to G. L. c. 123,
§§ 7 and 8, and the order authorizing his treatment
with antipsychotic medications pursuant to G. L. c. 123,
§ 8B. He argues that the District Court judge improperly
denied his prehearing request for a continuance to allow time
for his counsel to prepare an adequate defense and an
independent medical examiner to complete a psychiatric
evaluation. We transferred the case from the Appeals Court to
this court on our own motion.
dismiss the appeal as moot but exercise our discretion to
address the issue before us, which is whether a judge may
deny a person's (or the person's counsel's) first
request for a continuance of a hearing pursuant to G. L. c.
123, § 7 (c) or 8B. We hold that where a person or his
or her counsel requests such a continuance, the grant of the
continuance is mandatory where a denial thereof is reasonably
likely to prejudice a person's ability to prepare a
was admitted to the hospital on October 30, 2014, under the
emergency hospitalization provisions of G. L. c. 123, §
12. On November 3, the hospital filed a petition for
commitment pursuant to G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8,
and a petition for determination of incompetency and for
authorization for medical treatment for mental illness
pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 8B. Counsel was appointed
for N.L. The hearing on the petitions was scheduled for
November 6. Due to administrative delays, counsel for N.L.
did not receive a copy of N.L.'s medical records until
November 5, the same day that an independent psychiatrist
retained by counsel first met with N.L. On November 6,
counsel for N.L. filed a motion to continue the hearing to
allow him time to prepare a meaningful defense and to allow
the independent medical examiner time to complete his
evaluation. The hospital opposed the motion on the grounds
that delay would jeopardize N.L.'s safety. The judge
denied the motion to continue without stating her reasons,
and proceeded with the commitment hearing. The judge then
ordered N.L. to be involuntarily committed to the hospital
for a period not to exceed six months. Immediately following
the commitment hearing, the incompetency and medical
treatment hearing commenced. The judge allowed the
hospital's petition to treat N.L. with antipsychotic
medication against his will.
timely appealed this decision to the Appellate Division of
the District Court Department. In September 2015, that court
dismissed N.L.'s appeal as moot because he had since been
discharged from the hospital, and the court declined to reach
his arguments because it held that the circumstances of the
case were not "capable of repetition."