Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth
Heard: January 10, 2019.
action commenced in the Plymouth Division of the District
Court Department on January 6, 2016. A motion to dismiss was
heard by Michael A. Vitale, J.
Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct
Devorah Anne Borenstein, Committee for Public Counsel
Services, for the defendant.
Michael T. Porter for the plaintiff.
D. Blumberg, Special Assistant Attorney General, _&
Jeffrey Mackenzie, for Department of Mental Health, amicus
curiae, submitted a brief.
Kathryn Rucker, Robert D. Fleischner, Nicole Holbrook,
Phillip Kassel, Stanley Eichner, & Richard Glassman, for
Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee & others, amici
curiae, submitted a brief.
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
right of an individual to be free from physical restraint is
a paradigmatic fundamental right." Matter of
E.C., 479 Mass. 113, 119 (2018), quoting
Commonwealth v. Knapp, 441 Mass.
157, 164 (2004). General Laws c. 123 governs involuntary
civil commitment due to mental illness, and thus may curtail
that freedom, but only in particular circumstances, and by
way of specified procedures designed to protect due process
rights. See Williams v. Steward Health
Care Sys., LLC, 480 Mass. 286, 292 (2018), citing
O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422
U.S. 563, 576 (1975) (statute "written in recognition of
psychiatric patients' fundamental right to
liberty"). See also Matter of N.L., 476 Mass.
632, 636 (2017) (recent legislative reforms to G. L. c. 123
intended "to afford individuals more due process in
civil commitment and medical treatment hearings than had been
available previously" [citation omitted]).
D.L. was held involuntarily at Pembroke Hospital (Pembroke)
on a temporary basis due to mental illness. Upon the denial
of Pembroke's petition to extend D.L.'s confinement,
Pembroke allegedly "discharged" D.L., but
simultaneously detained and transported him without his
permission to a second hospital for another mental health
evaluation. This second evaluation ultimately led to an order
for involuntary confinement for a period of up to six months.
In this appeal we are called upon to interpret the meaning of
the word "discharge" as that term is used in G. L.
c. 123 to determine whether an individual may be said to have
been "discharged" from a facility if his or her
liberty has not been restored. We conclude that the answer is
Statutory framework for civil commitments.
Laws c. 123, § 12, which provides for the temporary
emergency involuntary restraint and commitment of persons
with mental illness in certain circumstances, is the
"primary route" for the involuntary civil
commitment of an individual. Guardianship of
Doe, 391 Mass. 614, 621 (1984). Section 12 (a)
provides in pertinent part:
"[any mental health professional qualified under G. L.
c. 112] who, after examining a person, has reason to believe
that failure to hospitalize such person would create a
likelihood of serious harm by reason of mental illness may
restrain or authorize the restraint of such person and apply
for the hospitalization of such person for a [three]-day
period at [an authorized facility]."
individual is detained under § 12 (a.), he or she may be
admitted for care and treatment if a designated physician of
the facility "determines that failure to hospitalize
such person would create a likelihood of serious harm by
reason of mental illness." G. L. c. 123, § 12 (b).
Commitment pursuant to § 12 (b) may last only three
business days. G. L. c. 123, § 12 (a) and (d); Mass. R.
Civ. P. 6 (a), 365 Mass. 747 (1974). By the end of that
period of time, the individual must be discharged unless the
facility files a petition for continued involuntary
commitment pursuant to G. L. c. 123, §§ 7-8, or the
person chooses to stay voluntarily. G. L. c. 123, § 12
individual who has been admitted involuntarily to a hospital
pursuant to § 12 (b) is entitled to legal representation
and may request an emergency hearing in District Court if he
or she has reason to believe that the admission is the result
of an "abuse or misuse" of § 12. G. L. c. 123,
§ 12 (b). ...