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Pembroke Hospital v. D.L.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth

May 23, 2019

PEMBROKE HOSPITAL
v.
D.L.

          Heard: January 10, 2019.

         Civil 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.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Devorah Anne Borenstein, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for the defendant.

          Michael T. Porter for the plaintiff.

          Lester 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.

          BUDD, J.

         "The 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]).

         Here, 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 no.[1]

         1. Statutory framework for civil commitments.

         General 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]."[2]

         Once an 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 (d).

         An 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). ...


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