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COA dismisses Chapter 51 appeal re level of confinement for mootness

Waukesha County v. H.M.B., 202AP570, District 2, 9/16/20, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

This is not your typical Chapter 51 mootness decision.  The county petitioned for the initial commitment of “Heather,” who was suffering from anorexia nervousa. She stipulated to a commitment but not to confinement at a mental hospital or to involuntary treatment. The court of appeals dismissed her appeal as moot despite the collateral consequences of a firearm restriction and stigma.

The court of appeals held that because Heather stipulated to a commitment order, a firearm restriction would result regardless of whether she was confined in a mental hospital or treated outpatient. Opinion, ¶7 (citing §51.20(13)(cv)).

As for stigma, the court of appeals said that it could not determine “why the negative stigma associated with inpatient care represents a distinct collateral consequence. Therefore our resolution of the question raised on appeal–the proper setting for Heather–can have no practical effect on her present circumstances.” Opinion, ¶7.

SCOTUS precedent suggests that the court of appeals is wrong on this point. According to the high court, “involuntary commitment to a mental hospital after a finding of probable dangerousness to self or others can engender adverse social consequences to the individual.” Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 426 (1979)(emphasis supplied).  This stigma, “can have a very significant impact on the individual.” Id. See also Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 491-492, 494 (1980) (noting that being transferred to a mental hospital has stigmatizing consequences–even for a convicted prisoner.)  And Heather was a young woman.

The court of appeals noted that SCOW granted review in Portage county v. E.R.R., Appeal No. 2019AP2033, but did not see it as relevant because it concerned a recommitment. Opinion, ¶9 n. 6.  If SCOW holds that appeals from expired recommitment order sare never moot, the same reasoning would apply to an expired initial commitment order. For more on mootness, see Sauk County v. S.A.M.

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