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Expiration of ch. 51 commitment made appeal moot, despite continuing restriction on gun possession

Dunn County v. Dennis M., 2014AP2579, District 3, 6/16/15 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Despite the fact Dennis M. can’t possess a firearm as a result of a prior involuntary commitment order, his appeal from that order is moot because he entered into a voluntary stipulation to recommitment that has expired and not been renewed.

While he was in the process of challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for a ch. 51 commitment order entered in March 2014, Dennis stipulated to two short extensions of the commitment order. (¶¶3-8). During his appeal of the circuit court denial of his sufficiency challenge the second extension expired and was not renewed. (¶¶8-9). The court concludes his appeal is moot, despite his argument that the original order for commitment continues to have a practical effect on him—namely, it is the original reason he lost his right to possess a firearm, and therefore any petition he files to reinstate that right will be aided by a determination that the evidence for the original commitment was insufficient.

¶13      We reject this conjectural argument. Through his voluntary extensions of commitment, Dennis M. stipulated to various, adjudged conditions, including the loss of his firearm rights. The order granting the second extension, which was entered with Dennis M.’s acknowledgment that Dr. Platz’s October 1 examination and report provided the factual foundation for his recommitment, became an independent basis for his firearms restrictions under applicable federal and state law. That order expired by its terms in January of 2015. Dennis M. did not appeal the order approving the second extension. As a result, we agree with the County that vacating Dennis M.’s initial commitment would have no practical effect with respect to his firearms restrictions. While Dennis M. has identified a perfectly accessible, statutorily prescribed means by which he may pursue relief from his firearms restriction, our providing him a ruling that generates “a persuasive argument in favor of having [his] lost rights [to firearms] reinstated” is speculative and not a “practical effect” overcoming mootness.

The court also disagrees that an extension order is “foundationally dependent on” a valid original order, so that a successful challenge to the original order will have the practical effect of knocking out the extension. Any foundational dependence on the original order doesn’t alter the superseding and legally binding effect of the extension order, given State ex rel. Serocki v. Circuit Court for Clark County, 163 Wis. 2d 152, 159, 471 N.W.2d 49 (1991) (while a recommitment is not an entirely new proceeding, it does require the circuit court to make a fresh determination of the grounds for commitment, and the evidence used to make that determination may be different from that used at the initial commitment). Further, Dennis doesn’t identify any legal basis for seeking vacation of the expired extension order even if the original commitment order is vacated. (¶14).

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