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COA addresses moot recommitment appeal, finds dangerousness

Sheboygan County v. M.J.M., 2020AP1744, 6/9/21, District 2 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

This is new. M.J.M. appealed a recommitment order which expired during the course of his appeal. The usual kerfuffle regarding mootness ensued but this time (unlike here and here) the court of appeals acknowledged that the issue of whether recommitment may be dismissed as moot was pending before SCOW in Sauk v. S.A.M, and so reached the merits of this case. It then found sufficient evidence of dangerousness based on threats M.J.M. made during his expiring commitment and because of what he would do if treatment were withdrawn.

The court of appeals addressed mootness in a lengthy footnote #4.  The only issue on appeal was whether the county offered sufficient evidence to prove that M.J.M. would be a proper subject of commitment if treatment were withdrawn.

The court of appeals stressed §51.20(1)(am) and Portage County v. J.W.K., 2019 WI 54, ¶¶17-18, 386 Wis. 2d 672, 927 N.W.2d 509 do not require the county to prove any recent conduct in order to carry its burden of proof. Opinion, ¶¶6-7.

However, in this case, the record contained recent conduct. A case manager testified that M.J.M. made threats to kill him and his psychiatrist while he was in a locked psychiatric ward. Plus the examiner, Dr. Bales, testified that if M.J.M. were not on commitment, he would stop treatment and become a proper subject of commitment due to his threats of violence against others.

¶15 Bales’ testimony revealed that M.J.M. had made “recent” threats to kill his case manager and psychiatrist, which resulted in his removal from Winnebago to Trempealeau and the assignment of new treatment providers. Bales further testified that M.J.M. made similar threats against other groups in 2016. The court properly credited Bales’ conclusion, based on M.J.M.’s treatment record, that if M.J.M. were not subject to a commitment order “he would stop taking his medications, withdraw from treatment, and subsequently decompensate” and “that there’s a substantial likelihood that he would again become a proper subject for commitment.” See WIS. STAT. § 51.20(1)(am). As the record on appeal supports this conclusion, the circuit court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, and our independent review indicates that the court properly found that M.J.M. is dangerous within the meaning of the commitment statute such that he “would be a proper subject for commitment if treatment were withdrawn.” See § 51.20(1)(a)2.b., (am). We affirm.


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