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Time for holding probable cause hearing under § 51.20(7)(a) runs from time of arrival at hosptial, not mental health unit within hospital

Ozaukee County v. Mark T.J., 2014AP479, District 2, 8/27/14 (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

The failure to hold an initial hearing within 72 hours of Mark’s arrival at the hospital where he was detained deprived the circuit court of competency to order an initial commitment order under ch. 51. But his appeal from that initial commitment order is moot because he stipulated to recommitment and vacating the initial commitment would have no practical effect.

Mark was detained after a suicide attempt and transported, pursuant to § 51.15(2), to a hospital, arriving at 12:56 p.m. (¶¶3-4). He was treated for his injuries and then moved to the hospital’s mental health unit shortly after 3:00 p.m. (¶4). The probable cause hearing took place at 3:00 p.m. three days later. (¶5). The County argue that this didn’t violate the requirement in § 51.20(7)(a) that the probable cause hearing for someone detained under § 51.15 take place within 72 hours because that time didn’t begin running till Mark was moved to the mental health unit. (¶10). The court disagrees:

¶16      In this context, we think that the common, ordinary meaning of the word “facility” in Wis. Stat. § 51.20(7)(a) at the time of Mark’s detention was the “hospital … approved by the department as a treatment facility,” see Wis. Stat. § 51.15(2), i.e., the hospital itself, not a unit within it.

¶17      On appeal, the County’s chief argument is that interpreting “facility” in this ordinary way causes illogical results. For instance, if the detained individual was comatose when admitted, the seventy-two hours could pass before the person regained consciousness.   

¶18      We find this hypothetical implausible. A comatose individual could not express an opinion about receiving medical care, let alone about the prospect of a mental health commitment, and it is difficult to imagine why a petition would be filed before there was reason to believe that the individual opposed care and commitment.[6] Such an extreme scenario is not a convincing justification for avoiding the ordinary meaning of the language the legislature enacted.

¶19      The County also asserts that while “hospital” is unambiguous, “what is meant by a hospital in terms of a detention facility” under Wis. Stat. § 51.15(2) is ambiguous, because the other detention facilities listed (public treatment facility, state treatment facility, and private treatment facility) are all facilities that only provide mental health treatment. … We find these arguments unconvincing too. The fact that the legislature used the specific word “hospital” in enumerating the types of detention facilities in § 51.15(2), while elsewhere referring to separate mental health treatment units, suggests that the legislature meant “hospital,” not “unit,” in § 51.15(2).

The untimely probable cause hearing ordinarily extinguishes the circuit court’s competency to proceed. (¶23) The court declines to decide whether Mark’s stipulation to probable cause waived the defect or whether the defect can’t be waived. (¶24 n.7). Instead, the court concludes that Mark’s appeal of the original commitment order is moot. Mark ultimately stipulated to the original commitment and sought postdisposition relief. (¶¶6, 8-12). While that was pending, the County sought to extend his commitment, and Mark stipulated to the extension and didn’t seek postdisposition relief from the extension order. (¶8-9). Thus, vacating the original commitment order would have no practical effect:

¶25      Whether or not Mark’s waiver of the competency objection was effective, the court never lost subject matter jurisdiction, and the court exercised that jurisdiction in accepting the parties’ stipulation to Mark’s recommitment. While a recommitment is not an entirely new proceeding, it does require redetermination of the grounds for commitment:

the circuit court must make a new determination of the individual’s suitability for commitment at the recommitment hearing; … evidence of the individual’s recent behavior will be presented; and … evidence presented at each recommitment hearing may be different from evidence presented at the original commitment proceeding or a previous recommitment hearing.

State ex rel. Serocki v. Circuit Court for Clark Cnty., 163 Wis. 2d 152, 159, 471 N.W.2d 49 (1991). Once in place, the recommitment order became the basis for Mark’s commitment. In this context, Mark’s voluntary stipulation, under conditions agreed upon by the parties, rendered moot the question whether Mark’s initial commitment order was void due to untimeliness.

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