IN THE MATTER OF: J.S., Respondent and Appellant.
Submitted on Briefs: January 4, 2017
FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In
and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DI 11-71
Honorable Michael G. Moses, Presiding Judge.
Appellant: Carolynn M. Fagan, Fagan Law Office, P.C.,
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mardell
Ployhar, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Scott
D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Mark English, Deputy
County Attorney, Billings, Montana.
MICHAEL E. WHEAT JUSTICE.
Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court
Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum
opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as
precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition
shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of
noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
J.S. has a history of mental illness. Between October 2011
and May 2012, in response to petitions by the Yellowstone
County Attorney's office, J.S., a widowed homeless
person, was committed on two occasions to Montana State
Hospital (MSH) for evaluation and treatment. For both
commitments, the medical documentation attached to the
petitions indicated that J.S. suffered from depression and
was both suicidal and homicidal.
On November 10, 2015, the Yellowstone County Attorney filed
another petition to commit J.S involuntarily. Following a
hearing on November 16, 2015, at which J.S. and his Billings
Clinic physician testified, the District Court found that
J.S. suffered from bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress
disorder, anti-social personality disorder, and possibly
schizoaffective disorder. J.S. does not dispute his diagnosis
nor the severity of his mental condition. The court further
found, based upon the testimony of the Billings Clinic
treating physician, that upon presenting himself at the
Clinic, J.S. "was suicidal, homicidal, psychotic,
hostile and threatening." The court noted that following
his admission to the Clinic, J.S. refused medications and
remained "suicidal, homicidal, psychotic, hostile and
threatening," resulting in the Clinic requesting the
Yellowstone County Attorney to file a petition for
commitment. In its November 16 order, the District Court
concluded that the requirements of § 53-21-126, MCA, had
been met. The court ordered J.S. to be committed to MSH for
not more than three months of inpatient care, forced
medications, and long-term treatment.
J.S. was scheduled to be discharged from MSH on December 14,
2015, and on this day, through counsel, J.S. filed a Notice
of Appeal with this Court challenging the District
Court's November 16 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law
and Order. We affirm.
J.S. argues on appeal that the State failed to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that he posed an imminent threat to himself
or others. He claims that the "vague statements" he
made to the physicians about hurting himself and others were
insufficient to satisfy the requirements of §
53-21-126(2), MCA. The State counters that the District
Court's findings of fact upon which it granted the
petition for commitment were supported by substantial
evidence and are not clearly erroneous.
We review a district court's civil commitment order to
determine whether the court's findings of fact are
clearly erroneous and its conclusions of law correct. In
re C.V., 2016 MT 307, ¶ 15, 385 Mont. 429,
384 P.3d 1048.
Section 53-21-126(2), MCA, requires "[i]mminent threat
of self-inflicted injury or injury to others" to be
"proved by overt acts or omissions, sufficiently recent
in time as to be material and relevant as to the
respondent's present condition." In this case,
J.S.'s treating physician with the Billings Clinic
submitted a written report stating that on November 9, 2015,
J.S. presented himself to the emergency doctor at the
Billings Clinic stating that he felt like "he was going
to go off on somebody," and that he wanted to kill
security guards. He further claimed that he had thoughts of
killing himself by jumping in front of a train and that if he
left the Clinic he "will be suicidal."
These statements, made just seven days prior to commitment to
MSH, and after refusal of medications and continued symptoms
of psychosis, hostility, and threatening behavior, are
sufficient in time and relevance to reflect J.S.'s
condition at the time of commitment. As we have stated
previously, "[T]he law does not require proof beyond a
reasonable doubt that an injury will occur in the future.
Threat is not certainty. The law requires only proof beyond a
reasonable doubt that the threat of future injury presently
exists and that the threat is imminent, that is, impending,
likely to occur at any moment." In re S.L.,
2014 MT 317, ¶ 31, 377 Mont. 223, 339 P.3d 73; In re
B.D., 2015 MT 339, ¶ 11, 381 Mont. 505, 362 P.3d
We acknowledge that, at his hearing, J.S. denied making such
comments; however, it is within the District Court's
broad discretion to determine the credibility of witnesses
and the weight to be afforded their testimony. M. R. Civ. P.
52(a); In re E.A.L.,2015 MT 203, ¶ 11, 380
Mont. 129, 353 P.3d 1186. The court believed the
physician's testimony was more ...